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FreedomHEC Unconference Fosters Linux Device Support

Device Drivers Welcome

  • June 9, 2006
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

Although quickly convened, last month's first-time FreedomHEC event brought together hardware makers and driver developers in ways that could help boost device connectivity for Linux, said Don Marti, organizer of the two-day "unconference" in Seattle.

During an interview with LinuxPlanet, Marti contended that an expansion of full-blown device connectivity beyond Windows to Linux-enabled PCs will benefit not just end users and systems administrators, but OEMs and programmers, too.

"It's better for device makers to be able to sell into the Linux market. If you enable your hardware for Linux, all of a sudden you'll start to be considered for all sorts of projects that'll give you a higher margin and a better deal. You'll have very little marketing expense or (other) overhead," according to Marti, who is technical marketing director at SpikeSource and former editor-in-chief of Linux Journal.

As one example of a project of this kind, Marti pointed to One Laptop per Child (OLPC), an effort to provide children with laptops which are "open source Linux from top to bottom."

"But the same kinds of thing also applies in the (enterprise) server market--where products have longer lifetimes--and in the embedded market. (Let's say) you're an embedded product designer, and there's already a Linux driver for your product. Then you can go, 'Let me get a board or some sample product in there.'"

With sponsorship from SpikeSource, Pogo Linux, and several other open source-oriented organizations, FreedomHEC took place at Pogo Linux headquarters in Seattle, just after Microsoft held its annual WinHEC hardware conference in the same city.

"We wanted to make it easy for people who were already attending WinHEC anyway to come to FreedomHEC, too. Instead of putting in (to their employers) for two trips, people could just put in for one trip, and then stay on for a couple of (extra) days," Marti said.

Actually, FreedomHEC was spawned by a discussion on a mailing list around Microsoft's announcement that it will be late in releasing its next OS product.

"People (on the list) were saying things like, 'It's too bad so many driver developers will be adversely impacted,'" according to Marti.

Marti estimates that about 35 to 40 people attended FreedomHEC, in all. "The Linux and 'X' people had been staying in touch, anyway. But we got a few of the hardware people, too," he told LinuxPlanet.

Participants from the hardware community included people from QLogic, Data Direct Networks, and National Instruments.

"There's a person at National Instruments who's working on drivers for Emulex," Marti elaborated.

Under FreedomHEC's "unconference" format, each morning started out with a discussion of what people wanted to talk about for the rest of the day.

What were the top crowd-pleasers? "We got a surprising amount of participation on the issue of 3D drivers. We're seeing a big shift in that," according to the organizer.

"Support for the latest ATI cards is not ready yet to be part of the standard Linux distribution. But the landscape for 3D support in Linux is about to change."

Marti also took special note of a session in which Greg Kroah-Hartman, a Linux kernel maintainer, explained the sysfs filesystem and udev hardware management system.

Other sessions varied widely. In one session, for example, James Bottomley, maintainer of the Linux kernel SCSI driver, expounded on support for SCSI devices in Linux.

In another, Randy Dunlap of the ODSL, also a Linux kernel maintainer, gave tips on how to use "social engineering" to get contributions into the Linux kernel for device support.

Why did Marti decide to follow an "unconference" model for the first edition of FreedomHEC?

"I'd been to one 'unconference' before. And I see a lot of value in the random, cross-disciplinary approach," Marti told LinuxPlanet, mentioning birds-of-a-feather sessions as another precedent.

"An 'unconference' is faster to do (than a traditional conference), requiring lower overhead. And it lets you throw things together," he quipped.

But doesn't an "unconference" run the risk of raising some havoc? "It all came together for us because we had well informed and helpful people involved," he replied.

Marti is now eyeing a similar event for some time next year. What will the second FreedomHEC be like?

"Every 'unconference' goes through a shift in how it's done. We'll basically do the next one in the same style. But we'll have more time next year to get outlines of what people want to talk about in advance," Marti said.

Aside from SpikeSource and Pogo Linux, other sponsors of the first annual FreedomHEC included No Starch Press; LWN; The USENIX Association; SourceLabs; and Linux Journal.

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