January 23, 2003

LinuxWorld Day 2: Dancing with the dot-orgs, laptops on parade, Knoppix for kids

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

The hottest thing I've seen at this show so far is a guy with six piercings jumping up and down on a Dance Dance Revolution device hooked to a Linux computer in the icculus.org booth in the dot-org pavilion in the back of the show hall. The dot-org pavilion was packed. And so was the whole show today, it seemed. Updated 10:55 p.m. - HP and SuSE show off Linux on laptops (and give me free booze); Knoppix for kids; how Linux infiltrates the corporate world...

It's cold outside, and the Javits Center here in NYC has never been noted for a good heating system, but it's hot-hot in the area reserved for non-profit Linux and open source exhibitors.

The kid break-dancing -- whose badge says he works for Sun Microsystems although he says that's a mistake, he really works for JC Penney, was great fun to watch. I was not alone in this opinion. He had a larger crowd around him than the professional presenters in most of the commercial booths.
This is where the geek/nerd crowd at this show was hanging out today, not that they weren't all over the place. There may not have been many of them around yesterday, but today they (and the management-looking people who form a majority of this show's attendees) were out in force.

Gentoo had a crowd, too, even if they didn't have breakdancing and sound ffects. Seth Chandler, one of the Gentoo people, said he thought they weren't competing with UnitedLinux or Red Hat or any of that crowd. "We have a different demographic," he said. "We cater to power users."

Gentoo had a "donations" jar that looked like it had about $10 in it. The Free Software Foundation booth next door also had a donation ja, with a lot more money in it than Gentoo's. "That's because we empty ours regularly," Chandler said.

But the FSF was selling memberships and had a credit card system set up. I gave up $120 for a year's membership, including a copy of Richard Stallman's book. I am now a card-carrying member of the Free Software Foundation. Phear me!

Xiph.org (the Ogg people) had our old Linux.com coworker playing guitar. Next to them, the NetBSD booth was occupied by four gentlemen who looked rather like members of a monastic hacking order, complete with dark clothes and serious-looking laptops displaying endless lines of code.

Briefed by HP

I had a briefing scheduled with HP Linux marketing people, so I left the dot-org pavilion (I'll be back tomorrow) to do the meeting.

Sadly, as with Dell, HP considers laptops their lowest-priority Linux project. Darn it! The HP Pavilion lappie I worked until the keys were worn to nubs and the duct tape patching up the cracks on the cover the time I dropped it wore to shreds was my favorite among all the laptops I've ever owned, and I would like to replace it with a new one without having to remove Windows first.

Please, HP people, can we have Linux laptops?

We love you, really we do. And we promise to write nive things about you, but not right now. First we're going to take up your invitation to the party you're having at the Hilton up by Times Square -- that starts in about half an hour -- and the press room at the show is about to close, so it's time for a little HP-supplied food and booze, then up to my room to finish today's writing.

After the show, it's cocktail time with HP and SuSE

Cabs are nearly impossible to get at the Javits Center during rush hour when the temperature is below freezing, which it certainly is tonight, and the line for the hotel shuttle bus is hundreds of feet long. I get together with five other guys and split a limo to our hotels, near Times Square, for $6 a head.

I go to the Hilton even though I'm staying at the Westin, because HP and SuSE are holding a joint reception there "by invitation only" for selected members of the press and a few industry analysts.

Linux on laptops, at last

Here's where we are treated to Linux laptops -- a whole row of mid-range Compaq models running the new SuSE Linux Office Desktop 8.1. It's a pricey product, at $129.00, but it includes (commercial) StarOffice, not just free OpenOffice, and the latest/greatest version of Crossover Office for those who need to use popular Windows applications on their Linux desktops.

Both HP and SuSE reps assured me the install was smooth and easy, not only on the Compaq laptops displayed, but on many HP models and (said a SuSE person out of earshot of the HP people) more desktop and laptop models from other manufacturers than ever before.

Another included piece of software in the new SuSE is Acronis OS Selector 8.0, which is supposed to safely make multiple hard drive partitions for many operating systems, and even resize "...Windows FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, Linux Ext2, Ext3, ReiserFS, and Linux Swap partitions without losing data and create a room for new OS installation." The specs look nice. I came away with a demo CD and will review it at some point in the near future, since this program is not SuSE-specific but looks like it should be useful for any OS addition, with any Linux distribution -- and most Windows variants, most BSDs, BeOS, QNX, many commercial Unixes, and others, up to and including "special support for unknown systems."

So maybe that $129 price tag isn't so high after all. I happily poked at the demo units, and tried not to let the fact that I was drinking Scotch paid for by HP and SuSE cloud my judgement, but with or without free booze this is a nice-looking screen, and all the functions I tested worked perfectly, including the Microsoft stuff. Good fonts, too, although (for copyright/patent reasons) you need to download and install them yourself, using point/click utilities included.

It's nice to see so much attention being paid to the end-user Linux desktop by so many distributions, including SuSE. I look forward to getting and reviewing a copy of this latest SuSE offering. They say they'll send me one as soon as the U.S. PR people get some to give out.

The Compaq laptops on display were all originally shipped with Windows, sad to say, but just knowing they can be converted to Linux easily is nice -- a sterling advance in the overall scheme of things.

Knoppix Junior

I didn't have time to mention this earlier, since they were closing the press room as I was posting earlier, but in between the hoopla booths in the dot-org pavilion, the Open Source Education was handing out kid-friendly, customized Knoppix CDs. They say theey have removed the developer tools and replaced them with some of the Debian Jr. stuff and other kid-friendly programs.

This looks like a wonderful tool for showing Linux to kids and parents. I don't want to say much more about this fine project here. I'll write a review of it after the show -- with the help of two associate testers, Earl and Shantia, whose only home computer experience has been with Mandrake, which they like better than the Windows computers at school, "because they stop working a lot and you have to wait for the teacher to make them start again," explains five-year old Earl.

Ruminations on "geek to suit" transitions

I whine about how LinuxWorlds seem to have more managers and fewer geeks than ever, but in a way this is a logical progression. And, sometimes, yesterday's geeks and today's suits are the same people.

This was drummed in for me today when a manager-looking guy called out, "Hey, Robin," as if he was an old buddy, and I didn't recognize him until we were within hand-shaking range. Yes, it was someone I knew from the days when hippie-hacker college students showed up at LinuxWorld like mad, and some of them ended up crashing in my room because they had no other place to sleep.

A wife and a kid on the way tend to knock the wildness out of a lot of people, and I was looking at a prime example of this phenomenon. The "got root?" t-shirt covered with Linux and assorted political buttons was gone, replaced with a dress shirt and tie, the hair was short, and the shoes were shiny black loafers, not battered Doc Martins.

Idealistic? Sure. No big mental change, just a job at a company with a dress code. And not just a job, but now a management job, one with purchasing authority. And he's not here to get drunk and talk about coding projects and drink beer all night, but to check out server specs and shop for support, because his company is replacing several racks of commercial Unix and Windows 2000 servers with Linux, and he's been tasked with overseeing the migration.

This is how Linux infiltrates the corporate world. I mentioned this to three Clarkson University students I met who were wandering around, checking exhibits, and were disappointed that Linuxworld was so corporate and offered so little in the way of schwag for kids like them.

Don't worry, guys. In just a few years you won't be complaining about all the business people at the local Linux show. You'll be those business people.


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