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OSCON 2012: Bring back BSD

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March 13th, 2012

Version 1.1

© Michael Dexter

OSCON 2012 is coming and Unix will be everywhere, yet invisible

O'Reilly 4.4BSD Reference Series © 1994 USENIX Association and O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.

There was a time when O'Reilly Media in partnership with USENIX offered the definitive series of 4.4BSD reference books and in them you could find a solid introduction to BSD Unix usage and programming. The series is comprised mostly of academic papers and manual pages and fortunately most of these are available online. Authors include Dennis M. Ritchie, K. Thompson, Brian W. Kernighan, S. R. Bourne, William Joy, Robert Fabry, Keith Bostic, Eric P. Allman, Lorinda L. Cherry, Richard M. Stallman and of course M. Kirk McKusick. To call the series "Biblical" would not be inaccurate and its sequence of materials is exquisite. I keep several old technical books around because they're quaint but these I keep around because they're useful. You can find a partial archive of these works that is maintained by the FreeBSD project.

So where are we now? It is telling that the BSD-licensed nginx web server overtook Microsoft IIS the first week of 2012: countless excellent tools have been introduced over the last twenty years yet the majority of them still come out of Unix environments. The result is a disconnect where Unix systems are increasingly being taken for granted, including on mobile phones, but their documentation has thoroughly fragmented. One O'Reilly Media editor observed:

"Linux (and open source projects more generally) exemplify most of the challenges that make publishing difficult nowadays. During the 1990s and early 2000 decade, O'Reilly was selling lots of books about the Linux kernel and about related topics such as Samba. These books received great acclaim. But sales started to sell off as our sophisticated readers started turning to online blogs and forums. We're convinced that great content can still sell. What we notice is that readers are moving "up the stack" (a phrase I heard Red Hat say a decade ago about their own strategy). In other words, the popular topics are JavaScript, mobile computing, data crunching, and web administration. At the same time, progress on Linux and many other free software projects has moved so fast that my authors have found it hard to keep the books updated. It has taken a long time to adjust. Our strategy will probably include smaller documents and quick updates, made possible by print-on-demand and electronic distribution. System administration in general used to be our best-selling area and now is restricted to a few classics like DNS & BIND, along with certain hot new topics in the area popularly known as Devops."

What we can do about this disconnect is entirely up to you. O'Reilly's OSCON is the largest open source conference in North America and is a very good place to start. While Kirk gave a talk "Building and Running An Open-Source Community: The FreeBSD Project" at OSCON 2009, it suffered the classic fringe topic fate: it was hosted in the very last room on the last day of the conference. The OSCON 2012 Call for Participation closed on January 12th and hopefully the BSD community submitted a few talks and tutorials. While O'Reilly does not cover speaker travel and accommodations like most BSDCon's, the free sessions, hallway track, Community Leadership Summit, parties and the City of Portland are well worth the trip. In previous years, submitting alone entitled you to added conference benefits.

As part of the countdown to OSCON 2012, I will post my photos from previous OSCON's to give you a feel for what you can look forward to.

See you in Portland!

CFT

Copyright © 2011 – 2014 Michael Dexter unless specified otherwise. Feedback and corrections welcome.