Wednesday, December 24, 2014

QEMU Advent Calendar 2014 retrospective

This year I ran, an online advent calendar that features a QEMU disk image for download each day from December 1st to 24th.

Pitching the idea

The idea for a QEMU advent calendar is something I had in 2012 or 2013 but there is only one chance to do it per year and I missed the boat previously.  This year the stars were aligned, I was able to pitch the idea to people who I thought might be game at KVM Forum/LinuxCon Europe.

When I saw the reactions from people in the QEMU community on hearing the idea, I thought it had a chance.  Most people were amused and found it slightly weird, but they were positive and had ideas for disk images.

So I had a sense that I could collect disk image contributions from enough people to make the advent calendar work...

How it worked

Each advent calendar entry consists of a tarball with a disk image and "run" shell script, a brief description of the disk image, a screenshot, and a sources tarball (for GPL compliance).

Going into this I didn't demand a specific format of these artifacts from contributors.  Some people sent me a bare disk image and QEMU command-line to launch the thing.  Then I had to come up with the remaining artifacts and create the tarballs.

Digging up the GPL sources for various Linux distributions was time-consuming but I worked hard on this after a request was submitted for sources (not just a link or name/version of the distribution).

This process could have been much easier if I asked each contributor to follow a checklist and provide artifacts in a specific format.  Instead, I scrambled to put polish on contributions in various states of completeness.

Just-in-time calendar making

I launched the advent calendar with promises for around 10 disk images from potential contributors.  We needed 24 disk images so there was still quite a bit of ground to cover.

The risk was worth it because once the website went live, new contributions started to pour in.  The idea spread successfully on Google+, Hacker News, Reddit, and other communities so that additional people became inspired to recommend or build full disk images from scratch.

There were one or two days where a late cancelation or schedule slip meant someone who had promised an image couldn't deliver.  In those cases I had a list of half-baked ideas that I chose from, and I would scramble to put together an image in about 2 hours.

Companies contributed too

As the word spread about QEMU Advent Calendar 2014, I got emails where companies wanted to contribute disk images.  These were the Ubuntu Core and Pebble smartwatch disk images.

These images fit the scope of the calendar nicely and were "exclusive" in some form.  Both the Ubuntu Core and Pebble smartwatch images were brand new releases that had never seen the light of day before.  It was cool to feature not just nostalgic emulated software on the calendar but also cutting-edge products that are being developed right now with QEMU.

Canonical and Pebble were very proactive here but also tasteful.  They didn't try to push crass advertising, instead they had something appropriate to contribute.  It was easy to accept their contributions since they were in the spirit of the project.  (The whole calendar was ad-free and neither I nor the contributors made money from it.)

The impact

I wanted to do QEMU Advent Calendar 2014 for two reasons:
1. To spread the word about QEMU and cool open source software
2. To celebrate the QEMU community with a fun activity

Here we are, 480 GB of web traffic later.  41,000 unique visitors and over 1,000,000 hits!

(These numbers don't include the full Day 24 because I collected statistics and wrote up this post before waiting for it to finish.)

Top disk image by downloads: Day 1 - Slacker's time travel by Gerd Hoffmann.  Congratulations Gerd!

I'm very happy with the way things went.  The goals have been achieved!

Thank you for all the fun!

Thanks to everyone who contributed disk images.  There were a few disk images which we couldn't fit on the calendar for various reasons (file size too large, demo not quite working, etc).  All of them were appreciated though!

Special thanks to Alex Bennee for providing web traffic allowance way beyond my server's monthly quota.  We didn't know if this thing would take off but he monitored the situation and allowed it to stay online.

Happy holidays and New Year 2014/2015!