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Fun Stuff at OSCON 2005 153

OSCON 2005 was held in a convention center this year, instead of a hotel, because it just got too big (2000+ people). Too big, in fact, for pudge and myself to cover more than a fraction of the talks and the ideas flitting around the hallways. But here's some of what I found cool last week. And if you attended or presented at OSCON and want to tell us about all the neat stuff we missed, please, share your thoughts in the comments, or submit a fact-rich writeup and we'll maybe do a followup story later.

Mike Shaver's talk on writing Firefox extensions was packed to the walls. If you've been wanting to try it, Firefox 1.5 makes development easier, and should be out soon, so now's a good time. This talk and the tutorial on Ajax persuaded me to start using the DOM Inspector and debugging some JavaScript to get a better understanding of webpage manipulation.

Aaron Boodman's talk on his extension Greasemonkey was a walkthrough of writing a simple GM user script, a discussion of what's coming up, and some Q&A. Greasemonkey 0.5 ("Now With Security!") is in beta: there are multiple security changes that suggest someone really has sat down and thought the whole model through. GM works with Firefox, Seamonkey, Opera, and Windows MSIE (but not, oh please somebody correct this oversight, Safari).

Ruby on Rails is hot; if you want to develop a web app quickly you can't ignore it. It stresses "convention over configuration" with reasonable defaults. The tutorial went from installation to the "hello world" of the web, a blog (!), in a few hours. Anyone have a real-world example of Rails scaling to a large project and lots of traffic?

DarwinBuild is an open-source project from Apple that aids in building the open-source components of Darwin/Mac OS X. Given a build number of Mac OS X, it will fetch and build the software for that version, allowing you to modify the source as needed, making it easy for any developer to modify everything from the kernel to various utilities (just remember to reapply the modifications after running Software Update, if necessary). You can read more about it from, in addition to the web site, the presentation slides.

Google and O'Reilly gave out the 2005 open source awards, with $5000 attached to each. Congratulations to the winners.

Tony Baxter's Shtoom is a cross-platform VoIP client and software framework, written in Python, for writing your own phone applications.

Novell is still moving its employees from Windows to Linux, which we first heard at last year's OSCON. The migration from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice is complete, and the big step, from Windows to Linux, is 50% complete, projected to be 80% by November. Miguel de Icaza gave flashy demos of some Linux desktop applications that didn't impress this cynical observer very much.

PlaceSite is an open-source project looking to bring physical proximity awareness to Internet access at coffeeshops and other meetingplaces: think "local-only Friendster" and you're not far off. They got feedback from a monthlong trial earlier this year and are working on a new version that will be easy to deploy. Could be neat.

In a great 2-hour session on Wednesday, we got to hear from representatives of four leading open source databases about what they've been working on lately. Here are the summaries...

Ingres r3 has an impressive list of big features. Ingres was just open-sourced by Computer Associates this summer, and it's gotten a lot of attention for being a full-featured enterprise database. Ingres supports table partitioning that can be either range-based or hash-based, which can greatly improve performance in many cases. Its optimizer can now come up with parallel execution plans, which can be useful even on single-CPU machines and non-partitioned tables. There's also federated data storage (one can access data stored in another RDBMS through Ingres) and replication. And they're working on a concurrent access cluster, to allow data to be manipulated not just by multiple threads on one machine, but multiple machines.

A side note: Computer Associates was invited by O'Reilly to talk about its recently open-sourcing Ingres. Its representative, while confessing that introducing a new license was "probably the wrong thing to do," said that other licenses wouldn't have worked for them (the GPL "was seen as viral"). The one question that the audience had time to ask was "is Ingres a dump" -- is CA making it open-source to transfer the responsibility of support from the company to the community? The three-part "no" answer was that there are more CA developers working on Ingres now, that Ingres is at the core of their new releases, and that they've sponsored a "million-dollar challenge" to foster community interest. Time will tell I guess.

Firebird 2.0 has been in alpha since January and a beta is expected soon. Since 2000 much of their development has been aimed at making the product easy to install, and making the code easy for a distributed group of developers to work on. This year they're building features on that groundwork. Their design includes 2-phase commits (since the beginning), cooperative garbage collection (as a transaction encounters unneeded data, it removes it) and self-balancing indexes. Backup has been improved. When 2.0 gets to beta, I'm going to check this out, it sounds like very interesting technology (and apparently it will install with four clicks!).

