Originally Published: Tuesday, 22 August 2000 Author: Matt Michie
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

LWCE: Another Perspective

What can one say about close to 20,000 Linux geeks in one city at one place, with hundreds of exhibitors giving out free swag? Some might call it frightening, but I found it to be liberating.

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I'm back home away from the bustle that defined Linux World Conference and Expo in San Jose. It has taken me several days of pondering to figure out exactly how to describe the expo to someone that hasn't seen it.

There was a saying at the last computer conference I attended which went something like, "no one can tell you what it is like, you just have to attend to see it for yourself."

What can one say about close to 20,000 Linux geeks in one city at one place, with hundreds of exhibitors giving out free swag? Some might call it frightening, but I found it to be liberating. Where else can one simply walk the hallways and hear snippets of conversations on the latest 2.4 pre-test kernel, or whether FreeBSD's TCP/IP stack was still better than Linux's?

I think throughout most of the conference I was in a state of stupor. I didn't say much, but just sat back to listen and observe everything that was happening. My favorite activity was to just cruise through the booths, watching to see which of the booth people were sales droids and which were hackers that got dragged along.

You can spot the hackers, because often they will be sitting away in the corner typing away at a laptop, or tweaking some of the displays. You can talk to the sales-droids all day, and come away with a regurgitated press release, or you can walk up to the hackers and immediately jump into what is really going on with the product.

I had a great deal of fun in the IBM booth talking to some of the "grey-haired" mainframe guys. They gave me the lowdown on their perspective of the reported 41,400 Linux VM images on the S/390. I mentioned that my views of IBM had changed drastically in the past couple of years. They responded that theirs had too, and working with the vibrant Linux community had breathed new life into their work. They said, "this is the type of thing we came to IBM to do, we haven't had this much fun in years!"

While Linux can now scale to a mainframe, many exciting developments are taking place in the embedded arena. I received one demonstration of an embedded app running on the RISC Armstrong chip which is installed on Golf Carts! They put these devices along with a GPS and radio receiver into the carts to provide, maps, customized messages, weather reports, scoring, and more. Since Linux is free, easily modified, stable, and flexible, it makes a perfect OS for non-real-time embedded apps. Of course, there is a real-time Linux kernel, but it isn't in Linus' tree.

Mostly though, LWCE was about the people. I met so many of the people that make Linux and the surrounding community work. Even though many of the notables are now "rich and famous", they haven't lost the spirit that Linux was founded on. You can see businessmen like Bob Young, or Larry Augustin simply walking down the street chatting with passerbys. Linus was cruising the convention floor at one point, though many people didn't even realize it was him. ESR was also making the rounds.

As my hotel roommate Steven Killen (residentgeek from freshmeat) put it, "this is what makes the community so great, at the end of the day Linus is just a guy who wrote a great kernel, you can just walk up to him and chat about it with him."

Ultimately, you know you are at the right place, with the right people when you sit down to throw back a steaming plate of nachos, and you end up chatting with someone from Denmark who works with HP to provide one-shot 100% automated Linux install CDs. Nachos and Linux, like most things, seem to go well together.

My thanks to all the people I met, and everyone I didn't. Hope to catch you all at the next expo!

Matt Michie lives in New Mexico. He maintains a web site at http://daimyo.org.

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