Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Importance of Speaking at Conferences

In Why We Send Developers to Conferences, Thomas Abthorpe discussed the value in face-to-face networking with both committers and BSD users.

In this post, Ion-Mihai Tetcu discusses the importance of BSD developers speaking at non-BSD specific and international conferences. His report also shows some of the lessons that can be learned from meeting with users and learning first-hand how a global project is meeting their local needs.

I had the opportunity, with the Foundation's help, to participate as a speaker at FISL 10 in Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil. This year's anniversary edition had 8,232 paying attendees, speakers from 28 countries, a lot of vendors and user groups, and a powerful media presence. FISL was sponsored, among others, by the Brazilian Federal Government and Brazil's President Mr. Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva gave a nice speech .

Open source in Brazil has a powerful momentum, being promoted by the federal and various states and local governments. It is seen as a way to reduce the country's dependency on foreign companies, a way to reduce unemployment, and generate local revenues and expertise. It is used by the national bank, federal government institutions and even by local subsidiaries of big multinational companies. Open Source in Brazil pretty much equals Linux, especially RedHat, Suse and Debian (who all have powerful user-groups) and a few local distributions. (Free)BSD is also used, especially by telcos and in the embedded market. More that 50% of the attendees didn't understand English and the situation is even worse in the general public. This practically implies that, without localization, a software product can not have any significant market share in Brazil.

Apart from my DSPAM talk, I gave a general talk about FreeBSD ports and packages and PCBSD's PBIs, was one of the hosts of the BSD-Meeting and assisted at the FUG-BR stand. Unfortunately, the other BSDs had zero presence. The 6 hours of the BSD-Meeting were a micro-conference attended by 65-70 people. Of the 5 talks, 3 could have easily found a place on the main schedule and I repeatedly kicked those speakers for not submitting their talks to FISL organizers. From the Brazilian user's perspective, the biggest problem faced is the lack of a localized version of FreeBSD. For example, I was asked if we could provide a framework for localizing the OPTIONs and pkg-message of our ports. When faced with a new operating system, many users will choose a localized Linux variant over the effort of learning both a new operating system and a new language. As a first step, I am pursuing with the PC-BSD folks the idea of doing a custom-built PC-BSD variant localized for Brazil. Marcelo Araujo presented what the translation process implies and one of the results of the BSD-Meeting is a restart ofthe Brazilian Documentation Project.

Lacking any promotional materials except a few posters, the FUB-BR booth didn't attract as many people as the other booths. However, it was a place where people could meet some FreeBSD committers and we had many interesting discussions with both FreeBSD and Linux users. One of the things practically everybody I spoke with during the conference told me was that they desire international speakers. At least 30 people attended FISL because there was a FreeBSD speaker from abroad. I think this is an important idea and that we should also encourage developers to give talks at general F/OSS conferences.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Safe Removal of Active Disk Devices

Earlier this year, the Foundation sponsored Edward Tomasz Napierala to fix FreeBSD's #1 reported bug: a USB disk causing a panic when detached before unmounting. Edward describes the project as follows:

One of the long-standing problems encountered by FreeBSD users was the fact that the system could often crash after a mounted disk device - for example, a USB flash drive - was removed. This behavior was not only annoying, but also made a bad impression about the overall stability and robustness of the operating system.

The project was not about fixing one buggy driver, as it could seem at first glance. Fixing the problem involved changes in CAM (Common Access Method, FreeBSD SCSI subsystem), GEOM framework, Virtual Filesystem layer, and finally the UFS filesystem. (Ironically, there were no problems with the USB itself.) There were no big design changes of any sort; just an iterative process of finding a way to crash the system, tracking down the bug that was causing it, fixing it, and proceeding to the next one. Most of the fixes were backported to FreeBSD 7-STABLE and will appear in FreeBSD 7.2.

It is now possible to remove mounted devices - and to unmount them afterwards - without any user-unfriendly behavior, such as crashes. Also, the system became more robust in the presence of non-USB disk removal, such as SCSI or SATA drive detachment or failure.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New Board Member

We are pleased to announce the addition of Dru Lavigne to our Board of Directors. Dru brings with her years of experience as a writer, FreeBSD advocate, and FreeBSD administrator/teacher.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Be Counted Campaign

Millions of systems run FreeBSD. Hundreds of volunteers contribute to FreeBSD's success. But what is the size of FreeBSD's user base? This simple question is very hard to answer, but its answer is vital to the cause of promoting FreeBSD. It is extremely difficult to convince businesses to invest time and money to add FreeBSD support to their products based solely on vague estimates of the size of our community. We should know - working to make FreeBSD a more widely supported platform is a task the FreeBSD Foundation has worked on since its inception.

Please help us in our fight to promote FreeBSD. A donation to the FreeBSD Foundation helps fund our work, but it also gives us strength in numbers. Our count of unique donors is a vital indication of the size and buying power of our community. However, we have never broken even one thousand donors in any year. We know in our hearts that this is a small fraction of our user base and of those who want to help expand FreeBSD's presence.

So stand up and be counted! Make a donation. Encourage other FreeBSD users to donate as well. No donation amount is too large or too small. Just by becoming a donor you are making a powerful statement about the strength of FreeBSD!