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Community Leadership Summit (CLS)

The Community Leadership Summit is an important annual 2-day unconference event at which close to 200 community leaders get together and swap stories and best practices. What makes this summit unique is that it is not entirely made up of technical leaders – a number of participants work in social media, and in fact many of them work outside technical circles altogether (one this year was from an improv comedy community). This year I helped organize the conference by servicing the wiki in the weeks leading up as well as moving chairs and such during the event.

CLS is itself a community of community leaders, so it is a great opportunity to discuss meta-issues. One of the most interesting themes this year was the difference between community management – the day-to-day handling of problems, efforts to stimulate interest and maintain membership, etc. – and community leadership, which is a much more fluid concept. Leaders occur naturally, but must be cultivated in order to flourish. In this respect, I really appreciate the ideas of Karsten Wade, a worldwide Fedora community leader who titles himself a “community gardener”.

I attended several very stimulating unconference sessions, including but not limited to:

  • Why Bother? covered community member intent as well as retention and motivation http://www.communityleadershipsummit.com/wiki/index.php/WhyBother
  • Getting Along, covering the acceptance of open-source in proprietary communities & vice versa
  • I ran one session called “Jam Session” in which we discussed the benefits of alternative social communities (like music jams, rural communities, homeschooling groups, etc.) and the skills one can learn that transfer directly into community membership. It was attended by 11 other community managers from diverse backgrounds (O’Reilly, Google, LinuxFund).

If anyone reading this has a photo of the session board, I’d love to see it – the ones I wrote down seem to have disappeared.

OSCON

OSCON is sort of a zoo in the sense that there is far too much to see and do, and with 17 different simultaneous tracks there was no way to do it all. Here’s what I did do:

Monday:

  • Get Started with the Arduino – A Hands-On Introductory Workshop, an excellent half-day tutorial
  • met with Symbian maintainer Lars Kuth
  • met with SheevaPlug expert Bryan Smith
  • evening BoF session on Teaching Open Source

    Wednesday:

  • keynotes by Tim O’Reilly and several others
  • 5 FOSS in Edu Projects that Changed the World with Mel Chua and Karsten Wade
  • Plug Computing Primer about Marvell’s SheevaPlug, by the excellent Bryan Smith
  • How to Boot Linux on the Beagle Board, given by me to about 75 people and featuring demos & long discussion with about 7 people in the hallway afterward
  • Google Open Source Update 2010 given by Chris diBona and Carol Smith, who manages Google Summer of Code
  • Expo hall reception, rubbed shoulders with open-source greats
  • Embedded Linux Community BoF, which I ran, was an hour-long stimulating conversation mostly about commercial embedded Linux
  • long conversation in the hall with embedded Linux & education folks, followed by a quiet sushi dinner with several who remained

    Thursday:

  • keynotes in the morning, including one by SETI chair Jill Tarter
  • previously-unnanounced SETI developer meeting at lunchtime
  • MeeGo Technical Overview
  • afternoon social jam session in the hallway, at which I met several fascinating folks I wouldn’t have met otherwise
  • Educating the Next Generation of FOSS Developers with Luis Ibanez
  • Opportunities for Students to Contribute to FOSS Projects with Heidi Ellis et al
  • some time spent in the event hall with the MeeGo folks in the Intel booth
  • Effectively Managing Documentation for Open-Source Projects by me, presented to over 100 people with a lengthy discussion afterward
  • evening reception at the DoubleTree hotel where I met a few cool Rails developers as well as O’Reilly conference leads Alison Randall and Ed Dumbill

    Friday: quite weary, headed for home

    Whew! Now I need to finish my slides for LinuxCon…


Nokia and Intel made headlines yesterday by introducing MeeGo, a merger of Nokia‘s Maemo platform and Intel‘s Moblin, which was put under the auspices of the Linux Foundation last year.

Bloggers from the Linux Foundation are propounding the news, as they should—Moblin is now under their purview, so they were the ones who decided it should be merged. However, at least one dissenting viewpoint comes form Vision Mobile’s “Thucydides Sigs” (best nom de plume I have seen in a while), who proclaims that “Two (M)onkeys don’t make a (G)orilla. But they sure make a lot of noise“.

“Thucydides” makes a few interesting points. One is the obvious, that Android is swamping the mobile market right now, leaving both Maemo and Moblin behind in the mobile consumer electronics space. The move also enables Maemo to enter into Moblin’s markets, including automotive, which is by some accounts the fastest-growing embedded sector.

The dissenting view in the article is actually more an observation on motive. Intel’s involvement means something to Nokia and Maemo that is reminiscent of what it meant to Wind River Linux when Intel bought Wind River last year—a perceived threat to take market share away from ARM. Whether this is actually the case remains to be seen. Wind River continues to provide support for ARM processors, despite some warnings from pundits, though it continues to fall behind MontaVista’s rising star.

My opinion? “Thucydides” is playing devil’s advocate here with a snappy headline, but showing us in the meat of the article what is plainly obvious: this merger is good for embedded Linux in general, rising the tide and lifting all of us little boats.

While stealing market share may have been Intel’s motive for this merger, I am frankly not sure it matters. What is certain is that two promising yet fragmentary major open-source projects have merged to form a single project much stronger than either of them would have been alone, and what’s more, they have unique opportunities that place them in partly the same market as Android—providing healthy competition—and partly in orthogonal markets, increasing the reach of embedded open-source software greatly and further increasing choice for developers. As a developer’s advocate, I have to get behind that.

FD: I work for MontaVista, w00t!


Full disclosure: I am a MontaVista employee and thus a stakeholder in this acquisition. However, I have worked with embedded systems and Linux since 1992, including two years at Wind River in the mid 1990s. I hope I can present a somewhat-objective, partly-informed grasp of the facts beyond my current situation.

