Usenix is arguably one of the more interesting among the many computing-oriented technical conferences. It caters to the small but proud group known as system programmers, mostly the true blue Unix folks that worked out many of the kinks of network computing from first principles over a period of years. Yes, it's a Unix hotbed, but the folks who put it on are not so doctrinaire that they mightn't invite a Microsoft Research luminary to present a paper. That's what brought me to Usenix in Boston at the start of June.
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That Usenix invited Microsoft Research Distinguished Engineer Butler Lampson to speak is really not so surprising. He is really quite at home at Usenix, being involved over the years in development of many of the languages and features that led to systems like Unix, and its more recent off shoots such as Windows NT, MacOS, and Linux.
At a session on 'Failures and Futures in System Research' Lampson discussed RISC, persistence, RPCs, garbage collection, and much, much more. His thesis was not vividly discernible. But he focused on the notion that, in most cases, to succeed, systems must be able to gracefully fail. Or, alternatively, that systems specified to be perfect are almost always bound to fail.
I took the idea to be this: Build simpler systems that adapt to catastrophe.