August 7, 2003

LinuxWorld Reporter's Notebook: Penguins march on the enterprise

- by Lee Schlesinger -
LinuxWorld Conference & Expo is this week at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. It's my first LinuxWorld show, and I've noticed a number of curious characteristics.The attendees are an unusually diverse lot. They come in all shapes, sizes, and shades of skin tone. I've seen a handful of kids, and even one dog. They speak (except the dog) English with a variety of accents, and foreign languages as well. Long hair, seen from behind, is just as likely to be attached to a male as a female.

The attendees seem focused on the business uses of Linux; there are very few hobbyists here. They have a huge hunger for practical information they can use to justify Linux purchases or make existing Linux installations work better.

Unfortunately, not all the session speakers are feeding that hunger. Too many presenters focus on their narrow expertise. An analyst, for instance, might present his projections about the growth of operating system market shares, while a representative of a hardware company might talk about how his company's products are enabling faster computing. There's more of a dearth of practical, actionable information than there should be.

The show floor, on the other hand, offers a wealth of information. My favorite part of most expo floors is Startup City, populated by smaller vendors about whom I may not have heard before. This expo is like one huge Startup City. Oh, there are huge booths from the big hardware vendors, but there's a liberal helping of small vendors and organizations populated by people who actually know about the products their companies offer.

Among the big names with a booth is Microsoft. Its understated booth, in a corner of the hall, showcases its offerings for Linux- and Unix-oriented organizations. Attendees were coolly polite to the Microsofties, and the booth denizens were politely tolerant of the same questions about how they felt being here.

Among the most trafficked booth were those of Gentoo and the Linux Terminal Server Project. The most popular giveaway: A free copy of Xandros Desktop 1.1. Number two was a RealNetworks Helix Universal Server T-shirt.

A popular event on the first day of the show was the Golden Penguin Bowl, where two teams of Linux semi-celebrities faced off in a trivia contest. Darl McBride was a frequent target of ridicule in the contest, as he has been in the rest of the show. The Geeks crushed the Nerds, successfully answering more questions like "what year was the first public release of python?", "how many GPS satellites are there?", and "what is the larval form of a butterfly called?" MC Chris DiBona says those interested can email him for the questions.

On day two, small Linux-based robots navigated a maze in search of Tux.

While I'm enjoying the show, getting here was less fun. My airline lost my sole piece of luggage after carrying it off the plane when a flight attendant said it didn't fit under the seat in front of me. I'm considering that karmic punishment for my widely vilified article Monday. C'mon, now -- hasn't anyone read Swift's "A Modest Proposal"? Don't you recognize a tongue when it's planted in a cheek?

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