LinuxWorld Summit New York City: A Wrap-Up Report

Advances in open source, Linux in the enterprise and Microsoft on the outside looking in.

If you hold a LinuxWorld but there are no community exhibits on hand or distro CDs to pick up, what do you have? On May 25-26, IDG World Expo held a first-of-its-kind LinuxWorld Summit in New York City with that sort of dynamic. And for those two days, the answer to the question was "business focus."

Designed to attract attendees from corporate managerial strata (read: big time suits) rather than function as a general penguin fest, the LinuxWorld Summit opened with daily keynote panels before featuring a three-track conference: "The Business of Linux and Open Source", "Data Center and Virtualization" and "Security: Inside and Out."

The CIO Magazine Keynote Panel opened the event. Featuring three notable panelists, it was no surprise that each brought an enthusiastic message of positive results deploying Linux. For business, the financial bottom line is an imposing factor in decision-making policy. Thus, as would be expected, large cost savings were reported by each panelist. Each reported additional technical good news beyond cost savings-- improved scalability, reliability, uptime and so on--but given the responsibilities of C-level management, the cost savings was the headline.

I must confess that given the sometimes rancorous debate over what constitutes proper TCO accounting on the desktop, I was not surprised that each panelist detailed successful projects that reside in the data center rather than sweeping Linux-on-the-desktop initiatives. Within the data center, there is intense focus on the mission-critical task at hand and considerably less opportunity for lateral feature exploration. Given the possible range of options, one can imagine that Linux-on-the-desktop initiatives easily can be waylaid in no time.

The second day opened with the ambitiously titled "The Evolving World of Linux and Open Source Keynote Panel." Although flanked by two corporate panelists with solid messages, the star of this panel was Eben Moglen. As General Counsel to the Free Software Foundation, he gets to say such things as his "I make freedom" introductory statement. However, Moglen did much more than drop packaged hype to a crowd used to wading through sensational messages. He presented cogent analysis of why free software is the future and never strayed from point--"Free Software is not product. Free Software is knowledge"--even when handling questions during the Q & A that followed his talk.

"The Business of Linux and Open Source" conference track generally focused on resenting positive news to decision makers. The early adopters of Linux and open source are leading successfully, but quite a large number of more risk-averse managers still are on the sidelines, awaiting the results. Thus, this was an important track for this conference.

Although not exclusively about legal and licensing concerns, "The Business of Linux and Open Source" track did feature packed presentations about these important issues. Given the various FUD public relations efforts both directly issued from Microsoft and indirectly staged through partners targeting precisely these people, their attention to the legal issues was not surprising.

The "Data Center and Virtualization" track was weighted heavily with vendor presentations about Linux in the data center. This content dovetailed quite nicely with the Wednesday morning keynote panelist presentations. Virtualization is a hot topic, and AMD was among the vendors presenting (Xen for AMD) within this track.

"Security: Inside and Out" featured a range of presentations about Linux security in a corporate setting. I have to confess that the initial thought of having to reassure managers currently running massive Windows deployments about the quality of Linux security seemed like nonsense. How could they not know this? However, after reflecting on the high level of managerially targeted Microsoft FUD, especially the dubious accusations about Linux vulnerabilities and patching efforts, I had to agree with the inclusion and importance of this track.

Outside of the planned events, the big news at the LinuxWorld Summit was made by Nokia. At a press conference immediately following the CIO Magazine Keynote Panel, the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet handheld device and the maemo.org development site were unveiled and the formal pledge not to use patents against the Linux kernel was stated.

As big an announcement as the patent pledge was--Eben Moglen acknowledged its importance when answering questions about Linux patent concerns the following day--the 770 easily overshadowed it throughout the two day event. How could it not? A handheld device featuring multiple forms of input and wireless connectivity, the 770 also is designed as an open development platform. To encourage developers, Nokia unveiled the maemo Web site, which is dedicated to supporting 770 development. The Nokia table was constantly busy the rest of the show, as everyone in attendance had to witness the 770 up close. I was able to speak with a Nokia representative about the announcement; see An Interview with Dr. Ari Jaaksi of Nokia.

The substitution of Summit for Expo in the title of this conference hinted at an event designed not to be a comprehensive vendor exposition. Thus, there were no enormous partner booths teeming with marketing types loaded with piles of printed materials. Instead, a diverse set of partners--headlined by Nokia, IBM, Novell and Sybase--staffed table-sized displays. Despite the reduced size, the vendor area seemed no less intense than at a typical exposition.

Among vendor representatives I spoke with, the mood was positive. Some admitted that there had been concerns about LinuxWorld Summit. Fear of low attendance given the reduced size of the event was a common theme. Despite these concerns and because of the quality and focus of the audience, exhibiting was considered to be worthwhile.

The IDG organizers I spoke with considered this inaugural LinuxWorld Summit a success. Although audience numbers were not available prior to this report, the early indications are that the attendance level was good, especially for a new event with such a focused theme.

In closing, I have to share a couple of stories about my two favorite attendees at this event. One was a gentleman who showed up after lunch on Thursday desperately looking for Linux CDs only to go away disappointed. Probably due to the upcoming event in New Orleans, Red Hat was nowhere to be found in New York--not even a box of Fedora media. Novell, the only exhibiting partner with a distribution to offer, was not giving away corporate evaluation CD kits either. As this fellow learned, the event was not about individuals and distributions; rather, the focus was the enterprise and strategy.

The other was a Microsoft attendee who sat quietly through each presentation taking it all in. I openly wondered to an acquaintance how long it would take for "our slides to become their slides." My cynicism about Microsoft aside, if one accepts the presentation content at the LinuxWorld Summit as an informal state of the rising tide of Linux adoption in the enterprise, one wonders what the folks from Redmond are thinking they can do to stem this particular tide.

Jeffrey Bianchine is an advocate, author and journalist living and working in Upstate New York. He can be contacted at jjbianchine@earthlink.net.

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