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Notes From a Senior Editor: It's Not a CES without Linux... and Elvis

Jan 08, 2007, 14:30 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by James Turner)

By James Turner
Senior Editor

Well Linux campers, it's early January, which must mean it's time for that annual orgy of consumer techno-porn called the Consumer Electronics Show. (For normal, everyday porn, you have to walk a few feet down the Sands Expo Center to the Adult Video News show...) And just as the swallows return to Capistrano each spring, and politicians to New Hampshire the day after the mid-terms, it was time for me to board that Southwest jet and head on out to the land of milk and honey shrimp and money to see what the future holds for Linux in the new year, at least in the consumer space. As well as hunting for Linux among the set-tops, I'll also try to give you my own unique and twisted spin on the madness that descends on Vegas during CES.

No, it's not a photo-micrograph of Bill Gates' face as a teenager, it's the western edge of the Rockies.

This is the earliest I've ever arrived at CES, the show floor doesn't open until Monday morning and I was on the ground in Vegas on noon, Saturday. Of course, that meant getting up at 5 AM east-coast time to make my flight, which in my opinion is an Unnatural and Perverted Hour to be up (unless you haven't gone to bed yet, in which case it's fine, just fine.) The flight was uneventful, but I already knew that the Gods of Irony were well at work. Normally, CES is a relatively warm escape from the cruel New England winters I endure in New Hampshire. But this is is totally whacked, weather-wise. Forecasted high in Las Vegas for Saturday, 52. Forecasted high in Manchester? 70 freaking degrees!

This year, I'm staying off-strip, at the South Point, a new hotel/casino/bowling alley/cineplex/equestrian center/nuclear submarine base that's about 5 miles south of the main strip on Las Vegas Boulevard. Staying on strip has the advantage of being a little closer to the action, but it's god-awful expensive during CES week, and since you really only visit your hotel room a few times a day, not really all that important. The rooms at the South Point are huge and the parking plentiful and free, and I can drive up to one of the main strip hotels and take the Monorail to the convention center to get to the show. The only funky thing about the South Point is that, as mentioned, it has a world-class equestrian center, which is hosting a world championship bull riding event this weekend. C&W music and Stetson hats are everywhere...

Yep, the Microsoft Keynote isn't the only bull in town this weekend (thus ends the Microsoft bashing for today...)

Before I get into the meat and potatoes, here's a general outline of what you can expect this week as far as reportage (be sure to read that word with the pretentious French accent I intended...) In general, the report for a given day's events should be available sometime the next day.

Sunday events
Bill Gates keynote
My Attempt to Crash the Pepcom Digital Experience! party (see below)
The Blogger / Social Networking party
Potential mourning or jubilant celebration of the Patriots / Jets game (go Pats!)

Monday events
Show floor day 1 (South Hall)
Disney Keynote
One Laptop Per Child lunch and final product demos
Show Stoppers and other evening events

Tuesday events
Show floor day 2 (Central Hall)
Dell Keynote (maybe)
General Musing and event events

Wednesday events
Show floor day 3 (North Hall and Sands)

Because of editorial issues, the Wednesday report will actually run after the show closes. There are 5 keynotes this year: Gates, Motorola, Disney, Dell, and CBS. Of those, I consider Gates and Disney to have the highest potential not to put me to sleep. Dell is a possible for Tuesday morning, depending on other commitments and how late I was up Monday evening.

A note about the Pepcom Digital Experience! party. For those who have never attended one of these big shows, there are almost always big parties every night where groups of vendors pitch their products to the press in a more intimate setting. The presence of alcohol is probably also intended to enhance the presentations... This year, the three big evening parties are the CEA-run Innovations event on Saturday night, the Pepcom-run Digital Experience! event on Sunday, and Show Stoppers on Monday night. For the last two years, Pepcom has refused to grant me credentials for Digital Experience!, because I was dumb enough to have the word Freelance in my e-mail signature. Evidently, Pepcom doesn't consider you to be a serious press person unless you're a full time employee of a publication.

This, of course, is nonsense on two fronts. First off, at least a quarter of the people at the event tonight will be freelancers. I know personally of half-a-dozen who, while on the masthead of publications in editorial positions, are doing so as freelancers. It's kind of a don't ask, don't tell situation. Secondly, not to toot my own horn but I've pitched or written a good half-dozen major product reviews in the last 3 months alone for publications like ComputerWorld and CMP TechWeb. If I'm not exactly the type of person their vendors want to pitch their products to, I'm not sure who is.

So tonight (Sunday), I'm going to show up in person (possibly with a few freelancers who were in fact granted admission in tow), and Make A Stink. Why? Because You, the readers of Linux Today, have a Right To Know! Besides, the food is pretty good...

