cat/dev/DiBona/brain: Inside the .org Pavilion

The coolest and most up-and-coming products and projects usually can be found in the .org pavilion.

As usual, my favorite part of last week's LinuxWorld in San Francisco was the .org pavilion. Make no mistake, LinuxWorld (hereafter LWCE) is about capital-B business. Looking to hack python? Try OSCon. Looking to write a kernel driver? Try the Ottawa Linux Symposium. LWCE, on the other hand, is very good at addressing the things that companies care about. Look at the tutorial tracks, and you'll see LDAP, corporate network security and other topics that always are a reliable draw. I'm on the conference advisory board, so trust me on this one.

But, I have to admit that for me, the big draw has always been the .org pavilion.

When LWCE originally was in the planning stage, the question was this: How can you create a show that is aimed at a larger corporate audience without losing the spirit of Linux? For instance, in 1999 we really wanted Debian to be featured at the show, but we were realistic enough to know that we could not charge them for anything. We knew it would be legitimate to have them provide only themselves and their computers, nothing else.

For those of you unfamiliar with booking space at conferences, you not only reserve the space, you need to pay for network access, power, carpeting, pipes and drapes, furniture and so on. And, that doesn't count the booths themselves, which can range from a thousand dollars for a simple stand-up portable booth to, literally, whatever a vendor is willing to spend. In fact, looking at the average E3 booth, one is reminded of Bay-area housing prices.

In essence, anyone who has visited a large tradeshow knows what a production these booths can become. But even for a minimalist representation at a tradeshow the size of LinuxWorld, you're looking at serious coinage; coin that Gentoo, X.org, the EFF and various other free software projects are unlikely to produce. Hence, the pavilion.

The .org pavilion provides free space, carpet, network, power, signage, furniture and pipe and drape to the participating organizations. Usually, anywhere between 15 and 22 participants display, ranging from the EFF to Debian to local Linux user groups. The only thing the organizations must commit to is showing up and manning their booths.

True to form, these projects commonly are exploring the corner cases of IT rarely seen at shows that draw this kind of audience. Some of the attendees were showing off some very cool software and hardware. Gentoo Linux, with its emphasis on speed and configurability, was there. The Linux Terminal Server Project people were there too, presenting their latest work on thin clients and showing a thin client that can use the insanely overpowered CPUs of today to offload jobs from the server and increase client speed.

UltraMonkey load-balancing software was being shown off by its author, Simon Horman, along with the UltraPossum fault tolerant LDAP server. Carsten "Raster" Haitzler was nearby showing off some work he had been doing with Enlightenment and, more importantly, the E canvas (evas), which runs on everything from smart phones to desktops with gorgeous abandon. DVD player in 17 lines of C, anyone?

These projects serve as an important reminder of the promise of computer technology. They teach us to expect more from IT. The .org pavilion reminds us that the bleeding edge is a pretty fun place to be, and it offers conference goers a brief, enjoyable glimpse into our collective free software future.

Chris DiBona is the Open Source Programs Manager for Mountain View, California-based Google, Inc. These writings are the authors opinions and don't necessarily reflect those of his employer. Before joining Google, Chris was an editor/author for the popular on-line Web site Slashdot.org, and he is an internationally known advocate of open-source software and related methodologies. He co-edited the award winning essay compilation Open Sources and can be reached by way of his Web site.

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