The FOSE Report: The View from NOVALUG

A review of the Linux Solutions panel at this year's FOSE.

SGI's Jan Silverman (VP Marketing) kicked off the panel and set the tone for the speakers. Silverman's presentation was a corporate spiel, including some very informational graphs, that painted Linux as the winner in the race for market growth rate (in 1998-99, Linux grew by 93.2%). He explained how Wall Street loves Linux (especially in the investment arena of supercomputers, Beowulf clusters, etc.), and how 52% of the "Vendor Authorized Resellers" for software consider Linux to be a viable alternative for any OS solution (this rate of acceptance is growing). He had a "Top Ten reasons why Linux is winning" list, and a "Top Five things limiting Linux" list. The winning list was a very high-level highlight of the advantages of Linux. Just the obvious points, why it's reliable, scalable, fast, powerful, developer base, etc. The limiting-list had only one decent point: Mainstream, traditional companies haven't yet figured out how to make a dollar by selling free software. His four other points were superficial, and indicative of the corporate aloofness from the robust resourcefulness that comprises the Open Source community; I would be glad to send you them, should you want them. Silverman used PowerPoint slides.

Chris Dibona batted second, and gave a heck of a straightforward talk about "Linux & The Government: Why it Works". The crowd gathered to hear the panel discussions was quite small, maybe about seven people, tops. Three of those were open source players, including myself, and the other four consisted of the PR manager for Corel, a FOSE staff person, a curious audience member with esoteric and non-specific questions about mainframes, and another private press photographer. Among the topics Chris touched upon were Chris' role in the Open Source community, the reliability of Linux, the cost effectiveness, how open-source sharing works, and the freedom behind it all. Chris was brief; he used Linux, pulling slides up from the Web, through his laptop connection.

Red Hat's Paul McNamara (VP Business Devel.) spoke third. I think everyone would agree that, despite the corporate preparations of the executive speakers, McNamara's presentation about the development of, and role of, Linux and the Internet was quite rich. He related the explosion of Linux as a result of the popularization of the Internet, and then he related the expansion of the Internet with the implementation of Linux. His key graph depicted the development of the technological revolution: from the initial "Big-Blue" (IBM) mainframes that are as big as a room and were used for academic research, to the implementation of many computers and programming, to the popularization of workstations and software, and then the explosion of the Internet. Among his key points were that more than 80% of e-mail transfer agents are Linux-based, and more than 60% of the web-server applications/software is Linux-based. McNamara emphasized Chris' points about the development structure, speed of repairs, and cost effectiveness of Linux. He made his presentation on Red Hat, with what appeared to be StarOffice slides.

Renee Schmidt of Corel (VP Engineering) presented his speech last. His talk seemed canned, as though it were a corporate production (with slides). He basically glossed over Silverman's points, but he seemed ready to stand behind his words. Perhaps because he was an engineer, he probably related more technically to the technology being discussed, and had to read a set of slides Corel had given him. His points focused on the basic advantages of Linux: reliability, zero cost, etc. He emphasized that things were moving towards the Internet: everything is becoming web-based, and applications are becoming web-based, and that is where he sees things moving. He presented his slides in Corel WordPerfect.

There were a few questions at the end. Timothy from Slashdot asked the panelists to explain why their companies aren't selling Linux laptops. Billy Ball (author) chimed in, as he is soon to be publishing a book specifically related to implementing Linux on laptops. The answers, for the most part, were that a) there is much demand for servers, desktops, and far fewer overall demand for laptops; and, b) laptops are very hard to support--each has a very specific configuration, etc.

I asked Chris and the corporate guests about the interest of such companies that are now selling Linux (VA Linux, Corel, Red Hat, SGI, etc.) to donate to universities, and get Linux in education from the perspective that a) Micro$oft donates machines to universities, and tries to impose their harsh licenses in exchange for a few boxes; b) Linuxcare has opened offices in Hong Kong, and TurboLinux is a player in the Asian-Pacific Rim as well, and that c) the globalization and freedom of open-source software, and its virtual dissemination and embracing by hundreds of countries around the globe, is leveling the global techno-economic market.

Chris answered, explaining that educational institutions are not bound to use Microsoft's hardware, and that they can choose the open-source path if they truly want to, despite license agreements. Chris explained that VA Linux and other companies do have programs, or cases, where they donate servers to universities (McNamara and Schmidt agreed).

Chris said that schools get discounts on equipment from VA Linux and that VA Linux will send them speakers and make presentations at schools/universities. Schmidt said "schools will choose Linux as applications roll in over the next year." McNamara added that "Linux is the ideal operating system for education." After that, Billy Ball closed up the panel, and Timothy and I interviewed the two people from the FOSE staff who worked with Tim Bogart and Billy Ball to get the Linux community to FOSE. They are extremely affable and quite astute. They said wonderful things about Linux at FOSE 2000, and seemed as enthusiastic as we were that Linux was being showcased to the feds. Actually, one of them compared the importance of the Linux pavilion at FOSE to the adage that "TV killed radio".

Karl Pena is a reporter for the Northern Virginia Linux Users Group (NOVALUG). He can be reached at karl@tux.org.

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