MySQL 5.0 is in beta, and has been feature-frozen since April. Back in 4.1, its abstracted table-type has been put to advantage with odd engines like Archive (only insert, no update); Blackhole for fast replication; and an improvement to MyISAM for logging (allowing concurrent selects with inserts-at-table-end). Their Connector/MXJ lets you run a native MySQL server embedded inside a Java application. In 5.0 we're seeing stored procedures per the SQL:2003 standard, triggers, updatable views, XA (distribution transaction), SAP R/3 compatible server side cursors, fast precision math, a federated storage engine, a greedy optimizer for better handling of many-table joins, and an optional "strict mode" to turn some of MySQL's friendly nonstandard warnings into compliant errors. And they're working on partitioning, ODBC, and letting MySQL Cluster's non-indexed columns to be stored on disk.

PostgreSQL 8.1 is expected to be released in November or December, after a feature-freeze in July -- and it's an impressive list of new features. Their optimizer will make use of multiple indexes when appropriate, which is pretty darn exciting. The recommendation will be that in most cases it will be most efficient to have only single-column indexes and let the optimizer figure out which combination to use. They're implementing a 2-phase commit, they're bringing the automatic vacuum into the core code, and they removed a global shared buffer lock so they're now getting "almost linear" SMP performance scaling. I've never felt the need for Postgres, but I'm definitely going to look at 8.1.

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Fun Stuff at OSCON 2005

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  • by jurt1235 ( 834677 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @09:54AM (#13285744) Homepage
    I think that is good. Desktops are supposed to be boring (at least for business). To much eyecandy or things to be impressed about (3D flipping transparent rotating windows, everything animated, multimedia under every mouseclick) has nothing to do with productivity or doing business anymore. I think that Novell realises this much that they now that they can run their business on desktop linux (and they do), and that is does not really has to impress anybody. If somebody wants to save on licences and maintenance the next migration, just look over here is the message from Novell.
  • Ruby on Rails (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mauriatm ( 531406 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @10:03AM (#13285808) Homepage
    From the main site: "Rails is a full-stack, open-source web framework in Ruby for writing real-world applications with joy and less code than most frameworks spend doing XML sit-ups". ... Curious: so how does this compete with other web frameworks in use (LAMP, J2EE, .Net, etc)? Pros, Cons? Any users/developers here?
  • What Everyone Missed (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @10:24AM (#13285960)
    1. Drunken Geeks
    2. Hookers
    3. Drunken Hookers
    4. Someone puked on a Trane AC unit
    5. Volleyball with a Rubber-banded Jewelbox of Windows NT CDs.
    6. Soy-based Donuts (an abomination)
    7. "Schwag" T-Shirts
    8. Someone brought a PINK alienware laptop and was parading it around (what's up with that?)
    9. Endless 'Sith' debates, sometimes ending via Trial by Combat.
    10. Old School Flower hippies don't intermingle well with Newage Code hippies.

    Code? What code?
  • by FunWithHeadlines ( 644929 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @10:26AM (#13285977) Homepage
    "Computer Associates was invited by O'Reilly to talk about its recently open-sourcing Ingres. Its representative, while confessing that introducing a new license was "probably the wrong thing to do," said that other licenses wouldn't have worked for them (the GPL "was seen as viral")."

    What a disappointing response by the CA representative. Can CA really be that clueless, since a simple Google search on "GPL viral" will find plenty of information (including past articles on /.) that show the GPL is NOT viral? Or is CA just pushing that FUD for some other reason? I don't know, but it's disappointing to see them resort to that tired excuse for their actions.

    If you use a GPL'ed database tool, the GPL does not come into play with regard to your software, any more than using the GIMP to create a picture doesn't GPL your software in the process. The GPL comes into play if you were to grab some GPL code and put it into your software product, and then you release the result as your own product under a different licensing scheme. You are then given a choice: Release it under the GPL or not release that code. There is always a third option: Don't take someone else's code without honoring its license terms in the first place. Write it yourself, if you want to release under a different license.

    But none of this applies to using a DB program. The GPL isn't viral in the first place, and it certainly doesn't apply to the end-user use of a software package.

