Highlights of Atlanta (Annual) Linux Showcase

by Don Marti

I asked Jon "Maddog" Hall, executive director of Linux International, about what happens now that Linux is the de facto standard for UNIX on Intel. But he points out that Linux still has a long way to go as a standard platform, and adds, "One thing that the Linux community had better pay attention to is maintaining binary compatibility across releases."

Binary compatibility? Yes. "The lack of binary compatibility helped kill UNIX systems," Maddog says. "People didn't understand what was really wanted by customers and ISVs." So distributions can consider themselves warned.

Speaking of distributions catching heat, the big technical buzz at Atlanta was Red Hat's decision to ship a development version of GCC in its 7.0 release. The GCC Steering Committee fired off a web page criticizing the decision, which Red Hat's embattled staff at the show defended on the grounds that the unofficial GCC version fixed some, well, "issues" in GCC's support for certain C++ features. Of course, the whole debate turned into the old, ever-so-informative "Red Hat is evil/No it isn't/Yes it is/No it isn't" argument.

But read between the lines here, people. Red Hat's rush to ship C++ fixes at the cost of confusing, ok, enraging, old-school Red Hat users is good news. It shows that Red Hat is getting service and support contracts from corporate customers who are porting C++ programs that depend on features that have been weak historically in GCC. Face it, nobody needs a bleeding-edge compiler to rebuild the old reliable tools written in C. Companies do need C++ fixes if they're porting C++ programs from legacy OSes, and run into problems when GCC can't handle things the proprietary compilers could. The whole GCC mess is just bubbles on the surface--the submerged whales here are companies quietly porting more software to Linux. Needless to say, Red Hat must be getting a piece of the action.

As long as they stay the most popular Linux distribution, Red Hat is always going to attract people who say they're evil, so they might as well get used to it.

Cindy Cohn from the Electronic Frontier Foundation spoke about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the DVD case. The big news here is that EFF has spent about $1.5 million on the case (the movie studios spent four times as much), and needs funding to continue the appeals. Considering the size of the DVD-on-Linux market if the forces of good prevail, some of us ought to be putting up some dough.

Back to the conversation with Maddog for a little good news. Corporate fear of the GNU General Public License is melting away, as you can see by the fact that the flood of corporate YAFL (Yet Another Foolish License) licenses on opensource.org has become a trickle, and projects such as Mozilla and Qt now offer GPL as an alternative. I asked Maddog why, and he said, "A lot of it is just an education process, but when you get a company like IBM that has a lot of lawyers and they start doing things with GPL, then people feel a lot better about it."

By the way, Maddog tells me that IBM CEO Louis Gerstner has announced a new "open source by default" policy. All IBM software will be released under an open-source license unless there's a business case for a proprietary licence--so now the bureaucratic burden is on people who want to make software proprietary. Maddog says of IBM, "for a multi-operating system company they certainly have come a long way". By the way, their developerWorks site is a decent entry in the Geek Portal Wars, especially if you don't mind a lot of articles about Java. And IBM did show off an S/390 at the show, running several virtual Linux systems.

Skip this paragraph if you just spent the summer drilling holes in your house, cursing and pulling Ethernet cable to every room. AbsoluteValue Systems is introducing a very nifty wireless (802.11b for you wireless buffs out there) networking box with embedded Linux inside, of course, that you can plug into your home network and have wireless everywhere, at a respectable 11 Mbps.

They're sending me one, so watch Linux Journal for a review. If it will let me connect to my home network from the burrito place down the street, I'm not sending it back. The people behind AbsoluteValue Systems have been doing wireless drivers for Linux for five years, and I've run their stuff before, using a Linux box as a router to the wireless network. Now it'll be a lot easier.

I met Ethan Zuckerman and Elisa Korentayer from Geekcorps, a new volunteer organization which, I must admit, has been covered in Wired magazine, but that doesn't mean they're lame--honest. Here's the plan: you sign up as a Geekcorps volunteer, do a couple weeks of training, then work on a computer project for a Ghanian business for several months. To pay for your work, the business in Ghana agrees to support a project that provides public access to the Internet. Ghana, which has reasonably good Net connections, has set the goal of transforming itself into the "Silicon Valley of West Africa". Geekcorps is lining up additional countries to send people to, so if everybody helps out, soon every place will be the Silicon Valley of someplace. We complain about Silicon Valley here, but we really have it pretty good. So please renew your passport and check out geekcorps.org.

Linux company to watch: Scyld Consulting. Pronounced "skilled". Beowulf guru Donald Becker and his posse were roaming Atlanta in a most elite fashion, doing stunts like running Beowulf software on long-suffering Drew Streib's e-mail garden. Drew is the VA Linux Systems benchmarketing-monger who also sets up systems for trade shows. If system administration is a thankless task, Drew's job is a thankless task with jet lag. But he lets us get our e-mail at Linux conferences. All together now, "Thank you, Drew."

Speaking of VA, and appropriately for the closest thing we have to a "free software freak show", some good news on the Debian front. VA Linux Systems is offering their now-classic workhorse 2U web server with Debian pre-installed. All we need next year is a webcam, a blacklight and some fluorescent fish.


AbsoluteValue Systems: http://linux-wlan.com/

Atlanta (I mean Annual) Linux Showcase: http://www.linuxshowcase.org/

Electronic Frontier Foundation: http://www.eff.org/

Geekcorps: http://www.geekcorps.org/

IBM developerWorks: http://www.ibm.com/developer/

Linux International: http://www.li.org/

Scyld Consulting: http://www.scyld.com/

VA Linux Systems: http://valinux.com/

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