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Open Source a Comdex Bright Spot

Nov 21, 2003, 22:00 (6 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jacqueline Emigh)

By Jacqueline Emigh
Linux Today Writer

"This was one of the busiest places at the show," said Amber Schneu-Davis, about 30 minutes before Comdex 2003 came to a close. Schneu-Davis and other volunteers at the Open Source pavilion were surprised to find that most people who stopped by the booth could be better characterized as Windows rather than Linux users.

OpenOffice and Linux Terminal Server Project constituted two big draws, according to the .Org volunteers. Many folks catching a glimpse of OpenOffice mistook the open source office suite for Microsoft Office. Showgoers stopped by to ask why the "Open Source Innovation Area"--presented by O'Reilly & Associates--was demoing Windows software.

Schneu-Davis and her husband David explained to the curious that OpenOffice is open source software that runs in both Linux and Windows environments.

"Some of them told us, 'I've heard of OpenOffice, but what is it?'" she said. "Running OpenOffice on Windows can be a great gateway application for people transitioning from Windows to Linux."

OpenOffice 1.1, the version shown at Comdex, adds some new features to the suite, including file export to .PDF. Some Linux distributions include OpenOffice 1.1, but others still use OpenOffice 1.0.

StarOffice--a commercial office suite from Sun that's based on OpenOffice--tends to provide stronger compatibility with Windows files formats, she acknowledged. Other enhancements from Sun include database support and more fonts.

Jim McQuillan, another volunteer, estimated that about 75 percent of visitors to the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) booth were Windows users.

Companies use LTSP to tie together Linux and Windows environments, noted volunteer James A. Glutting, who was also on hand. One user, Chicago-based Binson Hospital Supplies, is using LTSP to support 150 desktops.

Some Linux users dropping by the booth had been unaware that you can use LTSP for remote access to Windows 2000 desktops from Linux desktops.

Other .Orgs on the roster at Comdex included Zope, an open source Web application program; Plone, a content management system powered by Zope and Python; GIMP, a GNU-based program for photo retouching and image composition; KDE; GNOME; Apache.org; Mozilla; and X.org.

The LTSP volunteers said that many visitors to the booth complained about the small size of this year's Comdex show floor, and the difficulty of finding new products that interested them.

Those visitors weren't alone. "I've been trying to locate a 'silver bullet' at Comdex for three days now, and I haven't seen one yet," said a computer reseller, as he left his hotel early Thursday morning for the airport. The reseller had decided to pack things in a day early this year.

Actually, though, foot traffic at the Open Source pavilion was heaviest on Thursday, the last day of the show, McQuillan maintained.

Schneu-Davis, who owns a computer store in Las Vegas, said she was able to get into longer and more detailed conversations with showgoers than at previous Comdexes.

Is it possible that the smaller size of the show floor was part of the reason why?

She was less than thrilled, though, by a decision by a new policy that charged a $50 admission fee to consumers and small businesses from the local area--as well as to other expo registrants from anywhere--who hadn't received an official invitation to the show.

Schneu-Davis said that she didn't have pay the fee. As a volunteer in the Open Source pavilion, she qualified for an exhibitor's badge, anyway.

"But what is wrong with 'local'? Some people might not realize this, but casinos and other businesses in Las Vegas use lots of computers. Las Vegas is a very big computer market," she pointed out.

In a teleconference before the show, Comdex officials explained that the new policy was part of a push this year to place a bigger focus on the IT business market.

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