A Look at the Linux World Canada Show

On the scene of Canada's largest computer show for 2005.

Besides the ability to tinker with the software, as demonstrated in this previous Linux Journal article, a great attraction of Linux for me has been the low cost. So when word reached me of a free Linux-related event being held in Toronto, Ontario, I knew I had to be there. The LinuxWorld Conference & Expo Canada show was held April 18-20, 2005, at the Metro Toronto Convention Center, and it is expected to be the largest computer show in Canada in 2005. Although a number of fee workshops and tutorials were offered, admission to the show floor and the keynote speeches was free. In my case, I was involved in setting up and supporting the Toronto Linux User Group booth at the show, so although the show did not cost me money, it did cost me some sweat equity.

Plum Communications was responsible for running the LinuxWorld Canada show and was kind enough to donate floor space to the Toronto Linux User Group. Then, though, came the question of what to do about powering, furnishing and staffing the booth. During the weeks prior to the show, meetings were held to decide on tasks and then divide them up. I became the contact person with the show organizers, and I also got the job of supplying computers along with booth furnishings. Through my employer, innovationtoronto.org--the parent organization behind the computers I used in my Temporary Internet Lounge article--I was able to borrow both computers and booth furnishings in exchange for promotion of one of its current charity projects.

On the Saturday before the show, while in the office, I installed a Knoppix onto the hard drives of the machines that were going to the show. I did this to allow making permanent changes to the machines at the show.

On Monday morning, while some conference attendees were taking tutorials at the show, I was meeting with some of the other user group members and moving equipment out of my office and into a van for transport to the show. Monday afternoon was spent setting up the booth, and with six people on site, the job went quickly and turned into a social event. It also meant we got to see our neighbors. Directly across from us was Cannon, displaying some of its printing solutions. Just to the south of the Cannon booth was a sales booth for Linux Journal. In talking with LJ advertising representative Martin Seto, I learned that only sales staff would be attending the Toronto show. Although I would have liked to have spoken to more folks from Linux Journal, it was nice to talk to those in attendance.

The Toronto Linux User Group Booth, from left to right, Teddy Mills, Edward Chin, Jeffrey Pikul, Bill Thanis and Seneca Cunningham. Present but not in this picture were Sim Brigden, Leah Cunningham, William Park and Pavel Zaitsev.

On Tuesday, because our promotional flyers arrived a bit late, I missed the first part of the keynote speech by David Patrick of Novell. Still, it was encouraging to hear about Novell's internal efforts to move to open source and the open-source projects the company is supporting, such as Hula, a groupware server that will allow many people to coordinate schedules and address books. Unfortunately, Novell does not yet consider Linux to be ready for the office power user, but thanks to a number of current open-source projects, including Hula, it was noted that "the tide is rising fast".

After the keynote speech, I returned to the user group booth to find that more people were volunteering than there was space, which gave me the freedom to turn my attention to other tasks. I started by asking two questions: "What is the technology and/or service that dominates this show?" and "What sort of interesting promotional goodies (swag) are to be found at the show?". I found the answer to both questions at the Fusepoint booth, where representatives were pushing what clearly was a theme of the show, using Linux to protect vulnerable Windows-based boxes. The Fusepoint giveaway was a neat ballpoint pen with a blue LED light in it. XPM Software was offering Linux-based anti-spam and anti-virus scanning software for Windows as well as cans of Hormel Foods' Spam. In short, whether it was using Linux to do back-ups of Windows or to protect Windows from viruses, using Linux as a shield seemed was a common and in some ways depressing theme of the show.

On a more positive note, Xandros was helping to promote the Skype voice-over IP solution. During the early part of the show, the company was handing out mini-earbud/microphone headsets. Later, Xandros handed out coupons good for 30 minutes of free long distance service by way of Skype to almost everywhere on Earth. Xandros also was behind setting up a cardboard Skype telephone booth, which consisted of a small Compaq desktop PC with a headset running Xandros Linux and Skype.