Ok, having suffered through all of that ranting, on to some actually products. As always, the name of the game is "Find The Products With Linux in Them", with a sprinkling of the truly cool and bizarre mixed in. Innovations is the show-produced event held on Saturday night, which showcases the companies and products that have won awards at this years show. There were a couple of immediate trends I noticed. The first was that at least a dozen of the companies were showing some variety of streaming media solution for the home. I'm not sure how something can be that innovative, if there are that many companies doing it, but what the heck.

Note to CEA: Maybe giving out the big bulky backpacks to the press right before the crowded party wasn't the best idea?

Remember last year, when I showed you the Linux-based speakers from Avenga, that communicated via WiFi and let you design a whole surround system without wires? Speakers with embedded Linux are pretty cool, and I spent all of last year hoping I'd get sent a pair for evaluation, in vain. Well, here it is a year later, and who should be at the event but Avenga Systems, showing off their... speaker with Linux in them. It turns out that Avenga changed their business model last year, from trying to sell the speakers themselves, to selling them through partners. In the immortal words of Bullwinkle, "This year for sure!"

Avega Systems Linux-Based WiFi Speakers

Looking at the first of our Streaming Media solutions, Logitech has acquired a company called Slim Devices, which makes a series of streaming audio set-top devices. What's cool here is that Slim Devices uses a totally open source model for their products. The OS inside the boxes is Linux, and the server software is written in Perl and will run on just about anything. The server software is open source, and has an active developer community. Equally cool is that Logitech has acquired them. Any time a major company gives the open source / Linux business model a vote of confidence like this, it's a Good Thing.

Logitech (Formerly Slim Devices) Shows it's Streaming Audio Products

In no particular order, here are some other companies showing streaming media solutions that had Linux in them. Micronas was showing a stream video solution (the new buzzword is IPTV.) Niveus also had a DVR/IPTV combo that was half-Linux. The tuner box can't run Linux, because there are no Linux drivers available for the cable card tuners (the ole DRM headache.) However, their back-end media storage/server solution is Tux-enabled. Bamboo Technologies also had a streaming set-top box, and Torian Wireless had a tiny lil module intended to be used in third-party set-tops that is basically a Linux-powered streaming audio on a chip solution.


A streaming-related product was Hitachi's AVSM Streaming Media File System for Linux. It's tuned specifically to deliver sequential data such as audio and video. It can also offer Quality of Service commitments to applications. Don't expect to load it up on your Myth TV box any time soon, however. It's a binary-only driver and will only be offered for license to high-volume set-top manufacturers.

Hitachi's Media File System for Linux, Hobbyists Need Not Apply

Under the Federal Rack Mount Protection Act, I'm required to include at least one photo of a rack mount system in every report I file. Here's SuperMicro's latest 1U system, sporting two nodes sharing a single power supply. The unit is currently only available with an AC supply, but a DC version will be available later in the year. SuperMicro claims an impressive 93% efficiency on their power supply, which should reduce cooling and power requirements.

There's No Need to Fear, SuperMicro's Here!

The actual product may use a proprietary operating system, but iControl's central web servers, which form the core of their home security and automation offering, are strictly a LAMP house, according the the CEO.

iControl's Product May Not Use Linux to Control Your Lamps, but the Web Portal is totally LAMP!

Finally, we come to the cool and wacky products for the evening. No Linux-worthy news here, just the strange and wonderful things that every CES seems to attract. LG Electronics found a novel way to display their cell phones. most of the folks seemed more interested in getting a hand on one of their hands (alas, not for sale...)

LG Electronics Asks for a Show of Hands

Atlantic Inc. wants to let you take your iPod into the bathtub. Unfortunately, the rubber duckies can't agree on what playlist they want.

I'd Like to Be, Under the Sea, With a 30 MB Hard Disk Full of Songs...

Interactive Toy Concepts had a cool-looking dual-bladed RC helicopter. It seemed to look pretty easy to fly, right until the demonstrator nose-dived it into the WiMAX booth next door.

If I Can Get One of These, My Cats Are At My Mercy

Not sure why a group calling itself Digital Freedom has there, they didn't seem to be award winners. Originally formed to fight regulation of Satellite Radio, they seem to be branching out into DRM and Digital Media issues in general. The person I talked to at the table seemed quite sympathetic to problems of Linux users wanted to access DRM-protected content. Take a look at the partners list for these folks, it's an impressive coalition and tends to belie Microsoft's assertion that everyone is for draconian closed DRM.

Any Resemblance to the EFF is Not Purely Coincidental

Finally, if you don't have the budget for one of Honda's Asimo robots, maybe you want to consider WooWee's offerings. After all, Asimo may be able to run and dance, but does he have the head of Elvis? Thankyouverymuch.

Asimo Dances
But Elvis Sings!

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