I’ve finally recovered enough to talk a bit about how we got on at FOSDEM last weekend.

All in all, it was a really hectic few days, getting up at 4am on Friday morning to get to the airport to make the red-eye flight to Brussels, and then coping with the
hour time difference between Dublin and Brussels during a trip that had us
burning the candle at both ends (getting up at 6:30am was really getting up at 5:30am on Ireland-time, still I’ve got a 17 month old daughter, so that prepared me for it a bit!)

The OpenSolaris stand was staffed by: (alphabetically)

We also had special guest appearances from Steve Lau, Adrian De Groot, Jan Schmidt and Michal Bielicki – thanks for the help guys!

Our stand was a table, with a few chairs, a large OpenSolaris banner in the background, a few boxes of
OpenSolaris starter kits
, lots of copies of the Student guide (part of the “An Introduction to Operating Systems, A Hands-On Approach Using the OpenSolaris project” book) and not enough copies of the current OpenSolaris Developer Preview 2 LiveCD!

In terms of hardware, here’s what we had with us, mostly brought from the Sun Netherlands office by Joep and Casper:

  • 1 x
    Ultra 40
    (with the metal side of the case removed, the inner plastic cover ensuring both
    proper airflow and a lovely view of the hardware) – this was our Sun Ray server for…
  • 3 x Sun Ray 2FS units – 2 were at our booth,
    one beautifully painted
    with the KDE logo,
    and the matching KDE-skinned unit was over at the KDE booth (so we could do some
    demos of hot desking via a very very long ethernet cable, snaking around the corridors of the university where the conference was held) Joep and Casper did most of the work
    to get the Sun Ray server up and running, with Adrian providing the KDE goodness.
  • 2 x 20″ flat screens
  • 1 x 15″ MacBook Pro running SXCE on bare-metal and OpenSolaris Developer Preview 2 in a VirtualBox (or was it a xVM domU?)

  • 1 x EEE PC also running OpenSolaris Developer Preview 2 (which I’m really glad I managed not to break during the course of the weekend!)
  • Assorted other laptops floating about.

Between the Ultra 40 with it’s innards exposed, the beautifully skinned Sun Ray clients and my tiny Eee PC (which now runs Compiz very smoothly indeed!), our stand had a lot of things to pull in quite a crowd – indeed we caused minor traffic jams in the hall from time to time.

Common questions asked by visitors to our stand were:

  • “An Eee PC – wow, where did you get it!?” (followed by me giving a quick run-down of it’s hardware, and then pure astonishment when they were told that we were actually running OpenSolaris on it, booting a ZFS root from a 4gb SDCard – cue ZFS demo)
  • “What’s inside those thin clients?” (followed by amazement when we did the hot-desk demo, including redirection of YouTube audio from one Sun Ray to another)
  • “Is that OpenSolaris running on a Mac Book?”
  • “Why should I run OpenSolaris instead of Linux ?”
  • “Which version of OpenSolaris should I run ?”

All of which gave us ample opportunity to enthuse about our project, point out why we thought it was worth a try, find out what people liked and disliked about the project and admit to things we agreed needed work. Pointers to the OpenSolaris New User FAQ and the Unix Rosetta Stone were also well received.

ZFS and DTrace were obvious attractors for people coming to the stand – the down side was some occasional negative feedback about the opensolaris.org website, mainly confusion as to which distributions people should be running – we need to work on that imho.

In general though, I felt pretty good about being at FOSDEM – I learned a lot by having to talk about our OS on many different levels, everything from discussing the design of ZFS, to one nice person asking what sort of tools were available on OpenSolaris that a Windows administrator would be able to use (I gave a quick demo of Webmin – which looks really nice these days)

We even had some folks from a Belgian TV station who were brought to our stand by the FOSDEM organisers looking to do a short piece about my Eee PC – I showed them OpenSolaris running on it: they asked if I could boot the factory-installed Linux on it instead, which I declined politely, stating that OpenSolaris was a free and open source operating system too, and with a quick reminder that it also had an easy-to-use interface, they were happy to talk to Gilles (who speaks French) on TV – I just wish the "<i boot>" OpenSolaris stickers were a little larger!

Of course, it wasn’t all work – after 6pm we were able to take in some of the nightlife of Brussels, and as a beer aficionado, I was in just the right place! We also got to meet up with Simon and some of the other Sun folks over for the conference: good beer and great conversation, always a nice combo.

Finally – I definitely need to praise the hard work of Patrick for organising our presence at FOSDEM, we really couldn’t have done it without his help, and I was absolutely delighted to have been invited over to the conference.

Here’s hoping OpenSolaris becomes even more popular by FOSDEM 2009, we’ve an interesting year ahead!