LinuxWorld Boston 2005: An Overview and Day One Report

by Jeffrey Bianchine

After being held many years in New York City, this is the first year the East Coast LinuxWorld Expo is taking place in Boston. Boston has a history of hosting computer expositions, having been the stage for MacWorld Expo for quite some time before it moved to New York City in the 1990s. Given that some people argue Boston's expositions historically have been qualitatively better than New York's anyway--Boston and New York compete over everything--it will be interesting to see how Boston and the Hynes Convention Center measure up this week.

As Linux transitions into the corporate marketplace, LinuxWorld Expo increasingly has become as much about companies marketing products as about Linux itself. This transition is a natural result of the success of Linux development. For some in the community, however, it is disconcerting because LinuxWorld Expo increasingly is becoming a place for suits. And in this way, LinuxWorld Expo becomes a close cousin to what used to be the focal point of the New York expositions: a stage on which marketing departments showcase products for sale and strike deals.

Before the dotcom bust, big companies used the New York expositions as lavish showcase events that sometimes featured miniature show numbers in enormous booths. Logos and slogans were splashed on buttons and T-shirts that were glad-handed to booth visitors. My favorite "show" of that era was produced by Compaq. During a song and dance routine, actors sang and danced to announced system specs--pretty much the very definition of style at the expense of substance.

These days, even large companies purchase considerably smaller booths, the dancers are no more, and if you don't win a T-shirt at a raffle, you have to purchase it outright. That's not necessarily a bad thing, unless visiting expositions is how you build your wardrobe.

This LinuxWorld Expo showcases the full range of exhibitors. Show attendees are seeing the FSF, community distributions and projects, hardware vendors, service providers, consultancies of all sizes and, of course, the big corporate players.

It is interesting to witness the ratio of quality information to marketing hype in the business booths. The number and nature of the distributions and projects present is important, too, because these are perceived as an indicator of the health of the communities that are the very soul of the free software and Open Source communities. Most of all, though, as the business of IT increasingly becomes based on the emerging non-proprietary model, the question that partially can be answered here in Boston pertains to growth. Chiefly, are opportunities for Linux-based and Linux-related businesses of all sizes growing?

Day One Report

The first day of LinuxWorld Expo concluded with an Intel reception, Oracle installfest and BOF sessions still continuing as I wrote this report. After spending the morning taking in events featuring all the corporate giants-- IBM, Oracle and HP--I spent the afternoon cruising that portion of the exposition space occupied by individual business booths and community distributions and projects.

IBM began its press conference with a recap of recent successes: the release of Power 5 hardware, the most recent DB2 on Linux benchmark and middleware. IBM mentioned Novell, Red Hat and even LSB at various times during the presentation, continuing to not play favorites among corporate distributions. There were even a couple of jabs at Sun regarding Sun's corporate contentions about Red Hat. All of this was prologue for the announcement of IBM's "chiphopper", which provides the capability to run a single source code base on multiplatform Linux, on the full range of the eServer product line--x86, Power 5, OpenPower 5 and mainframe.

The primary thrust of the Oracle press conference was the company's focus on Linux, which includes internal Linux use as well as direct support of the OS, including the upstream kernel. Red Hat was present at this meeting, and due to the long relationship between the two companies, Oracle products will be certified for RHEL 4 the moment it ships. When pressed about Oracle support for distributions other than Red Hat, the Oracle representatives pointed out that the company currently has a relationship with SuSE, too.

The HP keynote featured an aviation theme, during which Linux development was compared to the history of aviation. This presentation was generally an up-with-Linux affair. As one can expect whenever high-level executives give presentations, selected partners appeared on stage bearing witness to their successes with both HP and Linux.

The exhibition hall here at LinuxWorld has two discrete sides, one dominated by the big name players and the other populated by distribution and project communities bordering businesses--some of them well known--that invested in individual booths. After a morning spent listening to suits, I spent the afternoon working this side of the exhibition hall. It is a pleasure to report that the general buzz on this side of the exhibition hall is positive. It also is encouraging that so many of the business booths here are a mix of first-time exhibitors and new businesses.

After formal press conferences and a keynote about the macro movements among competitors and partners that shape high-level corporate uptake of Linux, it was most refreshing speaking with this particular set of people in the afternoon--the communities, individuals and businesses that perform at the micro level, if you will. This is where the individual good idea is marketed. Although I do not elaborate upon individual products in this report, these exhibitors make it easy to see how and why Linux is so good for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Among the distributions present and accounted for are Debian, Gentoo, Mepis and CentOS. There even are Fedora Core 3 DVDs to be had. Absent are representatives from the well-known Slackware and Mandrake.

An informal poll of various attendees I chatted up indicated a positive buzz about the event, which is encouraging for the future of this event in Boston. The Hynes Convention Center itself is an architectural juxtaposition to the glass encased Javitz Center in New York, and as of Day One it has served IDG World Expo quite well as its new host site for LinuxWorld Expo.

The most fun to be had on Day One occurred at the conclusion of the day, as the Geeks and Nerds competed in the Golden Penguin bowl. Jeremy Allison jovially hosted the event, which drew a much smaller crowd than it deserved.

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