The IPISA Phenomenon
Wouter van Oortmerssen


IPISA is a series of conferences that have been held from '91 to '97 in Italy, initially targeted only towards italian Amiga developers, later being more internationally oriented and opening up to other alternative systems besides the Amiga.

This article tries to give an insight into what these conferences have been about, and what they have meant for the people involved in it. "Have been", because the '97 edition was likely the last one: this article can also be seen as a retrospective.

Personally I have attended the conference 3 times, of which I was invited as a speaker twice (in '94 and '97). Being the non-italian person who is probably most familiar with the conference, I was requested to write this article.

The Early Years

The first two editions of IPISA ('91 and '92) were held in Modena, organised by three Amiga developers. IPISA is the acronym for "Incontro dei Programmatori Italiani per lo Sviluppo Amiga" which means as much as 'Italian programmers meeting for Amiga development' It was organised to bring Amiga developers from all of Italy together to meet people, exchange ideas, and hear talks on new products / developments. Even though these early conferences hardly got any press coverage, they managed to get together about 90 participants.

For the '93 edition, a large group of Amiga developers in Milan led by Sergio Ruocco took over the organisation, some of which have continued to be part of the organisation until this last edition. Professional organisation of the conference, an increasingly interesting schedule for the conference, more press coverage and general reputation ensured increasing attendance numbers for the following years: 153 in '93, 240 in '94, and up to as much as 373 and 440 in '95 and '96. In '97 there was a dip in attendance, mainly to be contributed to the significantly higher cost involved in attending (it lasted 2 days), and to a general decline of the Amiga market in Italy.

IPISA opens up

What started out as a simple Amiga developers meeting became a big professionally organised conference. Already in '94 the conference had its first international speakers, a trend which was set to continue and grow in the following years. This culminated in '97 with a host of international guests, among which such prominent computer scientists as Richard Stallman.

Opening up to the international Amiga community was the logical step to take for the organisation when the conference became more important, and provided for some welcome interaction between the italian community and the rest of the world. The step taken in '97 (but already imminent before that), to go from an Amiga conference to an "Alternative Systems" conference wasn't welcomed equally by the whole of the italian Amiga scene, but was seen as another necessary step forwards, atleast by almost all of the attendants of the '97 edition (well over 70% of attendants of a previous conference had voted "yes" to this change, and even this year the Amiga was still very prominent).

To give you an impression, this edition saw many international speakers, most notably Richard Stallman (USA) talking about HURD and GNU in general, Be Europe (France) giving a presentation of their latest OS release, Haage & Partner (Germany) showing off their PPC kernal & compiler (and wowed the crowd with a PPC version of Quake :), Aaron Digulla (Germany) talking about AROS, Urban Mueller (Switserland) on Aminet, and of course me (Holland) on Aardappel and E. Of the italian speakers a fair few were on non-amiga subjects, such as Sun Microsystems on Java, a talk on Linux and several others.

Other big name talks (e.g. Thomas Bushnell, Eric Raymond) were scheduled but weren't held because of lack of funds. Sadly missing as well was any kind of official representation from Amiga Inc./International.

Conference Structure

Most recent conferences (except for the last one) used to be 1 full day, which usually had the following schedule: setting up equipment and registering attendants from 8 to 10, then having the first set of talks from 10 to 12:30, lunch for an hour, then the second set of talks from 1:30 to about 7 (depending) and pizza afterwards for whoever fancies.

The conference hall is quite large (seats up to about 500 people), and is furnished with modern equipment. Presentations were given on a large stage with a large (4x4 meters) screen behind it which could display almost any of the the computer outputs, usually quite clear (given large enough fonts and someone to switch of the lights in time, that is :)

Attendents would get the professionally printed proceedings, usually containing articles of the speaker going more indepth on their talk, but usually also other articles (I vividly remember Daniel Barett's "Fish Styx" in '94 :). They'd also get the IPISA CD-ROM, containing software related to the talks, and general useful stuff such as TeX, GNU, NetBSD/Linux distributions, selected PD and usenet stuff, generally accompanied with free bonus CD-ROMs from italian Amiga companies such as Cloanto. This, together with one (or two) lunches halfway the conference would cost them roughly 30$ ('95/'96) or 60$ ('97). The fact that the organisation managed to pay all the costs of the conference with this on a no-profit basis without any financial support or sponsorship, is quite an accomplishment.

IPISA and the italian Amiga scene

The IPISA always has had to the goal of being more than just a conference, and particularly the aspect of bringing together many people from the italian Amiga scene every year was valued highly. Especially in the early days (and even today) Italy wasn't as highly internet-saturated as some countries, and IPISA was an excellent opportunity to meet people, discuss new projects etc. (apart from the added value of meeting people face to face). Special features of the conference such as "Open Mike" (an opportunity for every participant to speak his mind to the audiance), lunches and long sessions at the pizzeria afterwards provided ample opportunity for this.

Being this important to the italian amiga community, the fact that this was the last edition of IPISA made it end in a sad note, especially when combined with the news that the high quality italian "Amiga Magazine" had to be cancelled due to financial troubles, lack of support from dealers and the various Amiga mother companies. Besides this, many don't have faith anymore in Amiga International doing anything, which means that it is going downhill with the Amiga scene in Italy. There is a general consensus between IPISA organisators, former "Amiga Magazine" collaborators and some italian Amiga companies that they should be doing something to change the situation, but whether they manage to get something off the ground is another matter (maybe just an informal meeting?). Again, the logical forward step seems to be to look at "Alternative Systems" in general rather than Amiga-only.

To conclude

I've always immensely enjoyed myself going to these conferences. Leaving the last one it occurred to me how sad it is that it has to end this way, having spoken to so many people who are clearly full of energy and good will to create something good, but somehow hampered by the reality of the real world. Lets hope the future brings a framework for this; for inspiration we need to look no further than for example the Linux community, who are doing pretty well for themselves at the moment (the "bazaar" development model).

I'd like to thank Sergio Ruocco and the rest of the organisation for their work on IPISA.

[Wouter van Oortmerssen grants permission for the re-use of this article provided no changes are made which alter its meaning]

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