It may seem a bit weird to start a discussion about the LinuxWorld Conference and
Expo (LWCE) so early in the year. After all, it doesn't run
until the first week of August.
But the topic came up because a friend of mine in the "biz"
IM'ed me yesterday and asked if I was going to attend the Open Source Business
Conference (OSBC) coming up towards the end of March out in San
Francisco this year. Unfortunately, no such luck, because I really
enjoy attend the OSBC. (I'm even in one of their
publicity photos; I'm the fat shoulder in the pale green shirt
immediately behind the guy standing.)
To me, the OSBC epitomizes what LWCE would be like without the
developers and user community in attendance. Now, for sure, there
are users and developers that do go to OSBC, but in a far less
percentages than attend LWCE. And way, way less than the ratio of
developers/users to corporate suit types than a show like the
Southern California Linux
Expo (SCALE). At SCALE, the ratio is flipped, and it's the
suits who are in the minority.
For attendees of these conferences, or any follower of the Linux
community, these observations are nothing new. What is new is the
rest of the conversation with my friend, a guy who's in a pretty
good position to advise a lot of open source companies how and
where to do business. Surprising me a bit, he said that he was
starting to advise several clients and acquaintances that LWCE may
no longer be worth their while.
His reason was simple: LWCE is no longer the best place to do
face-to-face business. It's a good place still, but not the best
Looking back at my recent experiences, I can kind of see his
For one thing, LWCE is big. Not as mind-bogglingly huge as
Comdex or CES, but it can be hard to do serious meet-and-greets
with potential business partners when there are so many of those
potential business partners clamoring for your attention.
Another problem: LWCE is expensive. It's expensive to
attend--not helped by the fact that its always in San Francisco, a
city I love but still pricey--and the cost to have a booth is
unbelievably expensive. I'm not talking the gigant-o mega-booths
that Red Hat and IBM have--just a little booth is thousands of
dollars. Add to that the costs of travel and lodging for the folks
manning the booth, and it can be a huge chunk of a smaller
company's expenses for the year.
Again, nothing new here. But what complicates this is the fact
that every single exhibitor is looking to get a return on their
investment while they are at LWCE (just like any other show). And
the return is only one thing: a business deal with a customer or
new partner that generates revenue. Nothing else--not the parties,
not the media coverage--really matters. The press and the glitz can
aid in getting a company more business, but all the headlines in
the world don't matter if you don't sell something and make a
At LWCE this is especially complicated, because much to the
lament of the exhibitors I have spoken with year after year, the
traffic they get attending their booths are typically not potential
customers. Sure, they will all smile and answer users' and
developers' questions with politeness and correctness, but inwardly
they are probably cringing because these conversations will
ultimately translate into no money for them
One big exception to this fact of exhibitor life at LWCE is the
.Org Pavilion, the section where all the non-profits and user
groups come out to show their cool wares. They are typically very
happy to be there, getting face time with their user and teammates
whom they don't usually see through the rest of the year. And,
interestingly, the Pavilion is a favorite place where many of the
business people coming to LWCE like to visit, too.
IDG World Expo, the organizers of LWCE, might dispute this,
since the Pavilion's favored status might undercut their sales
pitch to commercial exhibitors. But such protestations should be
met with the cold hard reality of business. With no offense to any
of the .Orgs, but do we really think that IDG would donate valuable
floor space to the Pavilion if they didn't know it was such a big
draw? Community altruism is great, but having dealt with events
coordinators before, I know better.
So here's the point where you might be thinking, why is he
hatin' on LWCE so much? He's not--I still think LWCE is a good
show. I just wonder if it could be better.
For instance, my friend suggested, why not play up the
Pavilion's strength and get more planned interaction with the
business folk and the .Org exhibitors? Have planned
demonstrations/events, where the non-profits can show off the
really cool technology that all of the execs really like to see? It
gets the non-profits in front of potential money and development
help, and it shows the suits the cutting edge technologies that
they can start thinking about using in their businesses. They may
even go back to a Novell or Red Hat and say, hey, when are you
going to implement what I saw over in the Pavilion today?
There's already a show that's trying to do this. My friend
pointed me to an
article on Linux.com by perennial PR dude Joe Eckert covering
the recent Open Source Meets Business Congress over in Nurnberg,
Germany. Organized by former SuSE CEO Richard Siebt, this show
tries to get the developer communities and the business together in
a much more direct way than LWCE has tried. I spoke with Eckert
later and he thinks Siebt's approach has a lot of merit.
Clearly, IDG is aware that LinuxWorld still needs some fine
tuning. For the 2008 show, they've introduced a Mobile Linux
conference-in-a-conference and a Linux Garage exhibition where you
can go and see all the nifty Linux-running gadgets. Topics sure to
appeal to the inner geek of all of those execs, don't you
There are, I am sure, other ideas that could strengthen LWCE.
Toss them out, because I for one would be sad to see LWCE become