Live from New York... It's LinuxWorld!

Linux development and implementation is a win-win situation for developers and corporations, argues open source IT's E. Charles Plant.

By Dan Orzech | Posted Feb 10, 2000
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"IBM was not the only company at the show to be going out of its way to demonstrate its commitment to Linux. "
There was plenty of interesting stuff in the keynote speeches at last week's LinuxWorld in New York City. Linus Torvalds for example, talking about the risks -- and yes, the advantages -- of fragmentation of the Linux kernel. Or VA Linux Systems president and CEO Larry Augustin describing the superiority of open source development approaches over traditional software development models.

But the real news was the conference itself. 20,000 people turned out for it, making it much bigger than the last LinuxWorld, which was held just six months ago, in San Jose. "It looks just like a regular trade show," marvelled one attendee, surveying the amount of show-floor real estate taken up by the booths from IBM, Dell, and Sun Microsystems.

And indeed, the computing world's big players were there in full force. IBM, for one, was leaving no doubt about its commitment to Linux. IBM vice president Irving Wladawsky-Berger, newly-appointed head of firm's Linux efforts, was one of the keynote speakers, and the company made a raft of announcements at the show. Visitors to the IBM booth could see Linux running on everything from laptops to an IBM S/390 mainframe. The mainframe port -- completed just two months ago -- has not been generally released yet, but is in the process of being tested by a few IBM customers.

"Trillian is the first time that a broad coalition in the computer industry -- which is marked more often by vicious competition than by a spirit of cooperation - has worked together to develop open source software. "
IBM was also showing off applications, like its ViaVoice voice recognition technology. Speak into a microphone and you could watch your words appear -- more or less accurately -- on the screen of an IBM Linux laptop. Given Linux' small penetration of the desktop market, IBM appears to be aiming the technology at voice-enabling applications in the growing world of "post-PC" portable computing devices, where embedded Linux may soon elbow aside Windows CE.

Other IBM applications for Linux are coming, as well. A Linux version of the Lotus Domino Web server has just begun shipping, IBM's NetObjects TopPage web authoring software is in beta, and the company's Tivoli system administration tools for Linux are on the way.

For many LinuxWorld attendees, however, the real evidence of IBM's commitment to open source is that the company is actively contributing to open source projects. IBM announced at the show that it was opening up the source code to its high-performance journaling file system. It also said that it was providing four engineers to help develop a journaling file system optimized specifically for Linux, using its software along with code from other open source projects such as SGI's XFS and the ReiserFS and Ext2 file systems. A journaling file system keeps a log of changes, so if there is a power outage or system crash, the system can be brought back up quickly. That is a key feature in making Linux a contender in the market for mission-critical applications with strict up-time requirements.

IBM was not the only company at the show to be going out of its way to demonstrate its commitment to Linux. SCO, for example, was also there in force. At LinuxWorld a year ago, "SCO didn't seem terribly interested in Linux," recalled one show-goer. After watching a growing number of VARs and small-business computer consultants switch to Linux from SCO's versions of Unix, the company now appears to be taking Linux seriously. To drive the point home, SCO lined the stage at its press briefing with Ransome Love, CEO of Caldera, TurboLinux head Cliff Miller, and Stefan Wintermeyer, acting chief of SuSE.

The company's big announcement was the availability this Spring of one of its key middleware applications, Tarantella, for Linux. Tarantella, which competes with Citrix' MetaFrame package, gives users on Web browsers access to applications running on Unix, NT, Windows 2000, mainframes, and Linux servers. Because it sits on a separate server between the server and the clients, SCO says, Tarantella lets users suspend their application and pick it up again on a different computer, making it ideal for mobile users.

What's the Buzz?

There was one announcement that seemed to catch the attention of everyone at the show, and it had nothing to do with technology. With great fanfare, VA Linux Systems, flush from its recent IPO, announced that it was buying Andover.net, the publisher of Slashdot.org and Freshmeat.net, for more than $800 million in cash and stock. By linking those two popular Web destinations with VA's Linux.com and SourceForge.net, the acquisition positions VA Linux as an open source portal powerhouse. The show buzzed with talk about the move, as people wondered exactly what VA Linux gained by the move, and if Slashdot's editorial independence would be compromised.

While the deal made for good gossip, few show attendees seemed to consider it as important as the news of the progress made by the Trillian Project in porting Linux to Intel's new 64-bit Itanium chip. The IA-64 Linux source was released during the show, marking the first time that source code is available to the open source community for a pre production architecture. The achievement is all the more remarkable because it was accomplished by a consortium of companies. Trillian is made up of computer-industry heavyweights Intel, IBM, HP and SGI, along with most of the major players in the Linux world: Red Hat, SuSE, Caldera, TurboLinux and VA Linux, along with the Swiss research lab CERN. This is the first time that a broad coalition in the computer industry -- which is marked more often by vicious competition than by a spirit of cooperation - has worked together to develop open source software. Barring major glitches, Linux should be available on the Itanium when the chip is released later this year.

Linux Laptops

There were lots of other things of interest to see at the show -- if one had the time. Laptops running Linux, for example, were sprouting up all over. IBM and Compaq had them in their booths, though they're not for sale from those companies. (Not yet anyway, don't be surprised if IBM, at least, starts offering Linux laptops in the near future). Dell is already selling them, and so is a brand-new company, TuxTops, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., which was showing off three different Linux laptops, with an ultralight model due in a few weeks.

The show's coolest laptops, however, were a pair of thin, sleek silver ones, which were found in the Sybase booth. These mysterious laptops bore no marks identifying who might have manufactured them. That's because inside was not Intel, but the new Linux chip from Transmeta.

Linux on portables may be a bigger market than one might expect. "We hoped for some interest in our systems," says TuxTops CEO Graham Hine, "but we got a ton." TuxTops hopes to grow that interest even further by making it easier to tie Linux portables into existing computing environments. The company is funding the open source Debian "Divine" project, which is a program to auto-configure laptops for different networks. "When you bring your laptop from home to the office," says Hine, "this will let it automatically recognize that you're now on a different network, and know where the local printer is and how to get on the Net."

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