Usenix Notes Issue 15

Sun, 19 Jan 97
I am writing this on my Linux portable after USENIX. I hadn’t been to USENIX in four years, and had been looking forward to it for a while. Some things were really great, and others were disappointing. Overall, I enjoyed it and it was worthwhile.

I took two tutorials. The first was on Win32 programming, and it was most of the justification for getting my company to pay for the conference, since I’ll be doing a lot of Windows NT programming starting soon after I return. The tutorial was good, but the notes were not in sync with the slides, which was very frustrating.

The second tutorial, well, the less said about it the better; it was below the usual standard for USENIX tutorials, which are usually quite good.

Of course, the best part of the conference is the conference. There are several components: the refereed papers, the invited talks, the vendor show, and then the general « networking » (not the computer and wires kind, the other kind) that goes on.

The refereed papers didn’t seem that exciting. They all either dealt with enhancements to proprietary versions of Unix, or had WWW in their title. Of course, maybe when I get to read some of the papers, I’ll revise my opinion.

The invited talks were better, particularly from the guys at Bell Labs; Matt Blaze on why encryption isn’t used more often, Rob Pike on Inferno (they gave out an Inferno CD to all registrants) and Bill Cheswick’s « Stupid Net Tricks » talk.

The vendor show was ok. O’Reilly, and especially the San Diego Technical Bookstore did a bang-up business. All the Linux CD-ROM vendors were there and did OK too. The biggest hit was SSC’s t-shirt (see photos elsewhere), which sold like hot cakes. Fortunately, I got mine early.

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This was the first joint USELINUX conference. I must say, Linux is certainly invigorating the USENIX community. The Linux talks I went too were all well attended. Dave Miller and Miguel de Icaza (sp?) gave a neat talk on Linux/SPARC. It doesn’t yet support the Minix filesystem, due to endian issues. Most people in the room didn’t seem to mind… Otherwise, it’s Linux, and it’s cool. You can get a real distribution from Red Hat.

It was particularly interesting that Linus’s talk on the future of Linux overflowed the smaller conference room into the very large main speaking hall. The majority of the conference attendees were there. As always, I found Linus amusing, intelligent, and very insightful about the computer / desktop industry. Linus’s goal: World Domination. But to achieve this, we need real end-user applications (spreadsheets, word processors, etc). Linus made the insightful observation that the Unix vendors have made a mistake concentrating on the market for the server in the back room; no-one sees it, and no-one cares if it’s replaced with something else.

And last, but not least, the « networking » part. Figuring that I probably wouldn’t get to another USENIX for a long time, I took advantage of the opportunity to chat with Dennis Ritchie for a few minutes, and thank him for the courtesy with which he always replies to my email. I enjoyed it; he’s a really neat person.

I got to meet Jeffrey Friedl (author of O’Reilly’s new book on regular expressions); he had found a number of strange cases in gawk’s behavior (that have since been fixed). I also finally met Larry Wall, author of Perl. Larry is one of the few people who generally doesn’t wear a name badge at USENIX; otherwise he wouldn’t be able to move around much.

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I was there when Greg Wettstein (sp?) of the Roger Maris Cancer Center came over, introduced himself to Larry, and told him that many cancer patients were having an easier life thanks to Perl. It was a humbling experience, since I certainly haven’t made that kind of an impact on anything, and Larry too seemed a bit awed. Larry’s a neat guy; I hope to get to know him better in the future.

Conclusions: 1. It’s worthwhile for Linux people to be involved in USENIX; we’re all on the same Open Systems / Free Software team, even if we don’t realize it. 2. Linux is invigorating USENIX, it’s brought the fun back into the Unix world.

Arnold Robbins — The Basement Computer Internet: UUCP: dragon!skeeve!arnold

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