February 19, 2007

LinuxWorld New York: a longer name for a smaller show (videos)

Author: JT Smith

IDG's East Coast Linux gathering is now officially called the LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit (LWOSS). The inaugural 2007 version of the renamed conference was held February 14 and 15 in the conference area of the Marriott Marquis hotel in Manhattan, not in a huge convention center. Despite the longer name, it was such a cute little conference that I kept wanting to pat it on its head. But sometimes smaller is better, and in many ways this 600-person LWOSS was more fun and more informative than its larger Boston and New York predecessors.

This was a business-to-business show. The presentations were aimed almost purely at companies either using open source (and Linux) already and thinking of expanding their open source (and Linux) use or at companies considering at least a little use of open source (and Linux) in the future. This was not a show of, by, and for geeks -- except for those geeks who have moved into management or marketing.

There were not many announcements of new open source (or Linux) products or services at LWOSS. HP talked up a new Itanium blade server that works in their now-standard Class C chassis instead of requiring a separate Itaniumized chassis, IBM talked (but not very loudly) about a Linux desktop suite of some sort, and of course there was the infamous Open Solutions Alliance (OSA) announcement panel.

After the OSA panel, I talked with CollabNet Founder/CEO Brian Behlendorf, whose company is a charter member of OSA:

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A few more videos

One reason for low attendance at LWOSS was awful weather in New York. I was lucky. My flight there Tuesday from Tampa, Florida, got in before the snow started, and I left Friday morning after the storm was over. Friday I had to contend with a shoving mass of humanity at LaGuardia Airport that included plenty of people who had been stranded there for a day or two, but Delta Airlines and Transportation Security Administration people had gone into what you might call "cheerfully rude and trying hard" mode and managed to get nearly all of us onto our planes on time with a minimum of bad feeling. It was an impressive performance by workers who were obviously overwhelmed and tired. Kudos!

Even local travel in the area was tough. Linux Magazine columnist Jason Perlow didn't make it to LWOSS the first day, but got there on the second day -- and says the trek into New York City from his home in New Jersey was worth it. Here's his story:

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Yes, this was a small show, but that doesn't mean vendors went away angry. EmperorLinux CEO Lincoln Durey told me that his little booth had more traffic than he'd gotten at earlier, much larger LinuxWorlds, and that the people who came to LWOSS were actual potential buyers, not swag collectors and hangers-on.

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Speaker Russ Pavlicek said he was pleased with the turnout, not only with the number (his session was popular), but because "people who are here really want to be here." You can see tables behind Russ in the video (below). These were actually on the show floor, which (gasp) had plenty of places you could sit down and talk with fellow attendees. This was a marvelous feature -- a comfortable place to converse, to network or just to hang out. More conferences and trade shows should have this sort of area available. We all talk about how meeting people F2F with whom we may have exchanged many emails over the years is a great benefit of conference attendance, but far too few conferences have a real place for you to actually do it.

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Canonical -- the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu -- also had a little kiosk, and Canonical bigwig Malcolm Yates said it was jammed most of the time. Another happy exhibitor/sponsor!

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Keynote videos

LWOSS promoter IDG made videos of the show's keynotes. Assuming you can play Flash 8 or 9, you can watch Bruce Schneier, Novell CIO Debra Anderson, and AMD's Randy Allen online, courtesy of NetworkWorld.com. (NetworkWorld.com is part of IDG.)

There was less press coverage of LWOSS than you'd expect for even a smaller Linux-oriented conference in large part because of the weather. Well-known eWeek writer/editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, for example, was unable to get to New York from his North Carolina home because of cancelled airline flights.

But despite the downsized nature of the show and the comparative lack of attention it received, almost all attendees I talked to felt it was a success. I hope show promoter IDG agrees. I believe one "national" LinuxWorld held every year in San Francisco is enough, and that more intimate expos held elsewhere more frequently would be more effective not only for Linux/FOSS vendors but also for the many people and companies that are either trying to get started with Linux and FOSS or to learn more about how and where they can incorporate more FOSS into their IT mix.

Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis, and Chicago would all be logical places to hold regional LWOSS events. And if IDG doesn't take the hint and organize conferences in these cities and others that do not currently host FOSS-oriented gatherings, perhaps local entrepreneurs or non-profits will take up the challenge and do it on their own.

Now that FOSS is essentially mainstream, smaller, more intimate and more informative conferences are probably better advocacy tools than a few giant, hoopla-laden conventions. Of course, these regional conferences can only happen if IDG and other show promoters can either turn a profit (or in the case of non-profits, break even) from holding them, and I have no idea if IDG made enough money from the New York LWOSS to make the event worth repeating from their (necessarily) profit-based point of view.

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