Jim Zemlin's New Linux Conference (And Old Solaris News)

Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation is a little tired of talking about Solaris. I don't blame him. Sad to say, though, when I spoke to him yesterday about the Linux Foundation's new event, LinuxCon, I started by asking him about ... Solaris. Oops?

Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation is a little tired of talking about Solaris. I don't blame him. Sad to say, though, when I spoke to him yesterday about the Linux Foundation's new event, LinuxCon, I started by asking him about ... Solaris. Oops?

Call it more of a way to let the man speak his mind again. Jim's taken heavy flak for his widely reported comments about Solaris being dead in the water, or at least clinging to driftwood and sinking. But he's pretty adamant that this is not news.

"I probably should be more diplomatic, but this isn't new," he told me. "What upset a lot of people, I think -- and this part may have been missed in the articles about it, when they have to jam things into six or seven hundred words -- but in the technical community, it's upsetting to see an argument not made purely on the technical merits of a given solution. I could have a discussion of the technical merits of Linux vs. Solaris, but it would be endless."

His point about the technically superior solution not always being the winning one struck home. I pointed out how OS/2, despite being technically superior to DOS and Windows 3.x, didn't make inroads against either of those systems on the desktop.

"People make decisions about platforms on a variety of points, not just what's technically superior. They base decisions on what the future road map for that technology is, the size of its ecosystem (financial, support, hardware, etc.), the vision of the technology, the technology's agility -- can it move with advances in other areas in computing? -- and when you start looking through each of those points, people are increasingly moving to Linux as a result. This is a three-year-old story. There's a lot of decisions around platform software that are not based on merit. I wish it wasn't so, but there it is."

Sadly, agreed.

"There is a massive ecosystem industry and community and user base for Linux," Jim pointed out. "There are schools of thought that believe if Sun were to release things like ZFS under a Linux-compatible license [i.e., the GPL], there would be more opportunity for them in the marketplace to provide products and service for that tech. It's really not my decision; just a casual observation.  I definitively stake no claim in being able to offer Sun Microsystems advice about their business. I know they have smart people down there, and they have a tough fight to fight."

I didn't want to dwell too much on the subject, but I did want to at least let Jim explain his position all the more clearly outside of the 800-word limit of a magazine article. And so with that, we turned to more appealing news: the all-new LinuxCon.

"The Linux Foundation has these invite-only events that we've been hosting for about a year and a half -- the collaboration summits, where the key maintainers that are involved in the platform, the decision-makers, and key users (not desktop people, but people who have multimillion dollar commitments to the platform), all get together. Again, these are invite-only events; they're not for the general public. And every time we have one, people are upset -- no, not about Solaris, but because they couldn't come to the event. We got enough of these complaints that finally we said, 'Hm, we should have an event we should open up to more people." That was the impetus here."

LinuxCon differs from other Linux-themed get-togethers in that it's intended to be unabashedly technical. "We've seen a real demand from our own people and other Linux users for smaller-scale events that allow direct interaction with key developers -- tech tutorials, case studies, talk between peers in the industry, you name it."

The scope and timing for the event is still being hammered out, but Jim expects a small but also devoted crowd -- "at least 500 people" for the first event. "The Linux kernel event last week had 300 folks, so I think we'd get at least 500. I don't want to set expectations unrealistically high, so I'd say 500 to 1,000 as a ballpark figure. We're going to cross-promote this show with the O'Reilly folks. At OSCON we have a great open source show, which covers lots of things -- Ruby, Python, Perl, and of course Linux as a part of that. This is Linux-specific, and similar in tech focus; there's not a lot of marketing talk and there isn't meant to be. We want to err on the side of being technical. Here, you'd be exchanging ideas about how to use Linux in embedded systems or large enterprises, hearing from peers in the industry about how they're using Linux to run trading platforms or aerospace or science systems."

That reminded me of something. I'd missed LinuxWorld earlier this year (I was attending a friend's wedding), but from all I heard, it was eminently missable this time around. Now that Linux is just shy of mainstream and we all know where to go to get it, it sounds like it's high time for an open-ended technical conference where anyone can dive in and swim.