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LinuxWorld Conference and Expo as Dave saw it

Aug 13, 1999, 02:23 (20 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dave Whitinger)

Update: (Aug 20): Correction: Removed Red Hat and added SuSE, IBM, and LinuxCare to the list of sponsors of the LPI project.

The mood is more solemn than previous shows that I have attended, and the audience is certainly less educated than would be found at the more grass-roots type shows (LinuxExpo, ALS, etc). I spent much of my time speaking with representatives from various vendors who have recently made announcements related to Linux.

Of particular interest was a press conference with Magic Software, which featured Jon 'maddog' Hall who got to hold a real-live penguin (see picture).

Magic Software (Founded in Israel in the 1980's) is embracing Linux in a major way. Their product is a fairly unique development environment that basically allows you to write applications in a "non-language", based around this "Magic Engine". Think of the "Magic Engine" as you would think of the perl engine. Now that they have the Magic environment for Linux, anybody can get the Linux Magic Engine (at no charge) and run the applications that they have been formerly running on Solaris, Windows, DOS, etc. They told me that there are around 3,000 "Magic Solution Partners" worldwide who have developed applications using the Magic Engine.

Linuxcare is at it with their usual flare. They have a big van that they are giving away (actually, they are giving away a 2 year lease on the vehicle, or you can opt to take $10,000US in cash in the stead of the vehicle). I registered.

They also have this nifty Linux rescue CD that fits in my wallet next to my credit cards. (See picture).

My laptop started acting up, and just in the nick of time, who would show up but Donald Becker! (See picture). Don wrote the first PCMCIA code for Linux, and has provided support for an enormous amount of network cards for Linux. The chances are high that, if you are currently using Linux, you are using software written by Don. Unfortunately, my laptop is fairly new (IBM ThinkPad i Series) and Don was unable to figure out why the PCMCIA code was core dumping 75% of the time. He also couldn't figure out why hibernation wasn't working. Thanks for trying, Don!

IBM... The announcements about IBM are huge, but more importantly, IBM has embraced Linux from the inside out. Linux has taken over IBM like a virus, corroding them completely. Every IBMer I met at this show has that 'glimmer' in their eye - the glimmer of excitement in seeing that IBM is finally embracing Linux in a complete fashion. Realize, these are not developer IBM types; these are executives who are as excited about Linux as all of us.

This week they announced their new NetFinity (see picture) computer, the 3500 M10. It's a box that was developed from the ground up with the single intention of running Linux. For $1,800, the customer gets quite a nice machine, as well as 90 day telephone support, worldwide in 165 countries.

Additional to the hardware announcement, IBM says they have extended their support offerings to encompass Linux. This means that any of their customers can present a problem to the IBM consulting group, and IBM can implement Linux in virtually any situation you have. They are officially supporting Red Hat, Caldera, SuSE, and TurboLinux, but they will perform "due diligence" to support other distributions.

During all my talks with IBM, the key phrase that I continued to hear was, "...because our customers were demanding Linux support." What kind of customer clamoring would be required for a company as large as IBM to make such an enormous commitment to Linux?

IBM has released Domino R5 "Sneak Peak" for Linux, available at www.notes.net/linux.

Tivoli has announced that the Tivoli framework and core applications will be available for Linux by the end of this year. The reason cited for this port, according to Tivoli, is that "customers had Linux brought in through the back door, put into mission-critical use, and now need a monitoring solution for these boxes."

IBM is working with SAP and has opened a "Linux Lab" in Germany to do optimizations of SAP for Linux. SAP will go through the "Server Proven" program for SAP on Linux. This is a big deal and commitment on SAP's part.

Next stop, LinuxPPC. I spoke to Jeff Carr, head of the company, and discussed (of course) the latest 'crack.linuxppc.org' fun. He's excited about how well his box is performing, but expressed concerns that Microsoft is complaining that their box is a 'developer's release', while the LinuxPPC box is a stable release. Jeff is currently working to put a new box online that is running the latest development release of LinuxPPC. Fun Fun Fun. Pictured: Jeff (left), Bruce Perens (right).

The .org pavilion appeared to be a fun place, with pinball machines, inflatable couches, and various interesting people to talk to. My most interesting conversation was with the Time City guys. They are developing a free software video game that is extremely cool. It's so cool, in fact, that I'm planning a separate story about it.

I talked to Oracle who informed me that the Oracle 8 release for Linux resulted in over 50,000 downloads. Their Oracle 8i release, in two weeks time, resulted in 20,000 downloads and 15,000 CD's sent out. The Oracle 8i seems like a nifty product - it's Oracle optimized for the Internet. They said that you can set up an entire website through a web-based 'wizard' type application. They say Linuxcare is using Oracle 8i to run their web stuff, and that Burlington Coat Factory is making good use of Linux and Oracle (but we already knew that, right?). :)

Oracle also notified me that they will be porting Oracle 8i 'Lite' to Linux - no release date given.

