Ottawa Linux Symposium needs your help

If you have ever attended the Ottawa Linux Symposium (OLS), read a paper on a technology first publicly suggested at OLS, or use Linux today, please consider donating to help the conference and Andrew Hutton, the conference’s principal organizer since 1999.

I first attended OLS in the summer of 2003. I had heard of this mythical conference in Canada each summer, a long way from Austin yet still considered domestic rather than international for the purposes of business travel authorization, so getting approval to attend wasn’t so hard. I met Val on the walk from Les Suites to the conference center on the first morning, James Bottomley during a storage subsystem breakout the first afternoon, Jon Masters while still in his manic coffee phase, and countless others that first year. Willie organized the bicycle-chain keysigning that helped people put faces to names we only knew via LKML posts. I remember meeting Andrew in the ever-present hallway track, and somehow wound up on the program committee for the following year and the next several.

I went on to submit papers in 2004 (DKMS), 2006 (Firmware Tools), 2008 (MirrorManager). Getting a paper accepted meant great exposure for your projects (these three are still in use today). It also meant an invitation to my first exposure to the party-within-the-party – the excellent speaker events that Andrew organized as a thank-you to the speakers. Scotch-tastings with a haggis celebrated by Stephen Tweedie. A cruise on the Ottawa River. An evening in a cold war fallout shelter reserved for Parliament officials with the most excellent Scotch that only Mark Shuttleworth could bring. These were always a special treat which I always looked forward to.

Andrew, and all the good people who helped organize OLS each year, put on quite a show, being intentional about building the community – not by numbers (though for quite a while, attendance grew and grew) – but providing space to build deep personal connections that are so critical to the open source development model. It’s much harder to be angry about someone rejecting your patches when you’ve met them face to face, and rather than think it’s out of spite, understand the context behind their decisions, and how you can better work within that context. I first met many of the Linux developers face-to-face at OLS that became my colleagues for the last 15 years.

I haven’t been able to attend for the last few years, but always enjoyed the conference, the hallway talks, the speaker parties, and the intentional community-building that OLS represents.

Several economic changes conspired to put OLS into the financial bind it is today. You can read Andrew’s take about it on the Indiegogo site. I think the problems started before the temporary move to Montreal. In OLS’s growth years, the Kernel Summit was co-located, and preceded OLS. After several years with this arrangement, the Kernel Summit members decided that OLS was getting too big, that the week got really really long (2 days of KS plus 4 days of OLS), and that everyone had been to Ottawa enough times that it was time to move the meetings around. Cambridge, UK would be the next KS venue (and a fine venue it was). But in moving KS away, some of the gravitational attraction of so many kernel developers left OLS as well.

The second problem came in moving the Ottawa Linux Symposium to Montreal for a year. This was necessary, as the conference facility in Ottawa was being remodeled (really, rebuilt from the ground up), which prevented it from being held there. This move took even more of the wind out of the sails. I wasn’t able to attend the Montreal symposium, nor since, but as I understand it, attendance has been on the decline ever since. Andrew’s perseverance has kept the conference alive, albeit smaller, at a staggering personal cost.

Whether or not the conference happens in 2015 remains to be seen. Regardless, I’ve made a donation to support the debt relief, in gratitude for the connections that OLS forged for me in the Linux community. If OLS has had an impact in your career, your friendships, please make a donation yourself to help both Andrew, and the conference.

Visit the OLS Indigogo site to show your respect.