Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

The second in Doc's series of reports on this year's trade shows.

This year's CES (Consumer Electronics Show) ran in Las Vegas from January 8-12, following Macworld in San Francisco. My report on Macworld was called "New Economy Hack: Turning Consumers into Producers". This is my report on CES. Coming up, reports on LinuxWorld Expo in New York, which ran from January 21-23, and the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, which ran from February 9-12.

--Doc Searls

One year ago, Kunitake Ando, president and CEO of Sony, gave a keynote speech at CES explaining how his company would lead the rest of the industry's giants into an "always on" and "interactive" future built largely on a co-developed embedded Linux distribution. Six months later, in July, the CE Linux Forum (CELF) was formed by Sony, Matshushita, NEC, Philips, Samsung, Sharp and Toshiba. Today, the membership roster also includes IBM, Mitsubishi, Metrowerks, Motorola, Nokia, LSI Logic, HP, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Phoenix, Samsung, Sanyo and Montavista.

So, as CES approached, I looked for signs of World Domination at work. Sure enough, Montavista had lined up a hundred or more consumer electronics partners, and the Embedded Linux Consortium had five programs in one session track. So I expected to see plenty of braggage about Linux out on the show floor--at least among CELF members.

What I discovered was something else. The narrative that follows is an account of that discovery. (Many of the links below point to my photo gallery from the trip.)

The Massive Market

After picking up my badge and my rolling Toshiba backpack (one of thousands handed out to badgeholders in the press room), I looked at the four show guides and wondered how I could begin to cover even a fraction of the Linux surely on display at the show.

img src="images/showguides.jpg" alt="figure"

Here's the rundown:

  • Sourcebook: 530 pages

  • Show Guide: 160 pages

  • Addendum: 70 pages

  • Visitor's Guide: 104 pages

  • Total: 804 pages

I was one of 4,000 press badgeholders among 129,000 attendees spread across 1.1 million square feet or more of floor space in seven exhibition halls. I say "or more" because reports of the floor size vary. The new South Hall, which has 1.3 million square feet all by itself, brings the whole Las Vegas Convention Center to a total of 3.2 million square feet. That still would be south of CES' total square footage, since the whole LVC was packed wall-to-wall with CES exhibits, including two floors of exhibit space in the South Hall and more across town at the Alexis Park Hotel.

No exaggeration, the central aisles in the South Hall are so long that they feature green road signs like the ones on interstate highways.

Although the CES Web site was helpful as far as convention sites go (as a breed, they're usually brochures), it didn't provide a way to search through all the show guides for the word "Linux". Fortunately, the CES people did provide touchscreen kiosks in the hallways; thankfully, those got me straight to the information I needed.

So here's a question. Out of 2,300+ exhibitors, how many do you think mentioned "Linux" in their descriptions of what they were up to at the show? A couple hundred? Fifty?

Try eleven.

The only brand name among them was Real Networks, which had a huge booth but nobody to talk to about Linux. No Sony. No Toshiba. No Philips. No IBM or HP or Dell. And no CELF members other than Softier, whose booth I couldn't find.

Not even Transmeta, famous for years as the employer of Linus Himself (who is officially on a leave of absence from the company). Transmeta had a good-size booth in the South Hall and a lot to talk about. In fact, I ran into a couple of Linux hackers there: Karim Yaghmour and Greg Ungerer. Yet nothing in Transmeta's promotional poop at the booth mentioned Linux (that I noticed, anyway). John Heinlein, the Director of System Marketing at Transmeta, said plenty of Linux was running on Transmeta chips, old and new--RLX blade servers, for example. I saw racks of those when I visited DolphinSearch in Ventura last year. There's also nothing, Heinlein said, to stop anybody from putting Linux on Transmeta-based hardware. He showed me one Linux-ready tablet device that was, indeed, cool. Still, it was running Windows.

Another chip company, VIXS, which makes chipsets and software for distributing video by Wi-Fi, took a similar stance. The company mentioned nothing about Linux in its booth or its literature, but said it could support Linux as a primary system platform choice made by OEM customers, which include Toshiba and other major brands. In fact, the company said they had to do so, because so many OEMs were building set-top boxes and similar devices that run on Linux.

When I walked into Netgear's booth, again I saw nothing about Linux. Yet, when I asked if they were using Linux, they said "Sure. Come over here and look at our Layer 3 switch".

DLink had a similar story: Sure, they have Linux in their stuff. It was like, Why even bring it up? You'd think I was asking if their gear came with power cords or Ethernet jacks.

So, it's clear that Linux is fast becoming a pure infrastructural commodity – like the air we breathe. Why promote what's best taken for granted? Thus, take Linux's decreasing visibility as the inverse of its ubiquity.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Anonymous's picture

"So, it's clear that Linux is fast becoming a pure infrastructural commodity--like the air we breathe. Why promote what's best taken for granted? Thus, take Linux's decreasing visibility as the inverse of its ubiquity"

Um, how about it's a sign of possibly rampant GPL violations? Or maybe still Fear of Microsoft? Don't say the L-word too loud! And what about us poor schmuck end users, who just want this ***** to frikken WORK on Linux??

Don't send Doc to any more shows, send someone who will ask hard questions, and come back with some solid information.


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Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

Anonymous's picture

Nobody at either booth knew if Linux was involved in their systems; but at trade shows like this one, what sells isn't tech. It's girls. XM drew a long line of fans looking for autographs from Juli and Tiffany, the "seductive hosts" of Playboy's Night Calls show.

According to netcraft Playboy use Solaris.
Draw your own conclusions.

Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

Anonymous's picture

Hi this is HanishKVC here.
I want to inform u that u might have missed some linux based products at CES.
As I work for a company which makes Digital Media product designs and also act as ODM from India called Fedtec. We were part of the TI booth at CES. We had on display WORKING CONCEPT product of Digital Video Recorder and Multimedia Jukebox based on TI's DM270 chip on display, which was running our port of uclinux for this dual core ASIC consisting of ARM and DSP with some programmable accelerators for video processing. These products support mpeg4 encode/decode, mp3 enc/playback, Divx support, mjpeg, jpeg support (all these use DSP and Accelorators). Also gif is supported but this uses ARM only.

We support multiple OSs like vxworks, uitron, linux, ucos, stlite, nucleus etc in our products. However at the booth we had 2 products running uclinux and one running uitron.

In general we get many requests from product companies asking for product designs based on linux.

Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

davemc's picture

While this is interesting in the identification of the new "cool" stuff, the lack of Linux mentions is not newsworthy. For any infrastructure to be successful, it must be omnipresent, or as mentioned in another comment, kind of like power cords.

Years ago, I made a statement that "Linux won't be important until no one cares." (as an example : ( ).

Now that we can simpy accept Linux, we can move on to the new battle for the last mile minds, the home user, the business desktop, the average game player.

Many of them don't mention Linux for the same reason...

Anonymous's picture

...that they don't mention having power cords. It's kind of taken for granted.
But for the brouhaha it would cause, this almost makes one long for an avertising clause in Linux's licence. Perhaps for the next show we can print some "built on Linux" stickers to tag participants' banners with.

Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

Anonymous's picture

If linux is used everywhere in embedded applications, I bet
the amount of GPL violations is staggering.
Will the GPL be powerless in the future, just because
of the sheer amount of violations?


Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

Anonymous's picture

Unications web site does not yet show the medic-center, that I could find.

Re: Hunting Penguins in the Desert: The CES Report

Anonymous's picture

Found the hidden link - another site