April 7, 2006

LinuxWorld expo wrapup

Author: Tina Gasperson

LinuxWorld Conference & Expo Boston had a decidedly subdued air this year -- one colleague called it "sleepy" -- and many were wondering why big names such as IBM and HP weren't exhibiting. The show was held at the Boston Convention Center, a sprawling complex big enough for two or three shows at the same time, and if walking distance from classrooms to show floor to press lounge were an indicator, the show could be considered huge. But LinuxWorld didn't have enough exhibitors to fill up the floor, and many booth operators looked like they needed more to do.

In years past, there's been a certain buzz on the floor, with crowds running the gamut from geeky hacker-types to suited-up executives, and booth babes luring visitors in with toothsome grins and other "attractions." This time it seemed heavier on the geek side, much lighter on the pretty girl side, and lots of attendees were sole proprietors rather than corporate employees. Booth vendors were quick to say they were having a great time at the show, but if the conversation continued long enough, "it's a little slower this year" usually slipped out.

Exhibitors had different opinions about what is important in the world of Linux this year, depending on their perspective, but one common thread seemed to be the desktop, and specifically multimedia support. Og Maciel at the Ubuntu booth said usability is a big concern, and developers are working hard to implement things that will make Linux desktops as easy to use as Windows. Jeremy Garcia of LinuxQuestions.org said the delay of Vista can only mean good things for Linux's popularity and increased uptake.

Jim Berets, director of product management at Black Duck Software, said his customers are coming to him with questions about the implications of GPLv3. Black Duck helps companies scan their code for license compliance and compatibility by maintaining a database of more than 10,000 open source projects. When lines of code in the client's application match a "fingerprint" from a project in the database, Black Duck flags it and generates a report.

Sridhar Bidigalu of Project.net was helping out at the X.org booth. He said that OpenSolaris is going to be big competition for Linux in the coming year and mentioned that, on the desktop, better multimedia support would give Linux the shot in the arm it needs to be viable.

At the Symantec booth, no one from the Symantec "side" of the company was there. Symantec bought Veritas last year, and Veritas, as a storage and backup vendor, is much more open source-aware and Linux-friendly than Symantec. Some of the Veritas products will retain the Veritas brand, although the LinuxWorld booth showed no sign of anything called Veritas, only Symantec. Sound confusing? I mentioned that to them, and they agreed with me.

The most enthusiastic "booth being" at the show was OpenOffice.org's Louis Suarez-Potts. He was practically jumping up and down as he talked to me about the importance of open standards and how we should go about deciding what becomes a standard. It takes time, he said, and it should take time because standards absolutely must be vendor-neutral and platform-agnostic. He said vendor consortiums will help streamline open standards support, and he believes open source licenses need to be streamlined and simplified if open source is to dominate the playing field.

The open standards platform has a long way to go in terms of overall industry awareness, if my informal survey was any indicator. I queried booths in the .org pavilion and in the "corporate sector" about the importance of open standards, and with the exception of OpenOffice.org, I got blank stares and stuttering.

LinuxWorld was quieter this year, not as wild or in-your-face as it has been known to be, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe Linux doesn't need two or three big conventions a year anymore to make its presence known. Maybe we really are just growing up.

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