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Norman Feske avatar

FOSDEM 2020 in review

FOSDEM and the microkernel developer room in particular was certainly one of the highlights of the year. In this posting, I share my personal impression of the event and a few links of interest.

For me, this year's FOSDEM was flying by as quickly as never before. The main reason was my ambitious plan to present the next version of Sculpt OS rather than the current one. When I originally submitted the talk, I was planning to show off the by-then current version of Sculpt, which would have been an easy feat. However, since then, there emerged a concrete plan for reorganizing Sculpt's administrative user interface. The new concept would embody the philosophy of Sculpt much better. Since the FOSDEM presentations are captured on video, I figured that the video about Sculpt OS should better not feature the old user interface but rather show the new one. The problem was, however, that my vision of the new user interface existed merely in my head but was not implemented yet. But motivation was strong! I literally developed major parts of the user interface as shown in the demo - in particular the file browser - in the train to FOSDEM, and the development and testing work continued in the evenings until late at night. The intensive work paid off as I could deliver the demo just as I intended.

Video capture of the Sculpt OS demo

The downside of this approach was my stress level, which largely kept me from enjoying FOSDEM as a leisure activity. My head was spinning the whole time.

Microkernel developer room

Since initiated in 2011 by our friends of the HelenOS project, the microkernel devroom has become almost an institutional gathering of open-source projects related to microkernel technology. It created a great sense of community and a collaborative spirit among the various projects, which is the reason I look forward to FOSDEM every year. In this spirit, the organization of the devroom is carried out by a different project each year. This time, Julian Stecklina took over the torch. Thanks Julian for the great work preparing and holding the event!

Over the years, the devroom grew from a family meeting to a packed room of about 100 people. Without any doubt, the reputation and the commercial interest in the topics discussed in the room has grown quite significantly. E.g., this year, tech celebrity Gernot Heiser made a physical presence, and the traditional microkernel dinner turned into a reception sponsored by the silicon valley startup Bedrock. The latter took many of the regular attendees - myself included - by surprise.

The lineup of presentations was really worth staying in the room for the whole day. But given the breath and depths of the audience and the lively discussions in-between the talks, I got the feeling that I would have experienced a great day even without a single presentation. ;-) Time rushed by far too quickly. I missed catching up with so many fantastic people I spotted in the audience.

Outside the developer room

On Saturday, I had the chance to wander around at FOSDEM for a bit. Even though I vastly enjoyed the creative atmosphere of the event like every year, I have to admit that the overcrowding made me uneasy. Hopping between different venues is no longer viable because of the capacity limits of most rooms. There were still a few safe heavens though. In particular, I enjoyed staying a while in the Ada devroom and the spacey Janson auditorium, watching the talk about Blender in awe.

Genode at FOSDEM

On Saturday, Martin Stein presented his experimental kernel named Spunky, which is a re-implementation of Genode's custom kernel in Ada/SPARK:

On Sunday, I gave the live demonstration of Sculpt OS:

Stefan Kalkowski presented our recent development of running Genode on 64-bit ARM platforms:

Alexander Senier gave an update about his effort to bring the Android runtime to Genode:

Udo Steinberg introduced the NOVA microhypervisor for the 64-bit ARM architecture, highlighting the fruitful collaboration of his team with us at Genode Labs:

Further listening

Only tangential related to FOSDEM but very well worth mentioning, there is a new episode of the Syslog podcast. This episode covers the background of Genode. Thanks to Julian and Florian for their invitation to have me on their show!