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Editor's Note: Yet Another Benchmark for Success

Jan 07, 2005, 23:30 (9 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

I have a pet theory about how to measure success.

This is one of many pet theories in my repertoire, including the theory that says your kids are always smarter than you are and the theory that head colds are a reminder that no matter where you are on the food chain, your butt belongs to Mother Nature.

The success theory has to do with the success of software within a user environment. In short, it is my contention that the number of trade shows and seminars relating to a particular technology is in direct proportion to how successful that technology will eventually be.

This theory, based on purely anecdotal evidence on my part, is nonetheless a sound one, because I have seen it work in the past with a little fledgling operating system called Windows.

'Way back in 1989, when we bought our first PC, Windows was just a weird little tab-based interface (see Windows 386). Then came Windows 3.0, which looked a little more like the interface we know today. Windows' adoption into the marketplace was aided and abetted by many things: IBM's initial support of the product for their PC line, for one. But to me, working on the line as a newspaper editor, what really helped the transition to Windows in the businessplace were all the seminars.

And, boy, were there seminars. Even out in western Indiana, someone was holding a How to Use Windows training class from time to time. (The fact that this so-called intuitive interface needed so many classes was something a lot of people missed.) In other, more metropolitan areas, there were trade shows and user groups to beat the band.

Sound familiar?

Today, I see a very similar development in the Linux arena, though not quite in the same order. Without a central company to sponsor shows and seminars, Linux's popular growth was slower, and started with user groups first. As more commercial entities came on board, then came the seminars and the trade shows. People are getting ramped up on how to use Linux in the workplace at an ever increasing rate. Seminars are being held about how to take advantage of open source development. And trade shows? That's probably the most overt sign at all.

LinuxWorld Expo is, by anyone's definition, the biggest and most complete trade show for Linux. And in a time where other trade shows were shrinking or outright dying (re: Comdex), LinuxWorld is expanding. Like crazy.

This year's schedule includes Boston, Toronto, Shanghai, Johannesburg, Milan, Tokyo, San Francisco, Beijing, London, New York City, Utrecht, and Frankfurt. Granted, two of these shows (Canada's and the UK's) are renamed pre-existing shows. But I know from personal experience that the world of trade shows is a very thin one in terms of margins. Trade shows are expensive, and if they don't turn a profit quick, show organizers will drop them like a hot potato.

This schedule does not reflect the fact, by the way, that there will be LinuxWorlds in Moscow and Mexico City in 2006.

Smaller Linux trade shows are flourishing, too. OSDL's Enterprise Linux Summit in Burlingame, CA at the end of this month should be well-attended, as well as the third iteration of the Desktop Linux Summit in San Diego in February.

All of these Linux shows may not mean anything, but I was commenting to a press colleague not too long ago that I found it interesting that in terms of sheer impact on the current state of all technology, these Linux shows were probably the most watched shows in the industry. After all, what competes? Comdex is gone, CeBit has shrunk. Yes, there's MacWorld, which seems to focus solely on what Steve Jobs has up his sleeve this year. JavaWorld is a big one, and CES is always hot. You could include Microsoft shows, but I wanted to talk about trade shows, not press events. When Jay Leno helped introduce Windows 98 back in the day, that pretty much jumped the shark, in my opinion.

Is the number of trade shows a direct reflection of Linux's future success? Maybe so, maybe not. I just think that the rapid growth is interesting to note. In a time when everyone's watching their bottom line, growth in any arena has got to be a positive sign.