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LinuxWorld Expos, past and future

August 23, 1999
Web posted at: 11:34 a.m. EDT (1534 GMT)

by Joe Barr


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(IDG) -- I can tell you right now that I'm too old to go on the circuit as a booth bunny.

I had a great adventure attending the second (in as many quarters) LinuxWorld Expo in San Jose last week. It was exciting. It was informative. It was fun. But it was also exhausting. It was a lucky thing I had my spiritual advisor and fitness trainer with me, otherwise I don't know how I ever would have survived it all.

The excitement actually began to build the week before the show, as the final trimmings were being put in place for the Essential Linux OpenBook Web site (still a closely guarded secret at the time).

First thing Monday morning I exchanged three or four worried phone calls with the IDG audiovisual folks about how we would hook up my Linux laptop to the projector so I could project the grand opening of the OpenBook Web site during the press conference. Personally, I was more worried about getting my laptop connected to the Internet than to the projector -- I've been modem-free for several years now, connecting full-time to the Net via ISDN and my Ascend router.
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I started looking for scripts for PPP dialup connections, then remembered that KDE includes a graphical tool to do just that. It was simply a matter of telling KDE what com port to use and giving it the correct phone number, user ID, and password. Nothing to it! (I did, however, have to put the nameserver's IP address in resolv.conf, otherwise I would have been disconnected.)

My first chore after checking into the hotel Monday evening was to attend a secret dinner with Linuxworld Editorial Director Nick Petreley, the IDG Books people, and other IDG folk from the area. I wanted to impress them all with my professionalism, so I waited until everyone had been seated and introduced themselves before I approached Nick with my brand-new autograph book and asked him to be the first to sign it, which he graciously did. My spiritual adviser and I then passed out little black and white plastic penguins to everyone. The kind you can wind up and watch walk across the table. The penguins broke the ice.

At 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, one of the IDG PR people showed up at my hotel room, projector in hand. We hooked everything up and, praise baud, it worked just fine. We couldn't get into the press room where the news conference would be held until 15 minutes before show time, so we could only hope the phone connection for Internet access would work smoothly when the time came. (It did, to my great relief.)

The press conference itself went smoothly, as well. The announcement of the OpenBook project drew a lot of interesting questions from those on hand. It was a little overwhelming, since it was my first time on the receiving side of such questions, but I did manage to answer one or two. Still, I was relieved when it was all over.

The concept of the OpenBook, that it's to be written by the community, for the community, and will be free for reproduction and redistribution under the terms of its license, is really cool. I'm delighted to be a part of the project.

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking the floor of the exhibit area. It was crowded, with people everywhere. Someone pointed out that the floor area was greatly expanded from the space allotted to the inaugural LinuxWorld Expo six months ago, but I didn't see any space going to waste.

Others said the traffic wasn't as dense as they'd hoped. They must be the type of people who enjoy driving to work during rush hour. If it had been any more crowded, it would have been difficult to walk through the aisles.

My spiritual guide and I were cruising the pavilion area and found ourselves talking to some interesting young people at the Free Software Foundation booth. I asked one of them (Stephen, I think) how he came to be involved with the FSF. He said it was the result of the social engineering he had done to get inside the exhibit area. On Monday evening, he noticed that the FSF was still looking for volunteers to man the booth and signed on, thinking it would be a cool way to give something back to the community while at the same time getting into the show.

You could feel the excitement building as Linus Torvalds's keynote address, scheduled for Tuesday evening, drew near. I didn't see how it would be possible to get the crowd that was lined up for the event into the hall, but they did. The hall was set up to seat 4,500 and there were even some empty seats left once we were all seated.

After the keynote, I returned to the hotel room to file my story. That's when I discovered that the tape I had recorded of Linus's speech and the Q&A period contained nothing but a long, steady hissing sound. But the story went in anyway, albeit a bit shorter than I wanted it to be and without the sprinkling of quotes I had planned to include.

I had to bite my tongue to keep from mentioning the embarrassment IDG caused itself (and Linus) by having him read a page-long, PR-rich, extremely irrelevant introduction to the guy who handed off the $25,000 IDG-Linus Torvalds Award to Richard Stallman.

Story filed, it was party time. We walked a few blocks to the billiards parlor where IDG was hosting its conference gala. Across the street, had organized its own party for and its latest prize,

We chowed down on the buffalo wings and cheese and schmoozed with lots of interesting folk. I've recently learned from my spiritual advisor that it's wrong for grown men to strike small balls with long sticks, so although we walked dangerously close to several pool tables during the party, we never actually played pool. In fact, the trip was already taking its toll on my energy level, so we were back at the hotel by 11 -- long before I was due to turn into a pumpkin.