Sybase is expanding support for Linux. They've seen 10,000 downloads of their Linux database products, and their customers have been asking for a fully supported Linux version. They've delivered, and they are also providing a free 'developer's copy' that includes 3 clients and development software. Their Linux port is sold at the same price as the NT port, and is developed and tested on Red Hat Linux.

MacMillan is doing some interesting things with Linux. They're distributors, not developers, so their announcements are in the area of getting Linux more and more into the mainstream computer stores like CompUSA, Best Buy, Circuit City... basically anywhere that you can buy software, you will find MacMillan selling Linux.

They released 9 Linux books last year, will release 48 Linux books this year, and 16 Linux software products this year.

They also have, some time ago, halted sales of "The Complete Linux Operating System", which was Red Hat Linux, and have begun shipping "The Complete Mandrake Linux Operating System". They have a variety of flavors, including "Complete" (basic operating system), "Deluxe" (OS + StarOffice), "Secure Server" (Apache with SSL+RSA), "Linux Utilities", which is a variety of extra applications for Linux, and the "Linux Starter Kit", which includes a copy of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Linux" book.

They say they are supporters of the Linux Demo Day, and are sponsors of LPI (Linux Professional Institute).

Speaking of non-profit community organizations, here's something new: LinuxFund. It's the first corporate sponsored Linux developers' fund, according to Penguin Computing's Andy Kaufman. It's completely non-profit, and Mark Willey of Penguin Computing will be allocating funds to various projects. The fund usage is not influenced by the corporate sponsors - they are simply sponsoring it to show their support for the Linux community.

Penguin Computing unveiled this at their booth. The most exciting project is the Penguin credit card, under-written by MBNA Bank, and will feature Tux the Penguin. The bank will pay a percentage of every purchase to the fund. The first 5,000 people to sign up get a free T-Shirt, and 2,000 have already signed up at the LWCE show.

If you want to contribute time or money, signup at www.linuxfund.org. The founder is also a very nice guy who just got married 3 days before the show. :-)

Linux International held their customary board meetings in the usual manner - 7:00am the morning following some parties that extended late in the night. Tired and hung-over, the heads of many Linux companies gathered in a meeting room at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Jose to discuss recent issues in the Linux community.

An organization is working on hardware certification programs for Linux, while BRU is busy with their own tape-drive certification project.

Dan York (of Linuxcare) stood up and spoke about LPI and the exciting work they are doing. They have garnered the support of several key players in the Linux community, and it is looking like LPI is set to become the standard Linux certification organization for the Linux community. The outlines that Dan presented are very well thought-out and appear to be a blueprint for success. We are happy to see SuSE, Caldera, IBM, LinuxCare, and other companies throwing their support behind their efforts, and we wish them the best.

I'm planning an audio interview (mp3 broadcast) this week with Dan, in order to give him the opportunity to give his complete message out to the entire community.

Back to the show floor...

Every sysadmin wants to hear about tape backup solutions, and Knox Software, Ecrix, and BRU were there to fill this demand. Knox Software is showcasing an interesting product (Arkeia), a network backup software product. The management console is a GUI (X-Window System based) application that is not built using any widget library like Qt, GTK, or Motif. In other words, they've developed their own toolkit just for this application, which has 200,000 lines of code. Distribution neutral, they support most any flavor of Linux you have, and release their software in both RPM or a tar.gz file with installation scripts.

They also support Linux on Arm, MIPS, Alpha, Intel, with SPARC and RS/6000 support on the way.

Ecrix has a fairly unique tape backup drive that proves more reliable and less damaging to tapes. Rather than the tape flying back and forth during interrupts, this one simply stops and goes. Also, instead of moving at 100+ inches per second, this one moves at 4 inches per minute, giving less damage to the tape when it must stop. Their analogy was "imagine slamming on the breaks in your car going 60 miles an hour, and then imagine slamming on your breaks when you're going 2 miles per hour."

I got a chance to sit down with Scott Draeker, head of Loki Entertainment. He's excited about Linux, and wanted to talk about their future plans. Here goes:

There are 2 more games planned for release by the end of this month. They are looking at a Mech-type game for this fall. We've seen two games come out of them this year so far, and we'll have seen a total of 8 games by the end of this year, and 16 games next year.

He's quite a friendly fellow who's heart is really in sync with the Linux community. This 33 year old, ex-attorney using Yellow Dog Linux on his G3 box.

