February 10, 2010

Last weekend I spent at FOSDEM 2010, the tenth installment of the "Free and Open Source Software Developers' European Meeting". It was my first time there, and it was great. It was a full-blown conference and meeting point for both big and small open source projects from all over Europe.

Let me outline some of the highlights:

  • As expected, the Mozilla presentations were highly frequented, and the Mozilla Europe team presented great HTML 5 features that'll make the future of the Web (and web developers' future) bright. Another presentation focused on the importance of Hackability for making the future of technology what we want, not what we are being fed.
  • Sunday I spent some time on the NoSQL track. It started off with a good presentation on what non-relational databases can do for you, and why they are not supposed to replace SQL. While NoSQL is a buzz word, it's important to note that there is a potential for faster, smoother applications by dropping the rigid framework that relational databases impose on us developers when its advantages are not needed.
  • Another NoSQL related presentation, Introduction to MongoDB, showed off the features of this particular, schema-free, document-oriented, database. I found it highly interesting for web applications and am looking forward to giving it a shot on an upcoming project.
  • Finally, two Facebook engineers explained what Open Source projects they have used and improved to scale their infrastructure to accommodate its enormous user base. What's impressive is that they have introduced improvements on almost all parts of the software stack. In order to serve pictures faster, for example, they wrote a file system that allows them to grab a file in a single read. Another interesting technology is HipHop, their PHP-to-C++ compiler. This ensures that they can hire PHP developers, yet have a ridiculously fast web application. That's probably as ugly as it sounds, but luckily not everybody has to do it ;)

On some of these issues, I am going to go into more detail in followup posts.

I also went to some presentations that affect my work on the Mozilla project slightly less:

  • One of the keynotes, Evil on the Internet, was equally as insightful as it was scary. Not only are the scams out there on the Internet getting smarter and harder to detect, it is also frightening how long some scam sites stay online, if no-one feels responsible for them.
  • Professor Andrew Tanenbaum showed off his MINIX microkernel, version 3, for which he recently received a significant research grant from the European Union. He would also like to see Firefox ported to MINIX, anyone want to help him out? :)

All in all, fosdem 10 was a great success, thanks to all the volunteers who made it happen!

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