On Wednesday, my assignment was to cover the Michael Prince (CIO of Burlington Coat) keynote. I introduced myself to Prince before his talk, because he's a client of the firm where I toil as a programmer. That was cool, because in turn he mentioned my firm in his keynote. As soon as that talk was over, I headed back to the hotel room to start writing.

The week before the show, Richard Stallman had sent me two phone numbers at which I could try to reach him during the show. I think it may have been a subconscious fear that made me leave them in Austin instead of bringing them with me. But as fate would have it we found Richard hanging out at the FSF booth later that afternoon, and I quickly found myself doing the interview in spite of my awe.

A Linux show is a natural t-shirt event. Almost everyone with a booth was handing them out. In spite of protests from my fitness trainer, I had brought a t-shirt of my own, my favorite one, as a matter of fact: a vintage Hohocon '93 in classic black and faded white.

It's still my prize tee, faded with age as it is. I had tried to explain to my spiritual guide, while we were lounging in the FSF booth on Tuesday, that if I'd been wearing that shirt when we met Stephen, he would have said "Welcome, my brother!" when we approached.

She didn't buy it at the time, but on Wednesday when I wore it, lo and behold, I was stopped and asked about it right in front of her. "Were you really there, man?" "Yes, yes..." I said, "I bought this shirt from Eric Bloodaxe in the flesh." My brother in black was suitably impressed, and I gave my guide my patented "If I were braver this would be an 'I-told-you-so look' look."

Thursday was my day in the Linuxworld booth. It was fun and I even got a nice-looking long-sleeved Linuxworld shirt out of the deal.

Speaking of shirts, and no offense to my mates at Linuxworld, but the best-of-show t-shirt award went to Linux Journal, hands down. On the front it said geek by nature. On the back, linux by choice. I made a special trip down to the Linux Journal booth to try to score one, but the t-shirts had been completely snapped up. Someone told me the inspiration for it came from t-shirts at a Gay Pride parade in San Francisco. It was definitely the coolest geekwear I saw all week.

At the booth, we had a couple of visitors that really surprised me. Does anyone else out there remember Pick OS? I thought I was having a flashback to the '80s when I saw Pick on an exhibitor's badge. It turns out that Pick has been doing an open source database package since 1994, long before the current wave of DBMS entrants into the Linux market.

Equally shocking was the Amdahl presence at the Expo. I told them about how an Amdahl box showing up in an IBM mainframe shop produced "unpredictable" results. While I was with EDS, we got an Amdahl in our corporate datacenter. It sat side-by-side with a number of IBM boxes. Immediately, the level of service we were getting from IBM went up.

The gentleman from Amdahl countered by telling me about what happened when the university he attended brought in an Amdahl mainframe. Suddenly, he said, IBM began responding to all support calls strictly within the university's four-hour response contract -- exactly three hours and 59 minutes from the time the call was placed.

We ran out of gimme t-shirts before noon at the Linuxworld booth, but the crowd continued to stop by and sign up for subscriptions online all day long. It's great to meet someone who's read your stuff and has something nice to say about it.

An hour or two before 4 p.m., when the show officially closed, I said my good-byes to all the nice folk who had been working the booth with me. I wanted to change back into civilian clothes for one last event.

As the show ended, with the booths literally being disassembled all around me even as attendees and exhibitors continued to crowd the aisles, I headed for the last function I wanted to see. A seven-minute screening of The Linux Movement, an upcoming documentary about Linux by Tuesday Films.

Bruce Fancher and Nicholas Jarecki are Tuesday Films. They had contacted me a couple of weeks before the show about an interview for the documentary, but it was a surprise to run into them at the Expo. The demo reel, only seven minutes long, was a lot like the Expo itself. A fast-paced collage of sound bites, strange looking people, music with a driving beat, and pithy remarks about Linux.

The screening was a success in my mind, because it sparked a lot of comments from the small group in attendance. Would the film be made more international, like Linux? Would it get more serious about free software and Linux than was evident from the glib treatment of the demo? Would the audience be those outside the Linux community or those within? Where would a film like this be shown? Who would show it?

Bruce and Nicholas are doing good work, and it has the chance to become important work as well. If all goes as planned, and sufficient funds are found to continue the work, The Linux Movement will make its debut at the next LinuxWorld Expo in February in New York City. If my energy level has returned to normal by then, I hope to be there to see it.

Joe Barr is a software professional, writer, and self-proclaimed dweeb. He has been working in the industry since 1974 as a programmer, analyst, consultant, and manager. In 1994 he began writing a monthly column called Papa Joe's Dweebspeak Primer in Austin, TX's Tech Connected magazine. The column exists today as an e-zine and newsletter at, which has run on Linux since its inception.

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