The Fifth Annual Linux Showcase and Conference kicked off its three-day trade show of all things Linux on Thursday morning, and while commercial vendors were on hand to talk about almost anything related to computing, few were willing to discuss the conference itself.
"This is the worst attendance I've seen at this show in three years," said one attendant at a booth selling technical books.
Sales were slow, she admitted, noting that past events always saw her company run out of stock on at least two titles. "I'm going to take home a lot of books this year," she said.
Almost 90 exhibitors were present for ALS 2000 in Atlanta, including such unlikely business names like America Online and the recently defunct Linux General Store. The economy has taken a toll on the number of exhibitors present for this year's show -- a meager 28. On the brighter side, there was only one no-show at this year's gathering: Sun Microsystems.
Situated at the entrance to the hall were the two large booths offered by Compaq and Hewlett Packard who, if all goes according to plan, should occupy a single booth come this time next year.
The smaller show gave it a decidedly more community feel than in years past. One of the most popular aisles was organization-heavy, with GNOME, Open Source Development Labs, the Free Standards Group, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and several Linux community organizations.
Of the exhibitors from last year who were contacted to find out why they weren't at the show, only three were willing to say something, as long as they or their employers weren't mentioned by name.
All company representatives said their trade show budgets had been slashed dramatically. While they would love to attend ALS if they had the resources, the larger crowds generated by LinuxWorld Expo presented a better value.
Why the cloak and dagger anonymity act? A rationalization came from one corporate explainer: "ALS is the community show and no one wants to be on record by name telling the Linux community, 'Sorry, you're just not that important to us right now.'"
The first day of the exhibition was well-attended for a brief period of time. Doors opened at 10 a.m. and a few people drifted in, glancing at the exhibits and then leaving.
Some of the commercial exhibitors were slightly upset by the low turnout, pulling anyone they could into their booths. As I passed by the Cambridge exhibit, a representative wandered up to me and asked "100 terabytes for 12 to 15 thousand dollars?"
"No thanks, I just ate," came my reply. He retreated back to his booth, disappointed, and I made a mental note not to toy with the emotions of other exhibitors I encountered.
The Linux in Action classes for Linux newcomers that were slated to start around 10 a.m. finally launched some time after 11 a.m. The official reason remains unknown, but there didn't appear to be a crowd of any sort at the original start time. Both classes were filled to capacity, however.
Traffic did eventually turn from a trickle into a torrent around 11:30 that morning, and stayed that way for the next couple of hours. By 3 p.m., however, the hall was practically empty.
One straggler managed to provide some perspective, however.
"It's only Thursday," said conference-goer Brandon Andrade, who described himself as "head geek whipping boy" for a San Francisco dot-com. "This will probably hit critical mass on Friday and maybe do a little better on Saturday. People just can't take off from work like they used to anymore. We're in a recession, remember?"