December 17, 2001

LinuxWorld 2002 could see some turbulence, but officials are positive

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -
LinuxWorld Conference & Expo is about to enter its fourth year of existence. After three years of soaring to the heights of success, will the biggest Linux trade show be able to maintain? IDG Expo officials are hopeful that greater depth in the educational portion of the show will make up for expected losses on the exhibition side.In the short time it has been around, the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo (LWE) has become an icon representing "the suits" side of Linux and Open Source, separating itself from other shows, like the Annual Linux Showcase (first known as Atlanta Linux Showcase), a mostly-geeks inner-sanctum get-together originated by the Atlanta Linux Enthusiasts in 1996.

Suits and the business side of Linux are not necessarily bad things. We've learned that the suits can throw a decent party. We've learned that hardcore geeks and marketing dudes in ties can co-exist in a peaceful, if somewhat circumspect, manner while browsing exhibits.

We've also learned that pretty near anyone who wants to can start a Linux business, have a booth at LinuxWorld, and talk a mean streak about IPOs -- but still not have a clue about the spirit of Linux. At least the odds are against their success.

The LinuxWorld expos have been successful because they rode the upsurge in interest that was sparked partly by discontent with Microsoft, and partly by IPO fever. The first show, back in March 1999, attracted more developers and hobbyists than corporate buyer-types. But the show organizers were deliberately making LWE more about business, attracting big name corporations like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Intel. Russell Pavlicek, in an October 10, 2001, InternetWorld article, hit the nail on the head when he wrote of LinuxWorld 2001 in San Francisco, "This show looked and felt like other computer trade shows."

The familiar look and feel, and the big name exhibitors helped visiting decision-makers make the decision to return with checkbook in hand. "LinuxWorld now is more mainstream," says Rob Schescherareg, v.p. of marketing and sales for IDG World Expo. "Companies have traditionally been worried about tech support and training, but they feel more secure and more willing to try [Linux] because of the traditional companies [that have been exhibiting]."

A year ago, IDG World Expo CEO Charlie Greco was raving about the favor LinuxWorld was enjoying: "The growth of the show has been staggering," he was quoted as saying in a February 2001 press release. "LinuxWorld Conference & Expo's popularity continues to grow by leaps and bounds." And the traditional companies were investing more and more in Linux. Take a look at IBM's booth (60.2 KB .jpg) at LinuxWorld in March 1999, compared to their August 2001 LWCE booth (49.4 KB .jpg).

And IDG trumpeted the August 2001 LWCE in San Francisco as the place "where Open Source comes of age." Even though IPO euphoria had died down and onsite media attention also appeared to be on the wane, 122 exhibitors had registered three months prior to the opening day.

It remains to be seen how the recession economy and post-attack culture will affect LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in 2002. Greco is optimistic about attendance. "Our pre-registration numbers are up versus last year," he says. "But a lot of the tech industry has experienced tremendous difficulty." Total pre-registration is somewhere between 15,000 and 19,000 according to Greco and Schescherareg. Greco says that vendor registration is off by 20%, though the LinuxWorld site shows only 64 registered vendors, about 50% fewer than the August show, as of about six weeks prior to opening day.

"With mergers and bankruptcies, the number of [Linux-related] companies has dropped," says Greco. "The Linux community is shifting from socialism to capitalism. Some people tried to get into the business, rather than the sport of Linux, and couldn't compete." He says that even though there are fewer companies exhibiting, the ones that are left are higher quality.

And the conference sessions, tutorials, and keynote addresses are worth getting excited about. Greco says that there are more than 70 tutorials scheduled for the NYC show. Schescherareg adds, "We have more case studies this time." IDG is introducing what it calls the "Taste of Linux" series, a set of basic one-hour talks designed to introduce Linux. The talks include "Linux 101," "All About LUGs," "Linux for the Enterprise," and "The LSB: Building an Easier Life for Everyone." The "Taste of Linux" series is open to all registered show attendees.

With all the difficulties that LWCE is facing in 2002, Schescherareg remains positive about the benefits of getting elbow to elbow with peers at what remains the number one Linux trade show: "Being able to stand next to somebody in another company that's adopted Linux and compare notes is invaluable."


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