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Frontline Report: Linux World Expo Turns Businesslike - page 2

The Pendulum Swings

  • January 31, 2002
  • By Dennis E. Powell

If Linux is going to be the subject of a huge conference, you would suppose that someone would have it there for sale. This year, no one does. Red Hat brought some CDs to give away, but they ran out in the first few hours. I believe Mandrake had some giveaways, too. But nowhere were the companies offering the boxed sets, such that people impressed with what they had seen could take it home with them. A few book publishers were present, but nobody with software. Debian could both raise money and win converts by having CDs there for sale or for a donation, but as with last year the Debian booth sold teeshirts.

A surprisingly large presence was Haansoft, the Korean publisher of a Qt-based suite of office applications. They had software for sale -- at considerable discount -- and seemed to be doing well. I purchased their standard version in hope that the word processor has lost the annoying characteristics that made me so thoroughly dislike it in its earlier incarnations; I'll report on it later.

Hewlett-Packard has apparently just about run SGI out of the animation studios at Dreamworks, and Dreamworks representatives were at the H-P booth to make their witness, and to show some of the new work they're doing with Linux. It is a real "pinch me" moment -- little Linux is the platform whence is developed spectacular work.

The new Sharp Zaurus is going to be a hit, if the crowds lined up to look at it are any indication. Jason Perlow emailed me a few months ago saying that it would be, but until you have a chance to look at one for a couple of minutes, you cannot appreciate it. It offers a variety of applications and manages to have a built-in keyboard in a device the size of a standard PDA. It runs Linux, of course, and I'm eager to write more about it at some point, to really put it through its paces -- finally, a PDA that maybe I could love.

I'm not certain I understand why Intel and AMD have such enormous booths at events like this. A chip is not an optional item when running a computer, and if you buy a computer, odds are that the chip inside will be made by one or the other. Both are good, and they're comparable -- people do not generally buy one machine over another due to the brand of processor inside.

If there is any doubt that IBM is into Linux in a big way, LWE this year should put it to rest, because Big Blue is all over the place. The company is publicizing a raft of success stories; one that appealed to me is the news that L.L. Bean has moved to an S/390 running Linux. Of course, no one at the IBM booth had anything to say about desktop Linux. One of the sad things about the IBM booth at trade shows in general is that the people there in matching IBM shirts stick closely to the script.

Indeed, that is one of the major differences in this year's LWE -- everybody sticks to the script. Where in earlier years one would not have been out of line to expect booths to be populated by people who had been up to their elbows in developing the product being touted, now it's all salesfolk. I liked it better the old way -- and I cannot help but think that the developers are better at selling the product, anyway.

Ximian was back in a big way at this year's LWE, with its jungle set and scads of people eager to demonstrate the products and services they hope to sell. The display drew a crowd of LWE regulars and for some reason seemed especially appealing to a pair of New York State Troopers who were walking through the exhibit area. I do not know why, but this seemed to me sad in contrast to the lone young woman stationed at the Gnome foundation's booth. KDE did not have a huge space -- none of the noncommercial projects did -- but it was filled with KDE developers and a steady stream of attendees.

Something that I found a little puzzling was the plethora of MacIntosh notebooks, especially in the geek ghetto. There were two in the KDE booth alone. (Perhaps Intel and AMD ought to send someone over from their huge and otherwise superfluous exhibits . . .)

A time-honored and magnificent tradition at shows like Linux World Expo is swag. It is to computer shows as beads are to Mardi Gras (and, okay, usually just about as useful). The word on swag this year is: There isn't any. Intel has some good teeshirts for those who enter their names and email addresses into their database, but that's about it. (Note to Intel: I did not check either of the boxes to opt in to whatever it is you want to send me via email. This was not an oversight.) A couple of places gave away ballpoint pens. But there is nothing on the order of the nice tote bags that Eazel gave out last year in their successful effort to get every last dollar spent.

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