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Ontario Linux Fest wrap-up

I attended the second annual Ontario Linux Fest on Saturday, held at the Days Inn and Conference Centre near the airport in Toronto. These days I find that my interest in specific technologies is waning and that I’m more interested in the public and social policy angles of technology and in particular, free software.

To that end, two interesting individuals gave presentations at the ‘Fest: Jeremy Allison (of Samba fame) and Bradley Kuhn of the Software Freedom Law Centre. Jeremy actually gave two presentations: a keynote that was basically an expansion of his ZDNet column Livin’ La Vida Linux, and a second that traced the history of Samba in both a serious and an entertaining way. Sadly I didn’t bring a notepad and didn’t take any notes, so I can’t properly relate any of the interesting nuggets, particularly regarding the Samba project’s interactions with Microsoft over the years (from good to bad). If you get a chance to see Jeremy speak, I’d highly recommend it.

Bradley Kuhn works for the SFLC, whose mandate is to provide legal services to Free and Open Source Software projects who could not otherwise afford legal representation. The SFLC’s services run the gamut from licensing development to license enforcement. Bradley gave an informative talk on the SFLC’s role and some specific aspects of the GNU General Public License, and in particular, some of the reasons GPLv3 was invented. He also touched briefly on the Affero GPL, which is identical to the GPL except that it has a clause about using software over the network, intended to cover software-as-a-service (for example, developers writing code running within a hosted platform like Ning, or Facebook applications, etc.) He also commented that there was a substantial effort to incorporate Affero provisions into GPLv3 but "some companies" (at this point he flipped over the list of conference sponsors) strenuously objected and the provisions were left out.

My impression is that the SFLC and its sister project, the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), are very valuable organizations. Evidence of this is that Samba and Wine, two projects which could be targets of litigation by Large Commercial Operating System Vendor ™, are member projects under the aegis of the SFC. My only complaint is, as usual, that both of these organizations have no Canadian representation. To obtain such representation would require a staff lawyer with training in Canadian law and a license to practice here. However, I would certainly consider volunteering some of my time to the SFLC should they ever establish a Canadian presence.

The rest of the conference was relatively mundane. I know this is going to come across as sacrilege to many Linux users, but I always find maddog‘s presentations to be uninteresting. In my view, maddog could reduce the length of his talks by at least 50% without serious impact, and it might make them more interesting and lively. It would also force him to focus on a short list of points, rather than trying to cram all kinds of material into the talk.

Altogether, the conference was decent for the bargain basement price of $40. However, the location is very far from downtown and it took me over an hour to travel there. I would advise the organizers to try to book space on Ryerson or the University of Toronto campus next year, just as the BSDCan conference rents space on the University of Ottawa’s campus.