April 20, 2005

LWCE Toronto: Day 2

Author: David 'cdlu' Graham

TORONTO -- LinuxWorld Day 2 started at 08:30 with another round of sessions. The day was broken down into one-hour blocks; I attended several, starting with Dee-Ann LeBlanc's presentation on "Linux for Dummies" and keynotes by HP Canada's Paul Tsaparis and Novell's David Patrick.

When I entered the session room, LeBlanc had already started and was finishing up an explanation of what Linux distributions are. She said that a common question she gets is "Which Linux distribution is best?" Her answer was short and to the point: "Whichever one you want."

The key question, she explained, is not what distribution is better than what other distribution, but what is it you want to do with it? Most Linux distros can act as either a desktop or a server, but, she noted, it is important to not overload a desktop with excessive server software. She listed a number of distros as viable options for new users, citing Linspire and Xandros as the super-beginner first-time Linux user distributions; Fedora (Red Hat), Mandriva (formerly Mandrake), and SUSE as good beginner distributions; Ubuntu is a little more advanced "but still braindead to install."

Debian: Not for beginners

For servers, she suggested Fedora, Mandrake, or SUSE, noting that Linspire and Xandros are really only desktop distributions and are not recommended as servers. Debian, she warned, is not for beginners; however, it can be through Debian-based distributions Ubuntu, Linspire, and Xandros.

Where should someone looking for a Linux distribution look? She listed distrowatch.com, cheapbytes.com (to order CDs rather than download them), and frozentech.com's Live CD listing.

Immediately following this presentation was the first of four keynote addresses at the conference, primarily delivered by conference sponsors rather than visionary or community speakers. This one was by Novell's Vice President and General Manager for Linux and Open Source, David Patrick. He joined Novell when it bought Ximian, where he had been the CEO. His keynote was entitled "The Dynamic Role that Linux plays in the Enterprise."

He started by saying that Linux adoption from Novell has had massive support from independent software vendors (ISVs), with more than 500 having signed on. Patrick stated that he hoped we all use FireFox. Firefox, he said, is the first real open source application to gain significant market share against Microsoft's products in its own turf.

Patrick estimated there are approximately 3 million production Linux servers in the world today and an additional 10 million Linux desktops. There are 70,000 projects currently hosted on Sourceforge.net, he pointed out, and applications are the key to Linux' success. Venture capital funding is returning to Linux, and open source companies for the first time in years. He estimated that there are currently 30 fresh venture capital funded open source software projects. As the market grows, the need for money, applications, and more projects will as well.

He cited a CIO Magazine study in which a majority of CIOs are adopting Linux for some purpose within their companies. He advised the audience to be aware of and immune to Microsoft FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt), noting that the software behemoth has 66 full-time people finding ways to fight Linux.

Patrick gave an update on the status of Novell's internal upgrade to Linux. Twelve months ago, he said, Novell canceled all new contracts and did not renew existing contracts with Microsoft. By the summer of 2004, the entire company had switched from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org on either Windows or Linux. By November, 50% of the computers at Novell dual-booted Linux and Windows. By this summer, Patrick expects Novell will be 80% single-boot Linux-only.
With the switch of their services to Linux, Patrick reported performance improvements of around 160%. Detailed statistics either are, or should soon be, on Novell's web site, he said.

I took a break for lunch in the media room and soon found myself in the midst of a press conference by CryptoCard in the media room announcing a Linux-supporting version of their security system. After a few minutes, I headed off to Jon "maddog" Hall's "Visionary" presentation on "Free and Open Software: Back to the Future."

Maddog: 35 years of computer experience is all he has

Maddog insisted that he disagrees with the term visionary. A visionary, he said, is what people who won't be there in five years to see the results are called. He said all he has to go by is his 35 years of computer industry experience.

Open source, he offered, is not a new idea. It was the dominant form of software distribution from the inception of the first computers in 1943 until 1980. Software was distributed in source code format only, and when you bought software, it was yours to keep. Commercial software was, at one time, developed on contract. A company that needed software would hire a company to write it. If it did not work, was late, buggy, or poorly documented, the company writing it would simply not be paid.

A lot of what maddog said is a rehash of things he has said in the past, with little information different from his keynote speech a year ago.

The second keynote of the day was by HP Canada President and CEO Paul Tsaparis, speaking on "Linux for the Real World: Leadership through Innovation." He started by telling the audience that "it's about choice," a theme he came back to again and again in his address. Open source solutions, he said, are growing in the enterprise. It is providing a huge business transformation opportunity.

At this point, he started a marketing video showing HP's cooperation with DreamWorks to make animated movies such as "Shrek" and its sequel using what amounts to HP's cluster rental service. After the video, he explained that, ultimately, operating system choice comes down to a matter of straight economics for Linux and HP as much as for any other company or operating system. Linux, he said, is a $37 billion industry in the U.S. and a $218.5 million industry in Canada. Fourteen percent of HP servers are now shipped with Linux, said.

Internally, Tsaparis said, HP decides its Linux by the same market principals it suggests other companies use. At the moment, some 13,000 devices within HP run on Linux, including 160 Linux-based DNS servers and 12 enterprise directory services. HP's wireless network is also run on Linux, and its internal corporate messenging is based on the open source Jabber system. At the moment, 2,500 HP employees develop open source software and the company produces some 150 open source products, he claimed.

Does Linux need a killer app to thrive? No, he said, it's all about the services and support available. He then wrapped up his flashy OpenOffice Impress presentation with a second short video on HP and DreamWorks cooperation, and finished without taking any questions.

IBM presentation turns out to be a marketing ad

After the keynote, I went off to see about a session called "Exploring the Use of Linux in High Performance Computing Environments" presented by David Olechovsky of IBM's System Group. His flashy presentation was clearly intended as a marketing aid to sell IBM Blade servers and was of little interest as far as the actual use of Linux within a high-performance computing environment.

He broke down operating systems down into five layers:

  • the application layer
  • the subsystem layer
  • the OS layer
  • the virtualization layer
  • the hardware layer

The first two pretty well stay the same, he said, but the remaining three layers can vary. This is, he said, the power of Linux. Linux is still Linux regardless of the operating system version, virtualization layer, or hardware, and that makes it a useful platform.

Olechovsky indicated that IBM would be releasing AMD Opteron based blade servers later this month.

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