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Editor's Note: Integration is Key

Feb 19, 2005, 00:15 (8 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Jammed into the Hynes Convention Center, a haven for geeks and suits exploring the world of open source technology, the first LinuxWorld Conference and Expo of 2005 delivered on the promise to get the message of Linux in the enterprise out to all who would listen.

The week started to be an interesting one as soon as I arrived at my hotel on Monday night, when the desk clerk asked me if I thought the big news of the conference would be coming from Novell or Red Hat. Startled, I laughed and said that Red Hat would be the likely source of big news, with their release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4. And, I was right--for one day.

Red Hat did indeed capture the attention of many on that first day, with a glitzy party complete with New Orleans food and drink to highlight their upcoming June summit in New Orleans. The party was full of all the right people saying the right things about RHEL 4, and I have no doubt that the crew from North Carolina thought the buzz from the conference would be all about them.

Tuesday morning, the sun rose on Boston, and the winds changed. Instead of from the south, they now came from the west. More specifically, Utah.

In terms of sheer bulk, Novell may have won any competitions on number of press releases. But beyond the sheer weight of their messages, the importance of their announcements (such as donating NetMail to the Hula Project) would create far more buzz on the show floor. Instead of a Red Hat, it was now about the Big Red N.

Overall, I think the perception of Novell changed during this show. Like any big company jumping into the Linux arena, they have been viewed with anything between a "wait and see" attitude to downright suspicion. Viewing the sum of their plays this week, they have now solidified their position with Linux, and are now being considered as much of a Linux player as IBM or Red Hat. My initial worry was that SUSE was going to get lost in the hype, but never fear: SUSE Linux is right there, front and center.

In fact, it got mentioned more than I knew. I kept hearing people talk about "slash 9" and wondering what the heck they were talking about. Finally, someone said it slowly enough that it clicked: "SLES 9" short for, of course SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9. You learn something new every day. "SLES 9" got mentioned a lot during my interviews, of that you may be sure.

In terms of new products, the winner by far was Virtual Iron's VFe virtualization cluster management tool. It was buzz, buzz, buzz, about that. I'd already heard about it in a pre-briefing before the show, so I could run it up on LinuxPlanet on Monday. By Day 2, I swore, if one more person came up to me and mentioned VFe and how cool it was, I was going to pop. But the buzz kept on coming--I even heard the product mentioned on the plane coming home last night. Thank goodness the stewardess came by with the drinks.

One of the things I always enjoy is meeting Linux contemporaries face to face at these shows, and not just fellow media. That's part of the fun. In my case, perhaps too much fun on Wednesday night at a party Google had for the Free Software community. But that's another story for another time--like in the court records in Cambridge, Mass. (Kidding, Groklaw folk, kidding!)

And boy, was I mad I didn't luck out and meet Pamela Jones when she stopped by on Tuesday. A few of my colleagues did, and remarked how nice she was. I playfully harassed her via e-mail that night, and I at least got to share with her who that was who sang The Spam Song during the Golden Penguin Bowl we had both mutually watched. It's probably just as well she didn't announce her presence openly. I think the entire press room would have erupted in applause, which would have been the last thing she wanted. But, I will say this--most of the journalists I talk to, even the ones who don't always agree with her, see PJ and Groklaw as a valuable resource who has made their jobs a lot easier.

Back to the show. The winner of the Best Open Source Project and Best of Show this year was the Mambo Project. Big disclaimer here: I was on the judging team for that Open Source category, and I helped lobby for Mambo for best of show. Here's why: this project, an open source web content management system, is intuitive, flexible, and has a strong user community behind it. I was just floored, and so were my peers, some of whom are not easy to impress. If you haven't tried Mambo, go check it out.

Every time I got to one of these shows, I try to find a take-away idea or concept to sum up what the show was about. This year, I think the one-word take away was integration. Everyone is focused on it. Getting Linux into heterogeneous and legacy environments is the new game in town, and there are lots of solutions out there or coming soon to address that need.

Secondary to that, and only slightly, was any tools that will help move Linux closer to the center of the enterprise and mission-critical work. Backup, replication, network management, high-availability--it's all there, ready to use.

Linux and open source is now about getting into organizations anyway it can, and it is probably a path we should have expected, given so many open source projects out there and so many ways to apply Linux. But it was interesting to see it in action nonetheless.

And, finally, commerical Linux companies are not setting their sights on ousting Microsoft Windows. They're now only talking about knocking off UNIX--with one specific UNIX in mind: Solaris. This may seem like a non-news issue, but I remember when it was "Linux is going to take away share from Windows." Then "Linux will gain share from UNIX and Windows." Now, it's just UNIX in the middle of the target.

Is this a copout? Absolutely not. As one analyst said to me, "it's about getting the low hanging fruit." And, as Don Marti from Linux Journal argued to me, UNIX has always been a migration target. But, I think he agreed with me when I pointed out that there's been this subtle shift in message--at least from the big commercial Linux players--though we disagree on the timing.

Lest you think that getting Windows share is out of the picture entirely, never fear. UNIX is just the target. Red Hat, Novell, and IBM all told me they will happily take on Windows to Linux migration projects if a customer needs it. And there were plenty of new desktop Window-to-Linux tools on the floor this time around.

So, is it about working with different systems, or working against? Both, of course, but I think right now the emphasis is on working with, betting on the very valid notion that once Linux is inside an organization, it will be used, noticed, and likely admired. Which, every open source organization believes, will bring even more interest.

Linux was never about taking over the world--that's a mission its advocates took up. Judging from what this winter's show had to offer, that mission can succeed--one install at a time.