FEATURE ARTICLE: Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Fair 2009


by John Martin
OIT Outreach, Communications and Consulting—Information and News Services

NC State’s recent FOSS Fair 2009 was a “stepping stone to strengthening the open source community in the area,” said fair organizer and self-proclaimed “Linux Czar,” Jack Neely. “It was a very rewarding personal experience, too,” he added.

The goal of the fair, jointly sponsored by the NC State University Department of Computer Science and the Campus Linux Services department of NC State’s Office of Information Technology, was to bring together NC State students, faculty, staff and guests working in the open source arena. Approximately 70 people attended the event held in Centennial Campus Engineering Building 2 on Monday, February 2, 2009.

The all-day event featured two keynote addresses, as well as other sessions and activities. Former NC State graduate and Red Hat Emerging Technologies team member Michael DeHaan spoke about learning how to get your software into Fedora for “visibility by millions,” and how its account system, RPM packaging and build system works. He also spoke briefly about fedorahosted.org services.

The second keynote address was delivered by Deb Woods, who is an NCSU BSEE graduate with 10+ years open source project experience. She previously worked at Red Hat as VP of Product Management and currently is the VP of Product Management at Ingres Corporation, an open source database company. She is also a board member for the Open Solutions Alliance. Deb talked about the value of open source, and how it is changing the world around software projects as they are known today. Open Source challenges the way we think about putting projects together, picking team leaders, sharing ideas, testing code, and delivering and supporting software products in today’s market. Open Source is affecting industries outside of typical software projects as well. The concept of building communities around projects is growing mindshare around the world and individuals are building professional resumes as they never have before.

In addition to the two keynotes, other conference sessions included titles such as: Realm Linux, Virtualization, Upcoming Filesystems, Live Images and Appliances, GRASS GIS, Open Health Tools, Linux Device Driver Tutorial, and Spacewalk.

After the event, I sat down with Jack and asked him a few questions about how it all played out:

  1. What precipitated the idea of having this FOSS Fair?
    • Several open source events had gone on in the community, and it seemed like a good idea to try and have one that would bring the entire community together. I thought of the fair, and people seemed interested in it, so I took it on.
  2. Approximately how many people attended the fair?
    • Thirty-four people signed up on the wiki, which is what I used to solicit session ideas and for the registration. But, I’d say there were 60-70 people there at one point during the day. Because more people came than planned, our rooms were very full. I had reserved three rooms: 3211, 3300 and 2216 in the Centennial Campus Engineering Building 2. However, since 2216 was on a different floor, it turned out to not be used very much. 3211 filled up for both keynotes, and 3300, since it only accommodates about 15-20 people, was crowded for the sessions held within it.
  3. How did the day start off?
    • Everyone was very supportive, and most things worked out well. Sometimes unconferences are a little chaotic at the beginning, but we had used the wiki page to sign up for sessions, so we didn’t have to go through the activity of seeing who’d like to present on what, and then narrowing down the choices to accommodate the time and space.
  4. One of the goals of the fair was to encourage students to share some of their open source work. Did that happen?
    • We had two students do a presentation. Andy Meneely and Younghee Shin facilitated a session called, “Predicting Vulnerabilities with Software Metrics” based on their software engineering research.
  5. One of the teasers on your poster ad for the fair was an invitation to come and “hack out some code.” Did that happen?
    • We did have one session about kernel drivers that got pretty crazy. Some code was demoed, but no actual hacking took place. It was a fun and interesting session, though.
  6. Did anything stand out from the keynotes that you’d like to share?
    • Well, they were both good, but Deb’s was one during which I couldn’t stop thinking of all the people that should have been there to hear it. Though most of the fair was pretty technical, what was interesting about Deb’s talk was the nontechnical aspect of it. She spoke about how open source benefits commercial industries and education, and how that style of working together makes better products. One very interesting statistic she shared was regarding bug reports associated with closed source products versus open source products. 60% of the bugs submitted against open source products had solutions with them!
  7. How effective was your advertising campaign? Did you get a sense for how people heard about the event?
    • Laurie Williams did a lot of work bringing in the companies, after which networking kicked in. That, along with the wiki pages, and the poster campaign—there were several comments about seeing the posters your group did for us—seemed to have been the most effective.
  8. How did the logistics of an “unconference” work out for you, and do you have any advice for others considering organizing one themselves?
    • I wanted to be able to provide lunch, but I wasn’t able to due to the current budget situation. Carlos—a great guy and IT manager over in the Computer Science department—and I got together and bought about $20 worth of drinks. That’s the best we could do, but it really did work out quite well.
    • As for the rooms, if I were to do it again, I’d try to get a space like the Progress Energy Suites, to allow for a bigger response than expected. At the very least, all of the rooms need to be on the same floor and as close to each other as possible.
    • And, finally, I think I’d try to stress even more how important it is to register for the fair on the wiki. It’s critical for planning purposes.

Read more about NCSU’s Open Source Initiative at the Campus Linux Services Web site: http://www.linux.ncsu.edu/osi.