Originally Published: Wednesday, 22 December 1999 Author: Jeff Alami
Published to: columnists/Jeff Alami Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The Bazaar

We hit 12th Avenue and still no Javits Center. In a normal city, you'd expect a gigantic building such as the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, New York to be easily visible. Walking in the rain, and having made our way to the Hudson River without a convention center in sight, our crew was a little less enthusiastic about my navigation skills. "Jeff Must Die." OK, I get the point....

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We hit 12th Avenue and still no Javits Center. In a normal city, you'd expect a gigantic building such as the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, New York to be easily visible. Walking in the rain, and having made our way to the Hudson River without a convention center in sight, our crew was a little less enthusiastic about my navigation skills. "Jeff Must Die." OK, I get the point.

It turns out that the Javits Center is on 11th Avenue, so we were quite close. For Javits Center was the location of the latest Linux and Free Software convention: The Bazaar. The Bazaar was held from December 14-16. It was a rather small event with regards to its exhibition floor -- let's just say it's been a while since I've seen such a small Red Hat booth, anywhere.

The Bazaar had a different feel than some recent Linux events such as November's Linux Business Expo in Las Vegas, the site of Comdex/Fall. The Bazaar had a more comfortable and non-commercial feel to it. However, the show didn't seem to attract nearly as many guests to make the trouble worthwhile for some of its exhibitors. Let's hope this improves in the next Bazaar.

We were placed in the community area, sponsored by Andover.Net. Rather than being in some lonely corner, the community area was front and centre, showcasing the work of groups such as the free BSD's (FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD), Debian, Stampede, and others. The largest booths were home to EarthWeb, IBM, and Copyleft.

The Bazaar's parties lived up to the expectations of a Linux convention. Tuesday night was privy to the GNU's private party at the Cooler, a local bar in lower Manhattan. Wednesday came with a double whammy: Andover.Net's party on the exhibit floor, and IBM's private reservation of the FAO Schwartz toy store on Fifth Avenue.

Some of the many bright spots of the event were the keynote presentations. Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, Red Hat's Bob Young, the (in)famous consumer watchdog Ralph Nader, Michael Cowpland of Corel, and other well-known figures took the stage throughout the 3-day event.

Richard Stallman never ceases to make his arguments convincing. He was good-natured, much like his visit to Vancouver in October. In fact, even his content was quite familiar to anyone who heard RMS speak in Vancouver. First, he went through the history of the GNU project.

The history of GNU started with the story of the Xerox laser printer, and how the lack of source for its drivers made it impossible to make modifications. For you see, printers were far more unreliable and slow at that time, and RMS and his MIT hackers had ways to make their printing system smarter. Adding insult to injury was the fact that RMS found out that Carnegie Mellon University had access to the source code, but they wouldn't give it to him because of a non-disclosure agreement.

He also discussed the need for generally useful technical information to be freely available. Thus, source code for a computer program that serves a generally useful purpose should be freely available to all. What was happening at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, though, was an increasing amount of proprietary software. "My community was destroyed by a series of calamities," he puts it. MIT's venerable PDP-10 was discontinued, and new systems required non-free software to operate.

He talks about his choices at the time: to accept these changes, and neglect his hacker roots; to fight it somehow; or, as a last resort (and one that programmers hardly ever consider), end his hacker career. He said he would make a good waiter for a restaurant.

Anyway, he decided to fight the propagation of non-free software on his community. The GNU project was born, and the rest is well, history.

Of course, none of this mattered to Trae, our fearless Linux.com site manager. He was grappling with the fact that RMS called the X Window System "X Windows" on two occasions during the keynote. Someday he'll be wearing a t-shirt that says "man X."

Jeff Alami (jeff@linux.com) admits it: he has no real life. When he's not working as the Editor-in-Chief of Linux.com, he's either sleeping or eating. Come to think of it, he doesn't spend much time sleeping or eating anyway.





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