I was intrigued by the opportunities for MontaVista provided by Intel’s acquisition of Wind River earlier this year, and a little scared by Mentor Graphics’ swallowing of Embedded Alley, which nudged Mentor into the role of embedded Linux provider, albeit focused on custom solutions.

However, I am absolutely floored by the opportunities presented for both MontaVista and Cavium with this merger.

The background issue with this deal is that embedded systems are very diverse from a hardware standpoint, and there are many players in the field. There are base architecture providers/licensors that provide raw architecture flavors: ARM, MIPS, x86, PowerPC, m68k, SPARC, Alpha, PA-RISC, a whole host of them. The technology is often known as IP (“intellectual property“). From these spring actual hardware providers, chip and board manufacturers who license the actual platform technology and produce physical examples. These licensees come in many different modes:

  • Some, like x86, are produced by the same company that invented it (Intel in this case) as well as by competitors (like AMD).
  • Sometimes the IP is owned by one company and licensed to a number of manufacturers. ARM is like this (owned by ARM Limited), as is SPARC (owned by Sun, now by Oracle) and MIPS (owned by MIPS Technologies).
  • Sometimes the IP is co-owned by several companies and licensed by a consortium (like PowerPC, developed by IBM and licensed by Power.org), which adds an interesting twist that consortium members can make money on their competitors’ products. It’s a crazy world.
  • Sometimes the IP ends up being owned by a company that goes under, leaving it in a delicate state. A timely example is Transmeta‘s IP, which was owned by Novafora until they closed up shop a few months ago. The IP is now for sale. (This one is particularly interesting: the Transmeta Crusoe and Efficeon processors were RISC-based, but supported x86 instructions. Again, it’s a crazy world.)

(Please note that this doesn’t even qualify as a primer on the subject. I’ll try to cover this and draw a map in a future post.)

While the desktop market has historically been driven by x86 architectures, the embedded market is much more fragmented. Some embedded licensees specialize on one particular architecture, like Intel, who only produces chips based on Intel-created IP. Others take an agnostic approach and license whichever architecture suits the solution they are seeking. Cavium Networks, for example, has produced products based on ARM, MIPS, SPARC, and x86 CPUs (and likely others I could not easily find).

All of the astute, intelligent, and frankly attractive readers of this blog remember that I am a Linux dude. I work in embedded systems, where there are tons of different architectures to choose from. Specifically, I work for a Linux provider who produces market-specific distributions and software development kits for a wide range of different architectures.

Linux has evolved to be a universal operating system. Originally conceived to run on x86 architectures, thanks to its open-source nature Linux has been ported to practically every modern microprocessor (and even an FPGA). It is particularly popular currently on ARM, MIPS, and PowerPC-based embedded systems, but for all intents and purposes, it can be made to run just about anywhere.

That sets the stage for a huge win-win scenario.

Wind River’s acquisition definitely fits, for lack of a better term, a “proprietary” model. As a standalone company, Wind River provided Linux solutions across the board just as MontaVista does. However, now they are owned by a company who is single-minded giant in desktop computing, and who probably acquired Wind River in the first place in order to extend their reach more deeply into the embedded market, where they have not had much recent success. There is no motivation for Intel to continue to provide software solutions for competitor’s products beyond current contracts, and a lot of motivation for them to close ranks. (Industry watchers will remember that this also happened to Metrowerks a short while after they were absorbed by Motorola/Freescale.)

However, the MontaVista/Cavium situation is different. Cavium is a solutions provider who is not tied to any particular platform. Cavium currently produces products primarily based on MIPS and ARM platforms (executives of both are quoted in the press release), but they are not limited to those, and have used others in the past, as stated above.

Those are the facts. What follows is conjecture based on those facts, simply my opinion.

This merger provides a strong impetus for Cavium to grow their product line into other markets. I would not be surprised to see Cavium extending its marketplace reach over the next few years, and expanding into new territory using MontaVista’s processor-agnostic philosophy as leverage. In fact, at the same time they announced this merger, Cavium also announced their intention to continue their relationships with Wind River and their other ecosystem partners, which I read as an desire to put a foothold on every aspect of embedded computing—ambitious, but now achievable. Cavium recognized a gap in their portfolio and filled it.

MontaVista, for their part, recognized a brass ring when offered, and took it. Other, more knowledgeable bloggers than I have already written about the merger in terms of MontaVista’s past, their business model, mistakes and successes. I am more concerned with the future.

The enormous potential is what I find so amazing about this merger. It provides MontaVista with a stable base where it can keep producing world-class software and tools, along with an extremely useful general embedded Linux community. It provides Cavium with an end-to-end hardware-to-software solution, as well as a set of software, tools, and ecosystem—support, QA, experienced FAE, professional services, documentation, community—to enter any embedded marketplace.

In other words, it is a win for both MontaVista and Cavium, and a huge potential upside for all of the customers of both companies.

UPDATE: Jerry Krasner at EMF agrees.


MontaVista Software, Inc. and Cavium Networks just announced that they are merging, with MontaVista to be operated as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cavium. This is explosive news in the embedded world, which earlier this year saw the acquisition of Wind River Systems by Intel, as well as Embedded Alley’s acquisition by Mentor Graphics.

As an employee of MontaVista I am thrilled at this news. Cavium is a very lithe company with a philosophy of processor agnosticism that suits embedded Linux very well. MontaVista’s MVL6 is turning heads in every sector. Embedded Linux is making strong inroads into new markets.

Hang on tight!

UPDATE 11/11 9:26am: LinuxForDevices has a good writeup on the merger

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