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Across the Pond

Second Perl Conference

Perl, one of today's most popular programming languages, is maturing and becoming established in mission-critical applications in large corporate settings. This is one conclusion reached by Perl's creator, Larry Wall, following the Second Annual Perl Conference, which took place in August in San Jose, CA. O'Reilly & Associates, sponsor of the conference, reported that more than 1200 people, a 25% increase over the first Perl Conference in 1997, attended the four-day event, another sign that the Perl community is growing rapidly.

"We're now seeing the critical mass along with the technical maturity," said Wall, Senior Software Developer with O'Reilly & Associates. "Last year, at the first Perl Conference, there was a sense of raw excitement. This year we've added to that a sense of confidence that Perl is getting the recognition it deserves."

Most of the conference presentations were technical in nature. However, one session, "Championing Perl," discussed the issues that management has with using Perl in corporate settings where the perceived "safe" choice is packaged, proprietary software. The panel covered such topics as technical support for Perl, licensing issues, and "name dropping," that is, the mention of companies like IBM, Yahoo and Netscape, all of whom are using Perl, to convince managers of Perl's practicality. Dick Hardt, Chief Technology Officer of ActiveState Tool Corp., a leading developer of Perl for Windows systems, was moderator of the panel. "A number of Perl developers have had difficulty getting Perl officially accepted by their managers," Hardt said. "In some cases the developers have used Perl anyway because it was the best tool for the job. In other cases people had been successful in getting Perl accepted, and many developers found it encouraging to hear how this was accomplished."

At the Perl Conference, Tim O'Reilly, Founder and CEO of O'Reilly & Associates, awarded six prizes of $1,000 each to winners of a contest for Best User Applications. "Developers continue to push the boundaries of what you can accomplish with Perl," O'Reilly explained. "These awards clearly exemplify the growing reach of Perl. For example, Carlos de la Guardia and Javier Rodriguez won Best End-Use Application for putting together an entire online banking service for a large bank in Perl, on a very accelerated time-frame, and on budget." Other winners were: Best Software Development Tool, Ken Fox; Best New Module, Gisle Aas; Best System Administration Tool, Marty Cudmore and Richard Jetton; Best Web Application Tool, Jon Udell; and the Larry Wall Award for Practical Utility, Damian Conway.

At the Perl Conference, Netscape Communications' Tim Howes, Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer for the Server Products Division, announced that Netscape will release PerlLDAP, combining Perl with Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), as open source software, in about a month. The new software lets developers quickly create directory capabilities for extranet applications. PerlLDAP integrates LDAP into Perl, assisting in information exchanged (using both LDAP and non-LDAP protocols) between computers, from mainframes to PCs.

Several additional announcements were made in conjunction with the Perl Conference. The new Perl, version 5.005, was recently released, including dozens of significant new features including the integration of Win32 into Perl's core. O'Reilly's Perl Resource Kit-Win32 Edition was released at the conference, featuring more than 1800 pages of documentation and the first comprehensive collection of Win32 modules for Perl.

Perl Conference 2.0 was followed by Open Source Developers Day, a full day of presentations on the practical aspects of developing open source software businesses, and the Open Source Town Meeting, attended by more than 300 participants.

O'Reilly's Open Source Developer Day

The main-streaming of open source software accelerated on Friday, August 21, when over 300 people attended O'Reilly & Associates' Open Source Developer Day and Town Meeting in San Jose, CA. Attendees heard Yahoo co-founder David Filo say that his company couldn't have built the world's largest web site without FreeBSD, Apache, and Perl - all open source software. IBM's James Barry told the audience how IBM came to realize that Apache was the best choice for the web server at the heart of the WebSphere Application Server. And Jim Hamerly of Netscape explained how his company developed licenses for its Communicator product that both promote open source development and protect corporate interests.

Open Source Developer Day had a practical focus. Eric Raymond, author of the influential paper "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", kicked off the program with a keynote that chronicled the rapid growth of the open source movement in the past year. His talk was followed by panel presentations on managing distributed open source projects, open source business models, and licensing and legal issues. Panelists were open source pioneers and innovators, including Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation; Larry Wall, creator of Perl; Brian Behlendorf, a founder of the Apache group and Vice President of Web Applications, C2Net Software; John Ousterhout, CEO, Scriptics Corp. and creator of the Tcl scripting language; Michael Tiemann, Co-founder, Cygnus Solutions; Bob Young, President, Red Hat Software; and Pamela Samuelson, Professor at the University of California at Berkeley and Co-director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.

At the end of the day, another 100 people joined the crowd for the Open Source Town Meeting, which was moderated by Tim O'Reilly, President and CEO of O'Reilly & Associates. Attendees' questions flushed out the philosophical differences between panelists and provoked a spirited discussion on the pros and cons of commercializing open source software. Scriptics Corp. CEO John Ousterhout elicited strong support when he made a case for the value of bringing business knowledge - and funding - to open source development efforts. At the other end of the spectrum, Richard Stallman, founding father of the free software movement, reiterated his long-held belief that all users should have the freedom to copy and change any software they use.

Twenty-eight businesses and organizations that have a stake in the continued development of open source software signed on as Partners in Open Source Developer Day. Representatives staffed tables at the event, providing information and demonstrations to attendees. Partners were:

Dogbot Pet

Forget Furby, you'll soon be able to try a "dogbot". Sony engineers have developed
a robotic dog, complete with 64-bit central processing unit, 8 megabytes of memory, and a supersensitive camera "eye" that enables it to obey motion commands -- if you stick your hand out, Dogbot will sit. The robot is reconfigurable, so that the owner can swap out limbs or even the head, and each module is "intelligent" - equipped with its own motor and control chip.
The head of the research lab expects the dogbot to find a market among children sometime around the year 2000.

Reprinted from Edupage, Business Week, July 20, 1998 with permission.

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