The recent explosion of Linux-based companies into the public spotlight has triggered an amazing wave of publicity for everyone's favourite OS. With the demand for information about Linux skyrocketing, Linux trade show passes have become hot tickets to "insider" perspectives on the open source world.
If anyone doubts the interest the business world has taken in anything Linux, take a look at these numbers: Atlanta Linux Showcase 1998 attracted 2030 eggheads. This year it is expected to have 4000 attendees. February's Linux World Conference and Expo in New York drew over 20,000.
With new Linux shows popping up all over the place, how does a cash-strapped geek decide which ones to attend? Location, of course, is a major factor. But with shows happening all over the world, nearly everyone should be able to find one in their neck of the woods. (This article will cover only some United States-based shows... the next installment will cover shows in Canada and the rest of the world.) Money is another variable; depending on the show, full conference passes can cost anywhere between $300 and $2000, but exhibit floor passes are usually free for those attendees who just want to walk around and meet people. Time can also restrict people's visits; most shows operate during the week, so unless your company is sending you, time off from work is a must.
So you've got the time off, the company credit card in hand, and the travel agency on the line. Which show is it going to be? Here are some suggestions.
Atlanta Linux Showcase
October - Atlanta, Georgia, USA
ALS is the original grassroots Linux show. Targeted at developers and community advocates, the small size and friendly atmosphere of the show make it easy to talk to other people who share your interests, even open source notables. Marketing and commercialism are heavily downplayed, and community reigns supreme.
Verdict: Even after the success of larger shows, many people still name this one as their favourite. This was my first show, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. If you have a chance to attend, definitely do so.
COMDEX - Linux Business Expo
Multiple Dates and Locations
Jumping on the Linux bandwagon last fall, ZD Events attached a Linux Business Expo to their 20th Las Vegas COMDEX and was amazed at the response. LBE attracted an amazing amount of people for its first year, many of whom had never heard of Linux. While the community atmosphere was virtually nil -- the .org pavilion was secluded in a back corner of the exhibit hall, for example -- the presence of COMDEX next door allowed exhibitors to reach a huge base of potential customers. The shows take place in Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago, Vancouver, Toronto, Miami, and Mexico, so chances are there's one near you.
Verdict: A marketer's dream, and great for Linux-based companies, but I wouldn't recommend the Las Vegas show to individuals for their first show.
December, New York, New York, USA
In its first year, the Bazaar suffered from a series of scheduling setbacks that had an adverse effect on attendance. Despite this problem, the Bazaar managed to attract a small but dedicated group of advocates and foster a sense of community. The show is virtually marketing-free; the first booth at the door is the .org pavilion, and many of the "big-name" companies enjoyed booth space smaller than the FSF's. The sessions were informative, if sparsely attended.
Verdict: Want a relaxed atmosphere where you can talk to people? The Bazaar's your show.
Linux World Conference and Expo
February, New York, New York, USA / August, San Jose, California, USA
The first East Coast LWCE happened this year in New York, defying expectations about what a Linux show could be. Record numbers of attendees and exhibitors made this the biggest North American Linux show ever, but the commercialism of the event could not mask the good feeling that, finally, Linux has come into its own. The .org pavilion was well attended by exhibitors and conference-goers alike, and the show was a great time for many vendors, like HP and SGI, to announce Linux support and services. Great parties and a fairly open exhibit floor made it easy to mingle with people and discuss the future of Linux. LWCE now happens twice yearly -- the upcoming one is in San Jose, California, in August.
Verdict: A must-attend for anyone in the area. If this is your first show, be prepared to be impressed. If this isn't your first show, be prepared to be impressed anyway.
June, Overland Park, Kansas, USA
"This will be a major technology event," according to Greg Palmer, President of Mobius Marketing and LINUXFest 2000 producer, "LINUXFest 2000 will demonstrate the power of LINUX and Open Source Software for IT and business owners across the US and specifically the heartland of America."
Verdict: The sessions look interesting, and the fact that the show is specifically targeting Linux companies gives it a uniqueness in the trade show industry.
O'Reilly Open Source Software Convention
July, Monterey, California, USA
According to their web site, "The O'Reilly Open Source Convention brings together the leaders of 10 critical open source technologies to give you an inside look at how to configure, optimize, code, and manage these powerful tools. It is a Convention rooted in a single premise -- give people high-quality information so they can solve their problems quickly, efficiently, and elegantly. It is the only convention available that brings together the diverse open source communities and allows you to both go deep in your key technologies and sample other tools to solve problems."
Verdict: Session-heavy, this conference looks to be aimed at developers and people interested in learning more about how this whole Open Source thing works.
Hopefully, this short list has cleared up some of the differences among trade shows, and helped you decide which ones to visit this year. I'll be at several of them myself and hope to see you there!
Jessica Sheffield (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been a trade show junkie ever since ALS 1999. She has since attended three shows and plans another three or four this year.