LinuxWorld Expo London 2006

The powers that be at Free Software Magazine decided to be a media sponsor of LinuxWorld Expo UK at Olympia, London held on the 25th and 26th of October. As I make a habit of going to that expo, and I also write for the magazine when I remember to hand articles in, I was contacted and discovered I was to be handed a “press” badge for the event. So, on the day, I set off early from Cambridge to enjoy the privileges of my new super-status.

I arrived at Olympia on the Wednesday half an hour before the 9.30AM opening time. Sure enough, the words “I am press” got me through the doors early, beating the crowds, and enabled me to wander around when the floor was relatively empty. However, it also allowed the folks from Debian (many also from Cambridge) to volunteer me into helping them set up their stand. Ah well, such are the privileges of rank. That soon was completed and I was once again free to explore the floor.

At these events, rather than go into the “set piece” conferences I prefer to wander around the expo itself chewing the fat with the corporate reps and SMEs in the main exhibition and the developers of free software at the “Dot Org” section. I always hope that through doing this I might obtain the latest news and happenings and generally get the low-down from the horses’ mouths themselves.

The DOT ORG village—as busy as ever

One of my first stops was with Oracle, a gold sponsor of the event, where I managed to corner one of the reps. This was Wednesday before the Unbreakable Linux announcement, so I asked the question regarding the possibility of an Oracle distribution of GNU/Linux. The reply I got was “No comment”, when I asked if this was because he did not know or would not tell, he again said “no comment”, though after talking to him he did open up on a hypothetical basis. Oh for the knowledge of retrospect...

The Debian stand—yours truly helped assemble and dismantle the shelves

The Oracle rep did explain that the reason they like GNU/Linux is “supportability” (his word, not mine). He said what often happens is that a customer would purchase an Oracle database, and there would be problems that were often caused by the operating system. Should this be running on a closed operating system it could be a problem. They would be stuck between the ship and the shore in that, being the primary vendor, the customer would consider the problem to be Oracle’s to sort out. And this would leave Oracle dependent on a third party who may not have as strong a motive to provide resources to help. With GNU/Linux, however, Oracle themselves can examine the source code, find out what is wrong, and maybe even fix it themselves. The result being that Oracle can offer and guarantee a higher level of support for their customers, or to use the rep’s words, “provide better supportability”.

The Oracle rep said that Linux is good for them because access to the source code enabled them to “provide better supportability”

The big scoop regarding Oracle happened away from LinuxWorld

I was told that any possible further involvement into GNU/Linux by Oracle, remembering this was the Wednesday before the announcement, would be to further that philosophy and to enable Oracle to have complete control over how their database interacts with the operating system and the hardware. However, now, having seen Larry Ellison’s announcement, it seems to me there are some possible sour grapes regarding Red Hat’s purchase of JBoss that could be a factor. The main push on Oracle’s venture into GNU/Linux is that they are providing support for software obtained from Red Hat’s FTP site cheaper than Red Hat are providing their service for. However, as CentOS provide it even more cheaply than Oracle do (and have been providing it for a number of years), it remains to be seen if Oracle can pull this off.

Talking of CentOS, they were at the expo too. They mentioned that they were looking at ways of providing support and other services for their offering, and have some venture capital to do so. It is worth keeping an eye on them to see what happens here. Unfortunately, I did not talk to anyone from Red Hat, so I don’t know their views on the matter, though I don’t think CentOS worries them too much. I also think they’ll ride out Oracle’s attack on them.

Celebrity spotting—a well known kernel developer

Another gold sponsor was Novell. On their stand they were demonstrating their desktop, SLED—Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop, complete with the obligatory XGL and COMPIZ with the whooshy-wobbly screens and rotating-virtual-cube screen switching. More importantly, in my opinion, Novell has put other work into the desktop to make it more intuitive for the novice user by modifying the top-level menu to include the more commonly used applications and also integrating the Beagle search engine there to make it easier to find, well, anything really. I usually find such vendor offerings of the “desktop for the enterprise” inward looking and bland, but to my surprise I was quite impressed by SLED. I think it has promise.

John “Mad Dog” Hall—unfortunately, he announced he will be retiring soon

I think I found something more interesting about SLED while talking to a sales rep rather than in a demonstration. In short, they are excited about Microsoft Vista. They think Microsoft have shot themselves in the foot bigtime with the “Windows Genuine Advantage” and similar licensing, and that they are leaving a large section of the enterprise market open for someone else (they say Novell) to walk in and mop up. The rep told me he didn’t know of a customer or prospect who wasn’t seriously re-thinking their relationship with Microsoft, and were all considering alternatives. My immediate response to this was that the same thing was said at the launch of Windows XP, and nothing really happened. The rep then explained to me that then the GNU/Linux desktop was not ready, but it was now. Time will tell how this plays out.