They'll be doing Heavy Gear II for Activision, Heretic II, and are in talks with "most game companies" about various other ports.

They challenge of porting to Linux is significant. They often have to completely re-write level editors, and the co-founder of the company, Sam Lantinga, has developed a Linux alternative to Windows' DirectX, called SDL, which is released under the LGPL. Scott mentioned that it took Microsoft 200 developers to write DirectX, while SDL was written by 1 person. Their games aren't distribution specific and they specifically list system requirements by X-Window version, kernel version, C Library version, etc.

As you would expect from a gaming company, he promises it is a fun place to work. Their 12 employees enjoy 6 weeks of vacation per year, and they have LAN gaming events "as often as possible, especially whenever a new Quake comes out." 6 of their 12 people are programmers, the rest are support, sales, and marketing personnel. Scott tells me that the community has given rave reviews of their support, saying that it out-performs support found at even the largest mainstream gaming companies.

Scott mentioned that they have "friends and family" contributing money to the company, and are open to the possibility of investors, but I got the impression that an IPO is not even remotely close to being in the works. I could be wrong, but he was very tight-lipped, even after quite a bit of coaxing and prodding.

And then there was the Linus Torvalds keynote address, which was an interesting review of the upcoming features of the kernel 2.4. Much of what he spoke about is covered in Joe Pranevich's excellent article, The Wonderful World of Linux 2.4. Before the keynote, Larry Augustin warmed up the audience by asking that everybody who has contributed to Linux in some way to please stand. It looked like 5% of the audience stood up. Larry then proceeded to explain to the rest of the audience that the people who are standing are really the people who are making Linux happen, not the vendors with the big booths out on the show floor. He asked that everybody be mindful of this information as they go through the show.

Our friends at Linux Weekly News (who sat right behind us at the keynote address) have put up an excellent review of Linus' speech, so I'll not duplicate their effort here.

Following Linus' keynote address, Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) was presented with a $25,000 IDG/Linux Torvalds community award. Richard Stallman gave a moving speech with the acceptance of this award (even if he was competing for attention with Linus' two daughters (pictured) who were running up and down the stage. Richard spoke about the origins of free software, the origins of the FSF and the GNU Project, and he encouraged the audience to refer to Linux as "GNU/Linux" (pronounced "GNU Slash Linux". The FSF then held a party at the San Jose Children's Museum, which was full of fun toys for grown hacker-types to play with. A great time was had by all.

While I'm on the subject of Richard Stallman, here's an interesting story: I was talking to a long-time friend of mine (who I finally got to meet in person, by the way), who told me that he always wanted to meet Richard Stallman, had been given the opportunity in the past, but had turned it down due to nervousness at meeting this influential person in the community.

Well, along came Richard Stallman to chat with us for a few minutes, giving my friend an opportunity to finally meet him. After chatting for a few minutes, the conversation turned to Richard's decision to encourage people to say "GNU/Linux" rather than just "Linux." Richard's argument is this:

It's important that people understand that the Linux distribution they are using is heavily reliant on GNU software in order to make a complete distribution. The reason that this is important is that if they understand that GNU is largely responsible for this software, then they will pay attention when the GNU project speaks out on isses. The problem, as Richard sees it, is that this is not the case, and instead they are looking to Linus Torvalds for leadership. Richard's problem is that Linus does not have a problem with proprietary software, while the same type of software goes against every fiber of being that is Richard Stallman. It was his hatred of proprietary software that originally led to the Free Software Foundation and the GNU project.

As the industry looks to Linus Torvalds as a leader in the free software community, they may pick up the ideas that proprietary software is an acceptable notion. If the industry were to look at Richard's group as the leader, they might carry the notion that proprietary software is evil. Richard wants this message sent out loud and clear, and in order to achieve that, he must get the industry to recognize him, and the GNU project, as leaders in the free software community.

My friend's argument against this was that he has chosen an entirely wrong path to make this happen, by trying to force people to use the terminology of "GNU/Linux". He wondered if there might be a better way to educate the industry on the origins of free software.

This led to a long and bitter argument between the two that, I am sorry to say, ended with the resolution of my friend and Richard's feelings hurt and upset. They both have very valid points, and I can't see a resolution to the issue. I've seen many people have this argument with Richard, and nobody has been able to provide a proper solution to the problem that has presented itself to Richard.

That's the end of my thoughts on this show. To summarize: it was a good show with lots of interesting announcements from all the vendors. Many friends were re-united, and a good time was had by all. It was more business oriented, and less grass-roots than other shows like ALS or LinuxExpo, but altogether a successful event. I'm happy that I attended.