LinuxWorld 2006: A Diamond in The Rough

Reporter’s Notebook: BOSTON — “What do you think of the show?” This is the question I heard all week at LinuxWorld here.

It turns out that many of my journalist peers, a few speakers and a number of vendors weren’t as impressed by the show as I was.

This was the year when neither HP nor IBM had a booth on the exhibit floor. Many people I spoke with mentioned their absence. But I’m a journalist, and had the benefit of being pre-briefed by both IBM and HP, and I even attended an HP VIP event on the opening night of the show.

I heard a rumor that Red Hat initially balked on exhibiting at the show when it discovered IBM wouldn’t have a booth. But Red Hat and the show’s higher-ups evidently came to an agreement and Red Hat showed, as did its competitor Novell.

There was no PHP or Zend booth, nothing from Debian (though Ubuntu was there) no Mandriva and no Mozilla.

On the up-and-coming enterprise open source application side, Zimbra didn’t have a booth but did do at least one seminar (“Is your e-mail stuck in 1996?”).

SugarCRM had a booth on the commercial side and also had a booth in the .org Pavilion for its SugarForge community.

The .org Pavilion was the area where community projects resided, and it enjoyed a constant flow of foot traffic. In particular the Fedora Project booth seemed at times to have more people crammed into its booth than could actually fit.

Gentoo Linux was also heavy on the foot traffic and well-staffed. I had numerous exchanges with booth staffers in both the Fedora and Gentoo booths and noticed many conference goers doing the same.

Gentoo caught many eyes by demonstrating the Xgl graphics capabilities and showing an episode of Battlestar Gallactica on the desktop’s media player.

The flow at both Fedora and Gentoo (and to a similar extent at Linux thin-client project LTSP as well) was very different from the way the “commercial” vendors ran their booths.

In many cases the people in the booths looked bored or uninterested. I would stand in front of a display, stare inquisitively at a screen or a data sheet and not be approached by anyone.

Interesting how the “non-commercial” projects were more eager to engage floor foot traffic than the commercial ones. Maybe it was the media badge that I wore, but I’m not so sure as I often had the badge turned around.

Then there were the projects and companies that I “discovered” on the show floor that I had never heard of and likely never would have known what they do had they not been at the show.

In that group I include rPath, a vendor that has a really neat build-your-own Linux distribution service for appliances, they even have their own kernel build developed by some impressive ex-Red Hat developers.

OpenESM is an enterprise systems management project that has an interesting story to tell, which I’ll be monitoring.

The general theme among those I spoke with who didn’t like the show was that it wasn’t busy or well attended.

I don’t know what the exact attendance numbers are but the event venue was the new Boston Convention center, which is a large and cavernous space.

The distance between the keynote location and the press room was a Boston Marathon length. I suspect that scale of the venue made the event look somewhat less busy than it really was.

So was it a good show? It was for me.

I learned more than a few things in the seminars. I had a marvelous dinner with the CTO of Dell, got a chance to interview some key executives at various vendors and met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

The industry “giants” may not have been on the show floor but there were more than a few giant killers and diamonds in the rough to be found this year.

No doubt the things I’ve learned and the new ideas that I’ve had while at the show will provide fuel for many stories on the digital pages of in the days to come.

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