Volker Grassmuck on Sun, 20 Dec 1998 21:17:00 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Concept for "Wizards of OS" 1/2

Dear Nettimers,

here's the concept for the "Wizards of OS", an operating systems 
conference in July 1999 in Berlin. More info under 
Critique, bugreports, comments are highly welcome.

best regards
Volker Grassmuck


                          The Wizards of OS
           Operating Systems and Social Systems

                           July 15 - 17, 1999
         House of the Cultures of the World, Berlin

  If the monolithic kernel is the reigning champion, the microkernel
  is the  up- and-coming challenger. Most distributed systems that
  have been designed from scratch use this method. The microkernel is
  more flexible because it does almost nothing. It basically provides
  just four minimal services: 1. An interprocess communication
  mechanism, 2. Some memory management, 3. A limited amount of
  low-level process management and scheduling, 4. Low-level input
  output. (Andrew Tanenbaum, Modern Operating Systems, 1992: 388)

                      Organized in cooperation of 

Humboldt University, Dpt. of Computer Science, Institute for Computer
Science in Education and Society

Humboldt University, Dpt. of Cultural Sciences, Institute for

House of the Cultures of the World, Berlin

Telepolis, The Magazine of Net Culture (Heise Verlag)

Individual Network Berlin

Berlin Linux User Group

Berlin NeXT User Group 



with the generous support of the Finance Senate of Berlin.


Volker Grassmuck
  Institut für Informatik in Bildung und Gesellschaft
  Humboldt Universität zu Berlin
  Unter den Linden 6
  D-10099 Berlin
  Tel.: +49-30-313 2795
  Tel.: + 49-30-2093 3180

                                   ver 0.9, December 1998

  operating system: /n./ [techspeak] (Often abbreviated 'OS') The
  foundation software of a machine, of course; that which schedules
  tasks, allocates storage, and presents a default interface to the
  user between applications. The facilities an operating system
  provides and its general design philosophy exert an extremely strong
  influence on programming style and on the technical cultures that
  grow up around its host machines. (The Jargon File)

  wizard: /n./ 1. A person who knows how a complex piece of software
  or hardware works... A good hacker could become a wizard for
  something given the time to study it. 2. A person who is permitted
  to do things forbidden to ordinary people; one who has wheel
  privileges on a system. 3. A Unix expert, esp. a Unix systems
  programmer. This usage is well enough established that 'Unix Wizard'
  is a recognized job title at some corporations and to most
  headhunters. (The Jargon File)

For most computer users, the operating system (OS) runs in the
background without their being consciously aware of it. At the most,
it appears when the system starts up (when messages about the "BIOS"
or the hard disk's "Masters" and "Slaves" flicker across the screen)
or when something goes wrong (#"general security risk"). The OS
carries out the majority of its fundamental operations (allocating
resources, tasks such as steering and coordinating Input/Output,
coupling system elements) unobserved. But if one were to extrapolate
all the implications of the OS, one would find an unfolding and
comprehensive network of relationships, not only in computer hardware
and software, but also in the economy, politics, law, sociology,
psychology and culture.

Microsoft (MS), with its OS monopoly, has been making headlines for
several months now. The investigations of the European Community and
the U.S. Justice Department reveal day by day just how Microsoft,
eversince MS-DOS has been increasing its dominant market share not
only among developers, computer dealers and customers, but also
exerting influence on alternative operating systems, Internet
providers, technologies and content. 

In the public debate, GNU-Linux is presented as the opponent of MS
operating systems. Linux represents not only a practical alternative
encroaching upon MS-Windows-NT in the area of servers and Internet
usage. Even more, it also represents a fundamentally different model
for the development of software: the Free Software or Open Source
movement. Instead of copyright protected software developed within a
closed proprietary process, here, an open community develops free and
freely modified copyleft protected software. Countless examples have
proved that this model not only produces excellent programs but also
by combining a gift economy with a money economy, functions as a
business model. 

One example of the differing social and political value systems of the
two models: MS-OSs grow, like the company that produces them, in ever
increasing dimensions and are aimed at exploiting the most up-to-date
generation of Intel processors, requiring consumers to update their
systems. Linux, on the other hand, also runs on obsolete platforms
(even 8086's) and has thus become the operating system for poor
countries and people. 

This event takes this development as a an occasion to examine the
meaning of operating systems as the foundation of the contemporary
"information society". The event will emphasize the ways operating
systems function, their relationships to social systems (politics,
economics, culture, education, etc.) and the alternatives to MS-OSs.

