April 25, 2006

Day one at the Desktop Linux Summit

Author: Joe Barr

SAN DIEGO -- The Desktop Linux Summit (DLS) 2006 kicked off yesterday in the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego. The summit, now in its fourth year, was created by Linspire, but it has outgrown its uni-distro roots, with sponsors and speakers coming from competing Linux vendors such as Mandriva, Novell, Red Hat, and Ubuntu. An opening day crowd of more than 600 attendees heard a range of speakers reflecting that diversity.

DLS isn't the only game in town. A Microsoft summit of some kind is running in the convention center nearby, and other conferences are being held in the same hotel. DLS is not a large show, but it is packed with talks. In addition to the main sessions, held in a room that seats about 300, there are two additional tracks, each with talks of their own beginning each hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., save for a one-hour lunch break.

Hewlett-Packard, some booksellers, ISVs, service firms, and the distros mentioned earlier all have booths in a small exhibition area next to the room where the main sessions are conducted. GNOME and KDE have booths in the exhibit area, too, but only the KDE booth was staffed on day one. Nobody seems to know why GNOME wasn't represented the first day, but I heard unofficially that they would be there for day two.

The first speaker was Marcel Gagné, the popular author, journalist, and TV personality, who gave an energetic talk about the barriers to Linux adoption and what could be done about them. Gagné orchestrated his talk using a Java-based mindmapping application called Conspicio Mindmapper.

Gagné discussed his ideas and thoughts on a number of related topics, all revolving around the notion that Linux should dominate the desktop: reasons why it should, reasons why it doesn't, and things we ought to do to help it get there.

Gagné was especially harsh on software patents, which he listed as one of the barriers to mainstream Linux adoption. Perhaps the most powerful point he made in the talk was how stupid and wrong it is for anyone to ever patent software. He argued that it is impossible for anyone to claim that any software actually qualifies for a patent, because it is impossible for anyone to create software that does not rely on other software that came before it.

At 11:00 a.m., Linspire CEO Kevin Carmony gave a talk on "The Open and Closed Case for Linux Adoption." The biggest news coming out of the show on the first day came in this session, when he announced the Freespire project and the open sourcing of he Click and Run (CNR) application installer, which is one of the big reasons for Linspire's ease of use.

Carmony's thesis is that, at least for now, it takes a mixture of open and closed source applications to provide the ease of use of competing platforms. Without that ease of use, he argues, Linux will never break out of the "for geeks only" category. At one point in his talk, Carmony asked for a show of hands by those who ran only free software on their computers. No hands went up, and Carmony remarked, "Richard's not here, I see."

After lunch, I sat in on one of the presentations from the "Future of Desktop Linux," where HP's R&D Manager for Linux Printing, John Oleinik, was holding forth with a talk on the future of Linux printing. Actually, it was a talk on the past, present, and future of Linux printing, as Oleinik recounted what HP has done over the past 10 years or so. Today, HP provides open source drivers for more than 950 of its printers, he said, which is indeed a long way from the few "Win Printers" it made during the mid-'90s. Since then, in fact, HP has only released three printer models from its entire line of printers that don't have open source drivers available for them, and he assured the room that they are working on getting the drivers for those models open sourced. More recently, over the last 15 months, all fax and scanning multifunction printers released by HP have had the drivers for the fax and/or scanner open sourced as well as the printer itself.

I found out before his talk that HP is working with the GIMP project team to finally get the GIMP working better with HP printers. In the meantime, Oleinik told me, I could get excellent results printing GIMP edited/enhanced digital images on HP printers by saving the images as PostScript files, then printing them from the command line. True, it's not an elegant solution, but if you're like me, with both a nice HP color printer and a fondness for the GIMP, it's a handy tip.

The most entertaining session I attended on the first day came next, when Novell's Nat Friedman wowed the crowd with a demo of the SUSE 10.1 beta desktop, which makes fantastic use of Xgl graphics technology.

There were "oohs" and "ahs" throughout the presentation as Friedman showed off the beta desktop, but the last five minutes were the best, when he started playing a video clip of an animated film, then opened half a dozen other windows and had them all moving about the desktop, made translucent, or set to quiver, with the video continuing its presentation all the while. Applause from the crowd interrupted that bit more than once. Now I can't wait to get back home and download a copy of the beta.

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