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RealTime IT News

The Changing Face of LinuxWorld

NEW YORK -- IDG's LinuxWorld Conference and Expo is a very different show in 2002 than it has been in the past, perhaps best exemplified by IBM Corp.'s slogan, "Linux is real business."

Compared with its heyday era of 1999, the show has taken on a much more serious tone. Suit-and-tie wearing folks are much in evidence, and even the attendees dressed in more casual garb are much more likely to be serious business people shopping for real business solutions than the younger hackers that were the first to embrace Linux and make it their own.

That's not to say all the "geekier" elements of LinuxWorld are gone. You can still find beanbag chairs, foosball and a pinball machine. But if you look more closely, you'll notice they are sponsored by Compaq. And that brings us to the sponsors of the show, which may be the most telling indicator of where LinuxWorld is heading. Rather than the Linux distribution companies and other players that have sponsored the show in the past, this year's Cornerstone partner is Compaq. The Platinum sponsors aren't difficult to recognize either: AMD, Computer Associates, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and IBM.

IBM had a significant presence at LinuxWorld in 2001, capped by a rousing keynote by IBM's soon-to-be Chief Executive Officer Sam Palmisano and a $1 billion commitment to the platform. In 2002, major enterprise players are among the most dominant participants in the show, with keynotes by HP Chairman and CEO Carly Fiorino, IBM Senior Vice President and Group Executive of the Server Group Bill Zeitler, and Computer Associates President and Chief Executive Officer Sanjay Kumar.

Their presence and engagement with the show can be summed up succinctly by Kumar's opening statement, "We're here because [Linux] is a very meaningful platform." He later added, "We have seen a tremendous change in the interest in the platform in the last 12 months."

"There's certainly a change going on with the show that mirrors the marketplace," said Rob Scheschareg, vice president of Sales, Marketing and Product Development for IDG.

Or, as SuSE Linux Product Manager Jay Migliaccio put it, "It's much more corporate."

And contrary to what some may suppose, those suits are not mostly venture capitalists, according to Scheschareg.

"VCs were last year," he said. "Yes, they're here, but what the VC community is looking for are companies that have customers. Companies that have product."

Instead many of the suits are from large companies. Scheschareg noted that representatives from companies with more than 1,000 employees used to make up maybe 15 percent of the overall attendees of the show. This year he estimates that number is closer to one third. And while the show is smaller than it has been in the past -- Scheschareg estimated this year's show drew between 17,000 and 18,000 attendees as opposed to the 24,000 it drew in 2001 -- Scheschareg said that he and the exhibitors feel this year's attendees are a more qualified crowd.

"Some of the people that we lost, I think, were people that were buying a little too much into the hype," he said.

Now many exhibitors say visitors to their booths are not asking "what is it" questions, but are instead asking how they can make the most of Linux and Linux-based products to help their businesses.

And that is an example of another change in the show. Scheschareg said every company that has a booth at the show this year is offering a real, honest-to-goodness product rather than the vaporware that was much in evidence at the previous shows.

Those products range from server management platforms to application development environments, servers and mainframes, cluster storage arrays, security applications, even PDAs and Playstation 2 game consoles.

But while the show is changing as the enterprise sits up and takes notice of Linux and what it can do, IDG is striving to keep some of the community feel that characterized the first years of the show.

"If it just becomes all business, all suits, that's not very true to the Linux community," Scheschareg said, adding that IDG is trying to maintain a balance between the new corporate face of LinuxWorld and the technical community that first put LinuxWorld on the map.

IDG's attempt to serve the open source community's interests is characterized by the .ORG Pavilion, which holds space for groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Etherboot Project, the Free Software Foundation, the Free Standards Group, GNOME Foundation, GNU Enterprise, etc. Other efforts to respect the community's role include the IDG/Linus Torvalds Community Award, the Taste of Linux sessions (which attempt to introduce Linux newbies to the platform's basics), and the ever popular Golden Penguin Bowl.

In the end, despite the show's smaller size, Scheschareg says IDG will look back at this show as a success.

"We'll look back at this week and say it was a great week," he said.