That afternoon I crossed paths with Linux Journal columnist Marcel Gagné, who noted how pleased he was with the sales figures for his book Kiss the Blue Screen of Death Goodbye, a book about shifting from Microsoft to Linux. According to Marcel, a typical Linux book sells about 3,000 copies, but current sales of Kiss the Blue Screen of Death Goodbye are around 30,000. This success did not stop Marcel from spending time in the University of Toronto Bookstore booth encouraging passersby to buy his book.

Besides the University of Toronto Bookstore, other educational institutions with a presence at the show included Seneca College, Centennial College and Athabasca University, all promoting their Linux and/or UNIX-related courses. Seneca College and Centennial College both have campuses in Toronto. As for Athabasca University, its central theme was that although the school is located in Alberta, some 1,500 miles from Toronto, as specialists in correspondence and Web-based learning, it doesn't matter where the college is or where the students are.

Hewlett-Packard had a large booth at the show, where they were offering a free Tux-shaped coin bank to anyone who could present a card showing that he or she had attended four demonstrations/lectures in the Hewlett-Packard booth. In somewhat similar fashion, attending four demonstrations at the Novell booth meant you could enter a drawing for one of three Apple iPods or several other goodies.

Around 5pm Tuesday, the convention center staff brought out some finger-food, which included among other things some very tame samosas, bruschetta and spring rolls. Then there was a cash bar. Being able to talk on the show floor while nibbling was great.

The show seemed a bit slower and tamer on Wednesday, which gave me time to look at things in a bit more detail. In his keynote, Scott Handy of IBM noted IBM's B.R.I.C.K. strategy, in which the company is targeting Linux in Brazil, Russia, India, China and (South) Korea. After all, it is a lot easier to put in a totally new infrastructure than to turn over and replace an old infrastructure. Handy also noted that the company is seeing massive growth in Linux use in these B.R.I.C.K. nations, and the company wants to take advantage of that.

Later, I spoke to Bruce Cole, the show's organizer, who noted that his information said LinuxWorld Canada would be the largest Canadian computer-related show for 2005. Granted, this is a real drop from the dot-com bubble days of Comdex Canada, which took all the space LinuxWorld Canada was using, plus the nearby Skydome baseball/football stadium. Cole also noted how well the show has grown over the past three years, the first year of which had to deal with the disruption caused by the SARS disease outbreak.

In only two booths could one see clear open references to other OSes. Apple had a modest-sized booth where the company talked about their Mac OS X (FreeBSD-based) servers. At another booth a support firm that shall remain nameless had a company car on the show floor, complete with logos of the OSes the company supports on the back of the car. Among the logos on that car was the SCO logo.

Mid-Wednesday afternoon, a large number of baseball caps that Red Hat had ordered for the show arrived, having been delayed by Canada Customs, so in short order the show floor was flooded with tan-color baseball caps with the Red Hat logo.

It was great to see so many of the major players in the IT market present at the show. Representing the server field were Apple, Dell, HP, IBM and Sun. In the software field, Gupta, Novell, Oracle, Red Hat and Xandros all were present. Other hardware vendors included 3com, American Power Conversion, Cisco Systems and Hammond Manufacturing. In not-for-profit support/service/user groups, the Canadian Information Processing Society; the IEEE Toronto Chapter; Toronto Free-Net, Toronto's oldest surviving ISP; the Toronto Wireless User Group and the Toronto Linux User Group all were present. From media, representatives from The Toronto Star, Canada's largest circulation newspaper; ComputerWorld Canada, Linux Magazine and, of course, Linux Journal all were on hand. In other words, with the exception of Microsoft, it seemed as though every major player was present.

By 5:00pm on Wednesday it all was over, and it was time to go back to the Toronto Linux User Group scene to take the booth apart. I did get a chance to talk with a few of the other people in other booths during the tear down, all of whom were happy with the way things went. One of the staff from Emu Software noted how pleased he was that staff from a number of Canadian bank's IT departments had shown up and that his firm had already booked a booth at next year's Linux World Show. To pay for the Toronto Linux User Group's power and photocopy bills, we needed to sign up about 10 new members and by the end of the show we had over 30 new members. We also made some contacts that may result in other donations down the road, so we were quite happy. In other words, it was a great show, and I plan to be back next year.

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