June 1, 2005

Red Hat Summit Day 1: You are here

Author: JT Smith

The first Red Hat Summit kicked off this morning at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans. The conference is a way for Red Hat to offer education about Linux specifics and information about its direction to current and prospective customers.

Some 700 registered attendees -- mostly Red Hat customers -- listened to the opening keynote by Red Hat CEO Matt Szulik this morning. Szulik's talk was followed by two other keynotes, one by Martin Fink, vice president of Linux for Hewlett-Packard, and the other by John Buckman, founder and CEO of Magnatune.

For those who arrived in time, the Summit's first official event actually took place yesterday evening, with an informal mixer. Attendees were free to roam from one feeding or watering station to the next, listening to a live New Orleans-style band, and rubbing shoulders with various Red Hat engineers and executives as they did.

I shared a table at the mixer with two system administrators attending the conference, one from Mississippi and the other from Michigan. Both had responsibilities that included Linux servers in a mixed-server environment. We were joined during the evening by two Red Hat employees, Lon Hohberger and Dan Williams. Hohberger works on clustering and Williams supports the 7.5 million lines of code that is OpenOffice.org. The customers peppered the two with questions about their respective code bases and the Red Hat folks fired their answers right back. It wasn't a PR presentation, it was honest customer relations between engineers and their users.

Prior to the first keynote, attendees feasted on a New Orleans style breakfast, complete with entirely non-diet-approved crepes, fresh fruit, coffee, bagels, and assorted pastry.

If the breakfast menu was designed to sweeten the crowd, the pre-keynote video shown on large displays as the crowd settled down was designed to get them feeling like they are part of a real revolution. You can read about the video Truth Happens on the Red Hat site.
It's based on the Mohandas Gandhi quote: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win." It concludes with the message "You are here" and the beat of war drums. The video drew strong applause from the crowd when it finished.

Matt Szulik's entertaining gospel choir.

Szulik's keynote was not the typical corporate sales pitch, but rather a sales pitch for free software and open source, and the revolution in software development that they represent. It appeared that Szulik cut his talk short by about 15 minutes, and he quickly departed off the back of the stage as a New Orleans gospel choir slowly filed into place, but before the choir could begin singing, Szulik -- this time clad in a choir robe -- rejoined them. I credit Szulik with being the first singer I've ever met who could make me sound good, but nonetheless he sang to the crowd about the inspiration of being free after having been "knocked down, locked up, and told he was no good." In spite of his terrible singing, his efforts were rewarded with good-natured applause by the attendees.

Martin Fink followed with a much more traditional talk explaining why it just makes good sense to buy HP and Red Hat products and services. I missed John Buckman's talk on open source music in order to attend a press conference, but I plan to speak with him later today.

That press conference I attended was to announce two new products: the Fedora Directory Server and the Red Hat Directory Server. Both are based on the Netscape directory server software Red Hat purchased last year. The Fedora version will be free as in beer and as in freedom. The Red Hat version will include some proprietary code -- at least at first -- as well as support.

Red Hat says that in time, the entire directory server -- both the Red Hat and the Fedora versions -- will be licensed under the GPL. It's just a matter of cleaning up the code and making sure existing copyrights are properly noted.

Activities for the rest of the day are determined by which track catches your eye, and there are several to choose from: OS Technologies, Future of the Desktop, Application Development, Clustering and Virtualization, Security and Identity Management, Systems Management, and Business. A large party involving drinking, gambling, and entertainment is slotted for the evening hours.

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