The Novell rep said that he knew of no customer or prospect that was not considering alternatives to Microsoft regarding the desktop

SAMBA developer Jeremy Allison on the Novell stand

The platinum sponsor at the event was HP and there the emphasis appeared to be on virtualization, or more specifically running operating system images using Xen. This theme was also shared by other corporates and smaller companies. They were not only talking about using virtual machines in the sense of dividing a large physical machine into a number of smaller logical ones. They were also promoting the use of the technology to spread a number of logical machines dynamically over a number of physical ones. This would enable enterprise implementations to improve the running of server processes by using Xen’s ability to move processes from one machine to another to provide automatic reallocation of processes in the event of a computer failure. Great optimism was placed on this to promote GNU/Linux in situations like data centers.

Great optimism is placed on Linux and the Xen virtualization technology regarding large deployments in situations like data centers

HP’s giant Tux—Novell had one too which someone tried to steal and a chase ensued

On a side note, I was surprised to see Grisoft at the expo with their AVG anti virus package. They were pushing their new offering for Linux, which is an antivirus package for mail servers. They’re apparently planning to give free cut-down products to the community (that is free-as-in-no-price—it’s binary only and closed), while selling their commercial offering on a per mailbox basis. This is a model that has worked well for them in a Microsoft Windows environment, but my suspicions are that they will have difficulty pulling this off in a Linux one. People here tend to prefer open solutions, and Grisoft will have the GPL’d Clam AV as a competitor.

Unsurprisingly, I found that the technicians in the “Dot Org” section are developing closer relationships with businesses. I talked with Gavin Simpson of Simtec, who was sharing a stand with EmDebian, and I asked him about establishing a business based on selling something that is in essence free. He told me that they sell solutions rather than software. His customers don’t care what software the embedded devices use, and GNU/Linux was used because it was the best and most cost effective environment to develop in.

The EmDebian folks and their new toy

Similarly, the representative from EnterpriseDB, who were sharing a stand with PostgreSQL, told me that the support and services model of his company was doing well, and he was increasing his business in a healthy way. Interestingly enough, the Oracle rep claimed not to have heard of PostgreSQL or EnterpriseDB, but promised me he would look into it. I am not really too sure if I believe that.

A couple of companies had employed magicians, no doubt to attract the punters to the store. Now, I have to confess, one of my hobbies is doing magic tricks. Unfortunately, I am not very good, and can almost fool short-sighted people who aren’t wearing glasses when the light is shining in the right direction and they’re not looking too closely. It was only natural though that their performances would pique my interest. After one of them had made things disappear, reappear, change and generally amazed us with the impossible powers mingled with some help from sleight-of-hand, clever patter and misdirection I went up to talk to him. Magicians are really computer geeks, and this one was no exception. But, being the professional he was, it was necessary for him to research the subject he was promoting, and was fascinated about this GNU/Linux software, and wanted to know more about it. I was in luck, it so happened that we were next to the Ubuntu stand, and I reached over and grabbed one of their CDs, and told him to place it into his computer and boot it up, then briefly went into generalities of it being a live CD. Maybe, if he tries it out, he could discover a little magic from his computer...

An internet cafe by BlueLoop—12 workstations powered by 2 PCs, some dual head video cards, some USB hubs and GNU/Linux with X

There were other gimmicky attractions there too, including a giraffe and a mock casino table. Also there was some individuals dressed in grass skirts, pretend tattoos and little else demonstrating Maori “dancing” (note quotes). Every hour or so they would stand in the middle of the corridor and shout the Maori “Hung-a-boong-a” (or whatever it was) while posing in what I believe were supposed to be provocative poses. I am led to understand that their grunts roughly translated into something along the lines of “we are going to get you, rip your guts out and kick your head in then feed your remains to the birds” (I may be mistaken, they may not have been so considerate to the birds). I don’t know which company’s stand they were supposed to be promoting, or if that company got more business because of them, but they were entertaining.

A reason either for going—or staying away

All in all I had a good time at the show. Lonix, the Linux Users Group of London, seem to make it a regular feature here to host a trip down to the pub the evening of the first day, which is a good crack especially if you are staying in a local hotel in order to spend both days at the expo. The second day was considerably quieter than the first, an incident on the London underground nearby could well have contributed to that, but it meant that the Thursday was more laid back and the exhibitors were more accessible.

All sorts attended

The expo came to an end on Thursday at 4.00 pm, and being the helpful and considerate guy I am I helped the Debian crew de-camp. After packing the shelves, table, remaining tee-shirts, computer kit and all else into Steve McIntyre’s car, I joined the Debian crowd in marching to another local pub for a meal and a drink before setting off home.—sponsors of the DOT ORG village

The way of basing a business and making money from free software is not only becoming more understood but is also being practiced more successfully

Every year I go to the LinuxWorld Expo, and this year I found that GNU/Linux is settling further and deeper into the corporate and business world as well as getting more exciting, useful and versatile in the developer’s one. Projects to replace Microsoft closed software with GNU/Linux open equivalents are becoming more common and successful. I also discovered that despite a few exceptions the way of basing a business and making money from free software is not only becoming more understood but is also being practiced more successfully.


This work is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.