  • by the big v ( 45514 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:09AM (#13286300)
    I have a buddy who works in the Novell legal department. I asked him if he was being forced to switch from MSOffice to OpenOffice, and he said no. There is no way he could prepare his necessary documents with OO because of some features it lacked. Specifically he said they had problems with generating the kinds of tables they needed.

    Further, he indicated that they were not going to be forced to switch. I wonder if that 100% change that Miguel indicated was for the technical and support staff only.

    Anyhow, I decided to download and try out NLD when I got back from the conference. It failed to recognize my monitor (19" Dell flat panel with DVI interface) and sound didn't work even though it recognized the card. On recommendation from a friend, I tried Ubuntu the other night and it worked with everything (except the printer needs some driver change to work which I haven't done yet).
  • What's all the hype? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ramannoodle ( 683009 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:48AM (#13286596) Homepage

    Although I applaud Ruby at finally getting an MVC-based framework together, I don't see what all the hype is lately. MVC-based frameworks have been around for a long time, and MVC-based frameworks in other OSS languages have been around since RoR came to be as well.

    Java has Struts and others, Perl has an excellent Framework called Catalyst based on another MVC framework by Simon Cozens called Maypole - see Jesse Sheidlower's article [] on O'Reilly for building an AJAX-based framework in 30-lines of code or less in Catalyst. PHP even has one that's been out for awhile called Fusebox that is based off of another for Cold Fusion. What is it that is so special about Ruby on Rails?

  • by aallan ( 68633 ) <> on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @12:09PM (#13286771) Homepage

    No, I think the CA stand in the exhibit hall made it very clear that CA just "doesn't get it", they were treating OSCON like a normal industry trade show rather than trying to sell themselves technically, which is pretty much the only way to do it at OSCON.

    Of course, if their exhibit hall stand didn't show it, their awful keynote [] talk surely did...

  • by rycamor ( 194164 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2005 @11:41PM (#13291714)
    While PostgreSQL usually doesn't seem to get decent press from O'Reilly, it practially dominated the database talks at OSCON. Just about every database event either included or featured PostgreSQL.

    The things in the works for 8.1 and 8.2 are looking very interesting indeed. Besides 2-phase commit and bitmap indexes:

    - Full multi-master replication with Slony 2 (Slony 1 is single-master)
    - IN/OUT paramater declaration for more flexibility in functions (making PL/PgSQL even more like PL/SQL)
    - Much more useable and flexible custom datatype creation. "Complex" dataypes may not seem too useful for standard business databases, but they have all sorts of applications in areas like mapping, engineering, scientific analysis, etc... (Not to mention which, you might even want to think in terms of mapping custom datatypes to classes in your applications.)
    - Horizontal partitioning: this is a concept used in very large tables, where you might want different groups of rows from one table stored in different locations, such as different physical disks, SANs, etc... This sort of thing is actually already being done informally by leveraging PostgreSQL's table inheritance features and tablespaces, but in the future (8.2 or 8.3?) it should become a standard feature.

    Speaking of which, how many people caught Josh Berkus and Joe Conway's talk on "Terabytes of Business Intelligence"? Very interesting insights on how to handle very large databases in PostgreSQL. For example, Joe Conway's project gathers statistics from industrial equipment around the world, receiving several GB a day of data on the central server, an 8-CPU XEON, storing the data on a SAN array via NFS mount configured for jumbo frames. To handle the super-large main table, he created a partitioning schema where there are 12 sub-tables, each holding the data for one month of the year, and then creating a main table via inheritance [] from these tables to present a unified relation of all this data. In some ways this may sound like a view from a UNION query, but the implementation has much better performance and maintenance implications.

    All this means PostgreSQL is steadily gaining ground on the Big 3 database vendors, and in some ways surpassing them, as far as the quality of the implementation. Many of the distinctions now are in external areas, such as application servers and federated systems. (You can do either of these things in PostgreSQL, but there is no official standardized method)

    We all know that the main DB vendors don't allow anyone to publish benchmarks without permission, so of course there are no easily accessible benchmarks between PostgreSQL and Oracle, for instance. But, in informal talks at OSCON, I found at least a couple companies who had done their own internal benchmarks and PostgreSQL came out ahead surprisingly often.

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972