August 8, 2003

LinuxWorld wrapup: Bigger, better, and more boring than ever

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

San Francisco - Although final attendance figures won't be available until next week, a spokesperson for LinuxWorld organizer IDG said preregistrations were up about 20% from the last iteration of this show. It certainly felt more crowded than the last couple of LinuxWorlds, and it occupied substantially more floor space than last year. And it was very businesslike, very management-oriented, almost to the point of boredom -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

Where were the presidents? And the kids?

Previous LinuxWorlds drew corporate presidents as keynote speakers. Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, Scott McNealy, and many other IT industry head honchos have all stood on stages at LinuxWorlds past and ingratiated themselves with the (mostly) developers who came to these events. This time Sun, Oracle, and other big IT companies sent vice presidents and division managers, not their chiefs. This may actually be a good thing. I mean, we want Linux to be an everyday thing, so common that it's not really news, don't we?

Another observation made by many NewsForge informants was that the average age of attendees keeps going up at every LinuxWorld. This does not mean the same people keep coming and are simply getting older, but that more senior people (except for CEOs of giant IT industry companies) are showing up.

For example, one major construction equipment manufacturing company sent just one junior sysadmin to the last LinuxWorld, but this time they sent not only that same junior sysadmin but three other people, including a senior IT management person with grey in his hair.

There were a lot of senior management types at this show, attending presentations that might help them use Linux and Open Source in their businesses, collecting literature from vendors, and questioning booth personnel about software and hardware specifics. This is good, even very good, if you are one of the vendors who paid umpty-ump dollars for a booth.

But the kids -- the young developers and enthusiasts who started Linux on the road toward its current popularity -- were notably absent. A friend said, "They aren't interested in LinuxWorld these days. It's gotten too corporate. They're more into LUGs and other local group things."

More visible Linux at LinuxWorld

One thing I've always found amusing at LinuxWorld was the number of exhibitors who were there touting Linux products but ran Windows on the computers in their booths. This is the first time the vast majority of vendors had Linux everywhere or almost everywhere in their displays.

Even Dell, a notorious past offender on this front, had Linux on all the visible workstations and desktops they had on display. Even though Dell seems to think Linux is supposed to live almost entirely on servers, isn't it nice that they finally seem to have realized that -- just perhaps -- the people who administer (Dell) Linux servers might want to run Linux on the workstations they use to administer those servers? Except laptops, of course; all the laptops I spotted in Dell's display ran Windows. Apparently, if you want to administer a Dell Linux server from a laptop, you need to buy that laptop from another vendor -- and if show displays indicate anything, that vendor ought to be IBM, which had Linux running on most of its on-display laptops even though they won't sell you a laptop with Linux on it (unless they have Linux laptops buried somewhere on their site so that they are so hard to find and buy that most won't bother).

(HP did better than Dell and worse than IBM on this front. Of course, the last HP laptop -- actually a Compaq -- my wife and I bought was so shoddily constructed that it started showing stress cracks near its hinges after little more than a year's gentle use, and we seem unable to get this defect repaired under our extended warranty, so perhaps HP laptops are best avoided no matter what operating system is supplied with them.)

One exhibitor that ran nothing but Windows throughout their entire display was Microsoft. But their booth was dead most of the time, even when the rest of the show was so crowded you had to shove through the aisles. The tiny, sparse Free Software Foundation table, back in the back of the .Org Pavilion, got more traffic than poor old Microsoft, even though Microsoft had many more representatives on hand and at least 20 times as much space as the FSF. Maybe this was because the FSF had cooler t-shirts for sale than Microsoft. (Actually, Microsoft didn't seem to have any t-shirts on sale at all. Maybe they would have had more traffic if they'd sold or given away "Windows and Linux: Working Together" t-shirts. Not that they're likely to do something like that anytime in the next 100 years, right?)

Another interesting-but-useless factoid: For the first time at a LinuxWorld, all the computers in the press room (except a token Mac) dual-booted Linux and Windows. And at least half of the journalists using those computers used Linux. Nice to see!

Not an upstart

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about LinuxWorld the day the show cranked up and the phrase "upstart operating system" didn't appear anywhere in that story. (Quite a change from two years ago, eh?)

LinuxWorld may have been somewhat boring because it was so heavily dominated by middle management (an observation made by a manager friend, no less), but it was boring in a good way. There were plenty of new ideas around (which we'll cover one at a time in coming months so we can give them all the attention they deserve instead of burying them in the heap of show-surrounding PR hoopla that's filled our NewsVac section for the past week). However, the new ideas weren't the point of this show, which was full of mature, squared-away companies busily selling mature, squared-away Linux-based products to mature, squared-away corporate users.

This show was about the business, not the fun, side of Linux. And seen in that context, it was an unqualified success for nearly everyone who came.


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