LinuxWorld Impressions

by MichaelF on August 23, 2006 08:52pm

My first impression about LinuxWorld 2006 was – This is BIIIIG! As I walked down the escalator in the Moscone Center in San Francisco I could see the big flashy banners, the props and the mascots from the vendors.  It seemed like just another tradeshow.  But how could that be, wasn’t this supposed to be “Linux”-world?

There was a kind of muffled roar coming from the exhibit hall and the speaking sessions were off to one side (in fact some of them were clear across the street in Moscone Center South).  I remember thinking that I would probably learn more from hanging out with the vendors in the exhibit hall than in the sessions. 

I felt a strange sense of disappointment – I guess I expected LinuxWorld to be more like OSCON, a show FOR open source proponents.   Here I seemed to find more vendors selling closed source products on top of the open source platforms than I found open source products (there were quite a few of those but not as much as I expected). 

Seems like the businesses have figured out how to make money on top of Linux.  The overwhelming impression I got was that this show was about “Linux /Open Source Management and Monitoring” – and there were a large number of vendors both small and big focusing on that.  There was also a preponderance of hardware vendors who were selling “built for Linux” servers/blades/racks/what-have-you. I didn’t know that you could differentiate commodity hardware in so many ways!

I hate to say it, but I was disappointed in the quality of some of the talks – a talk about “Desktops in Linux” turned out to be a commercial for the Walmart distribution of a desktop Linux product.  Another one on “What Open Source Really costs” turned out to be a thinly disguised commercial for a commercial (though open source) distribution of PostgreSQL.  At OSCON – the talks were at least what they stated they were about.

A session that I thoroughly enjoyed was the panel with Eric Raymond, Jon “Mad Dog” Hall, Chris De Bona and Dirk Hohndel and moderated by Larry Augustin. The panel was about the reminiscences  of the participants experiences with Linux over the “First 15 years”.  With these 5 guys on the panel there were bound to be 6 divergent opinions for every question! Some of the things that stood out for me were

    • Broad agreement by the panel that the “defining moment” for Linux adoption was the Oracle port to Linux. Controversial? A closed source product defining an open source phenomenon?
    • Eric Raymond’s statement that the Open Source community MUST make the compromises necessary to drive adoption such as accepting binary drivers especially for multi-media devices. Dirk strongly opposed this saying that “accepting binary drivers was a mistake”.  His argument was on technical grounds, since most kernel crashes happen due to device driver problems since the drivers are part of the kernel. Of course there is new code that keeps the drivers out of the kernel by  moving device drivers into user space, which takes care of Dirk’s objections – which Dirk acknowledged.
    • Lots of optimism for Linux on the server and in the embedded  segment, not so much on the desktop

Some of the keynotes were tainted (in my opinion) by the commercial interests of the presenters – why did Richard Wirt from Intel have Bill Coleman of Cassatt  (and ex-chairman of BEA) deliver half his keynote?

But then again, is the commercialization of Linux such a bad thing? Will the opportunity drive more innovation and provide more incentive to the community? Or is the community going to be overshadowed by the big money vendors? (I haven’t made up my mind – please feel free to comment!)

My mood definitely improved as the conference went on – how could it not? I was talking to people who love the business of developing software, commercial or open source. There were smart and committed people who cared about developing good products – and were able to do if for love or money (or both)!  I was able to learn the same things I would in a session by hanging out with the vendors!

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