In conjunction with the event, there will be online and print
documentation which will clarify the themes and their inherent
challenges and will be made widely available to an interested public
in Germany and internationally. In Germany, for example, cooperating
with the Federal Office for Political Education may be possible.

The event itself can send an important and effective signal far beyond
the region concerning the significance of Berlin as a center for media
politics with its technological, scientific and cultural assets. The
list of speakers invited to the conference will raise the
international profile of this event. Local partnerships with academic
institutions, media culture initiatives, cultural institutions as well
as individual companies is also internationally unique and not simply
a matter of course.

The event is scheduled for three days, each centering on various ways
of looking at OSs. The goal of the first day, oriented around
"computer science", is to outline the current paradigm shift toward
distributed OSs. On the second, the "media political" and "cultural"
day, the interrelations of technical and social systems are to be
outlined and it is to be made clear that the question concerning which
concepts are behind the development of operating systems is a
political one. The third, the "hacker" day will deal with public
domain knowledge as an alternative to free market monopolies and with
standards. The goal of this day is to examine and promote the idea of 
a collaborative and (copyright-)free project supported by an open
community for developing a next generation OS. 

The event aims to establishing a fundamental understanding of
operating systems; what they are, where they come from and in which
directions they are developing, how the various OSs differ from each
other, what each of them make possible and what they make more
difficult, and in what ways they are related to social, cultural,
political and economic systems which use them. It is our hope that
this weekend in the House of Cultures of the World in Berlin will
highlight a socially vital yet often overlooked field -- and that it
will make a difference. The publication of the proceedings, both
online and in print, is aimed at achieving this goal for the greatest
possible public long after the conference itself is over.

Target Audience
Three groups will be coming together at the conference: an academic,
computer science scene, a non-academic hacker scene and a cultural
scene. Even the technical cultural groups within and outside of the
university rarely have the opportunity to speak with each other. By
making social scientific points of view an integral part of "Wizards
of OS", the event promises to be a truly interdisciplinary one. In
particular, the location of the event -- the House of Cultures of the
World in Berlin -- with its traditional orientation towards non-
European cultures is a guarantee that the North-South dimension of OSs
will take on a prominent position.

In a narrow sense, the event is directed toward the three groups from
which the speakers will be invited. At the same time, it addresses a
wide audience of current and future computer users, whether they be
private individuals or institutions and companies. A good coordinate
for determining the target audience is the readership of the magazine
c't (Heise Verlag), a biweekly publication with a circulation of
280,000 indicating a broad interest in the practical, theoretical and
cultural questions related to OSs. 

OSs are a particularly relevant theme in the area of education, and to
address it, a forum will be set up for teachers, parents and
politicians in the field. 

A further circle to be reached is comprised of the decision maker and
developers in the information and communication industries. Their role
in the event will entail in particular cooperation with small and
medium-sized firms in the Berlin and Brandenburg area.

The first announcement was made in November 1998 at this address:
http://www.mikro.org/Events/OS . The next step is the Call for
Participation. There is also a collection of links related to the
theme. An online encyclopedia of operating systems as well as a Who's
Who in operating systems is being prepared. At the beginning of 1999,
a mailing list will be set up for speakers, guests and other
interested parties to discuss various OS- related topics and to
prepare for the actual event.

Press and Publicity
Precisely because the theme of this event is not immediately
comprehensible, publicity work in the technical and general press
takes on particular significance. Taking into account the important
role computer education plays in the schools, appropriate media should
be engaged to encourage the involvement of teachers, parents and
politicians in the field of education. A press center will be set up
in the HKW during the event.

The conference with its lectures and discussions in the HKW auditorium
is the core of the event. Running parallel to the conference and
during the morning and evening breaks, there will be workshops and
birds-of-a-feather sessions in both conference rooms. In the foyer and
in front of Café Global, there will be a small exhibition displaying
thematically related media art. User groups and researchers will also
be presenting themselves in the foyer. All in all, it should be an
"ecumenical" conference where every OS is welcome.

The language of the conference will be English, there will hopefully
be simultaneous translations. The conference will be carried live on
the Internet via RealVideo. This video documentation will be
accessible in the future along with all the other documentation. The
event will also be documented in printed volumes in German and
English. Communication among the speakers is at least as important as
communication between the speakers and the guests. In order to
encourage this exchange, extra events such as a boat trip on Sunday
afternoon are being planned.

(translation by David Hudson)
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