October 11, 2001

ISPCON: Lots of no-shows, but Open Source advocates active

Author: JT Smith

- By Russell Pavlicek -

Perhaps the biggest surprise at ISPCON in Las Vegas this week is the number of speakers who did not bother to show up. We are not talking about cancellations here, though there were many of those as well. But a number of speakers
apparently did not bother to tell anyone they were not going to
attend.

I noticed this early on the first day of the conference, when I was hoping
to attend a session called The Pros and Cons of Consolidating ISP
Services on a Linux-based POP
. I was disappointed to find that the
speaker had formally canceled the session. Undaunted, I sat down in the
room next door, which was to house a talk about the Federal Communications Commission. The audience sat for 10 minutes past the session start time when, with no speaker in sight, they began to leave. I walked down the hall to another session, hoping to sneak into the back of the room, only to find that the attendees were
leaving that one as well. Once again, no speaker materialized.

I guess the speakers must have taken the lead from keynote speaker Dan
Smith, CEO of Sycamore Networks, who apparently canceled at the last
minute. He was replaced by a motivational speaker another
attendee described as "some guy they must have found on the Las Vegas
Strip somewhere."

In genuine Open Source news, the show floor had no giant penguins, but a
number of companies selling Linux-based and BSD-based solutions could be
found.

One vendor, Promicro Systems, featured a Scyld Beowulf cluster. After conversing with a few of their folks, I found that they had hired a number of VA Linux's former hardware engineers. This may merit the attention of folks buying higher-end Linux hardware.

Sun's booth featured a number of Cobalt products, including some software to control a large number of Cobalt servers. Sun's booth talk was fun, if for no other reason than the number of slams they directed at Microsoft in the period of 10 minutes. If you have friends who say that Open Source
folks are too negative about Microsoft, send them to this talk. Sun
clearly has an ax to grind against Redmond, and they do so with great
glee.

Even though Egenera had no booth at the show, Dave McAllister (formerly of SGI fame) was exceptionally busy at the sessions. I believe he delivered three talks and sat on one panel. At a show where speakers did not bother to show, it was good to see an Open Source guy working diligently.

Kudos to Larry Augustin of VA Linux (which owns NewsForge) and Jeff Gerhardt of The Linux Show,
who showed up to talk. The three of us did a panel session entitled The
SourceForge Effect
, which focused on how Open Source can help ISPs and
ASPs in their business. Our best wishes go out to Tom Adelstein of Bynari, who had to miss the session due to a traffic accident. He is apparently on the mend, thankfully.

One keynote speaker who did bother to show up was David Ditzel, founder of
Transmeta. Like most folks, I have seen details on the Crusoe processor before, but I have never heard such a straightforward presentation regarding the vision that birthed Crusoe.

In a nutshell, the logic goes like this: When people get a wireless
solution that really, really works, they no longer want or need a desktop
box. What they want is a portable, lightweight, inexpensive device that can
run for a minimum of eight hours (a standard business day) and stay connected
to the network. By reducing the number of transistors on the chip and
throttling the speed of the processor according to the current workload,
Crusoe greatly extends battery life and reduces heat. This removes the
need for fans, and reduces both weight and manufacturing costs. The
Crusoe is in the the best selling notebooks in Japan, with battery life
supposedly ranging from six to 20 hours, depending on the notebook model.

But the frightening part of Ditzel's presentation was his pick for the
winner in this field of future portable wireless computing devices. He
believes the winner will be the Microsoft-designed tablet PC. He
believes it will supplant the desktop PC, PDA, cell phone, and pager, all
at the same time. I hope the Open Source folks who were looking at the
design of the tablet will pay close attention to his pronouncement.

Also, Ditzel believes that the original concept of two tiers of
wireless connectivity is undergoing modification. Originally, many folks
thought 802.11(b) would service the high end, while Bluetooth would
service the low end. But now, he claims that 802.11(b) will take the low
end and 802.11(a) will take the high end. Bluetooth, he says, will not
stay in the picture in the longer term.

And, for you speed junkies, Transmeta will announce a 1 GHz Crusoe on
October 15.

In conclusion, the ISPCON conference suffered from some unrealized
potential. Crowds were small, booths were a little thin, and some
speakers decided not to show up. I do not believe the show organizers were
to blame, because they were caught between a rock and a hard place after the
events of September 11. What concerns me the most is that so
many speakers apparently refused to travel to the conference. I don't
know if this was motivated by personal fears or by companies that pulled
back the purse strings. Either way, it means the terrorists succeeded in
depriving the paying attendees their due. And that is sad indeed.

Editor's note: Russell Pavlicek is a Linux consultant and columnist who writes about Open Source issues.

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