February 3, 2001

LinuxWorld recap: Significant hardware presence

Author: JT Smith

- By Jeff Field -

It used to be that, if you wanted to write stories on hardware and Linux you would get little help from hardware companies. A few years ago, they could have cared less about this little movement called Open Source. Fast forward to the year 2001, and suddenly everyone and the CEO are interested in Linux, and hardware companies are no exception to this rule.
On the LinuxWorld floor, it is very easy to get lost in a sea of hardware companies, all with different products they want you to run on Linux. Some of them seem to have done their homework on Linux and really have a defined Linux strategy, such as VA Linux (parent company of NewsForge/OSDN), IBM, Compaq, and many other companies, some big some small. These companies have booths demonstrating their various products and services under Linux, with KDE on some, Gnome on others, and clearly they know what Linux users want to see -- Linux.

However, some companies, even at a Linux event, still don't quite get that many Linux users simply don't like Microsoft, and certainly do not want to see their products being used to demonstrate the "Linux strategy" of a company. A few companies are perpetrators of such crimes, and I saw a few getting flak for this, such as one company who had Powerpoint running in Windowed-mode in their booth.

From the horse's mouth
I talked to several companies to get first-hand information from their on what exactly their companies are doing with Open Source software, and what plans they have. 3Com discussed the support available for most of their desktop and some of their PCMCIA line of NICs. When asked about their PCMCIA 802.11 cards which are not supported under Linux, the 3Com people said that they couldn't give a date but they were "sure" it would be worked on.

A company with a large presence for a company of its type was Adaptec. Adaptec had a booth demonstrating the video-decompression/compression equipment of one of its customers that uses an 11-channel custom-built product from Adaptec to deliver HDTV content. This system runs on FreeBSD and is used by major content providers, such as HBO, to run HDTV transmissions. The display was quite impressive, and the fact that it was an Open Source implentation was even more impressive.

Adaptec was also one of several companies to announce a site devoted to supporting people who run their products on Linux and other Open Source operating systems. The Adaptec folks said they wanted to "provide products the community can rely on," which seems to be truly important to Adaptec because the company has quite a reputation to uphold.

Compaq also had a large presence at the show. At its booth the company was demonstrating servers and laptops running on Linux, as well as one very special device that can run on Linux, the iPaq handheld. With a distribution of Linux provided in cooperation with Handhelds.org, the iPaq can run applications designed for Linux with just a small amount of recompiling and in some cases minor recoding. The Handhelds.org representative present at the Compaq booth said Compaq was extremely cooperative, providing the technical documentation for the iPaq device, an action some hardware companies could definately learn from. Compaq was also another company that debuted an Open Source Web site to feature its products.

Taking Linux seriously
The number of hardware companies at this event clearly demonstrates that, to the business world, Linux has come of age. No longer can people say that Linux is simply a hobbyist operating system created by a group of rag-tag programmers. Now it is a professional, scalable business operating system, created by a group of rag-tag programmers.

For those Microsofties who had hoped to brush Linux under the carpet, this is unfortunate, but for everyone else the advancement of Linux in business is definately a positive move, allowing companies a reliable alternative to Microsoft-based solutions.

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