LinuxWorld Roundup

The West Coast edition of the biannual LinuxWorld Conference and Expo has come and gone. Here are some observations of my week in San Francisco among the Penguinistas.

Buzzword of the Show: Virtualization.

It was deafening. XenSource gave a keynote. There were sessions on the subject. Just about all the big vendors were talking about their virtualization strategies. And the presentations at the VMware booth were standing room only.

It's not surprising to see virtualization making such a splash at a LinuxWorld show. It wasn't that long ago that VMware , the company that resurrected virtualization from the mainframe graveyard for the x86 platform, began marketing its first products as a means of running Linux on Windows machines.

''A lot of people thought that we were just a Linux tool,'' company co-founder Mendel Rosenblum told me in an earlier interview, ''but we had bigger plans than that.''

Rosenblum, who is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Stanford, co-founded VMware with his wife, Diane Greene, Stanford grad students Edouard Bugnion and Scott Devine, and Berkeley engineer Edward Wang, back in 1998. VMware has a lot of competition these days, as this show demonstrates. But the company is staying ahead, said Jack Lo, VMware's senior director of R&D, with ever-evolving management services based on the increasingly sophisticated demands of its customers.

''Once people start using virtualization,'' Lo said, '' they realize that it's a very powerful technology. If you look at the progression of our products, server consolidation was Generation One. Then people started deploying virtualization onto a lot of different servers, so they needed some way of providing central management. Now our customers are beginning to see virtualization as a rich stack of services. With the third generation (VMware Infrastructure 3) we're saying that you're really looking at a distributed infrastructure based on virtualization, and here's how you can you provide a lot of services in this layer across all of the workloads that you are trying to run.''

Best Keynote Quotes:

Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, author of The Future of Ideas, and chair of the Creative Commons project, referring to his own assessment ten years ago that an operating system couldn't be built without a proprietary interest:

''Today any sane person knows that it is not impossible to build a free OS. It is not just possible, but likely superior, and without the need for centralized control assumed a decade ago... Can we imagine the same transformation at the content layer?'

(Lessig received a standing ovation after his keynote.)

XenSource chief executive Peter Levine, on his company's launch of a certification and interoperability initiative this month:

''In order for this stuff to take off and be ubiquitous, there needs to be a certainty that when something is called Xen, it really is Xen, so people are certain it does what it's supposed to do and contains the components Xen is supposed to have. In the open-source world, that can get a little tricky.''

Levin announced that his company would begin selling its first product, XenEnterprise, next week.

Most Obvious Trend Not Getting Much Press: Customers going to the big, closed-source vendors for open-source advice.

''People aren't coming to the booth this year to find out about the latest thing,'' Christopher Hearn, director of solution marketing at SAP , told me. ''They're coming for advice. They want to know how much they can utilize things they see that are valuable in the marketplace within our platform.''

''They are saying, SAP's business model is not based on open source,'' added Frank Witte, director of SAP's global open source office, ''so we have a trusted advisor, some sort of neutrality in there, somebody with that business focus, who can help us shape [our strategy] as we adapt our IT to the changing business needs and integrate SAP with open source software.''

SAP was migrated to Linux way back in 1999, and the company now has two reference platforms for development: Windows and Linux. So it's not surprising that Hearn and Witte found it difficult to talk about their company's Linux strategy as a distinct activity.

'Openness is key for us,'' Witte said. ''Going forward, we're always looking at what kind of open source is evolving out there and maturing, because we need to ready when our customers come to us and say, how can we use that.''

It's easy to forget how important big vendors can be to the success of an open source project. Where would Eclipse be, for example, without IBM ? Where would Linux be? Big Blue continues to be one of the biggest corporate backers of Linux, with 600 engineers staffing its Linux Technology Center.

The company held a press conference at the show to announce plans to launch eight open-source initiatives, covering areas client-side middleware, development tools, web application servers, data servers, systems management, open hardware architectures, grid computing, and business and technology services.

Happiest Sleep-Deprived Exec: EnterpriseDB's CEO, Andy Astor, upon learning that his company had won the Best Database Solution award from the Linux Journal for the second year in a row.

Astor got the news that his company's PostgreSQL -based Advanced Server product had gotten the nod from the mag while he was in the middle of a presentation. Astor has a hard time sleeping the night before a big presentation (a condition from which I also suffer), and when I caught up with him right afterward, I think the guy was running on adrenaline.

''It [the award] reflects the quality of the database, but also the aggressiveness with which we are improving it,'' Astor said. ''We're constantly adding new capabilities. It also reflects our commitment to the amazing Postgres community.''

EnterpriseDB recently hired Bruce Momjian, co-founder of the PostgreSQL Global Development Group, who has worked on PostgreSQL since 1996, and Simon Riggs, a major PostgreSQL contributor and an authority on PostgreSQL performance.

Astor's company made three announcements at the show: the general availability of EnterpriseDB Advanced Server 8.1 Release 2, the release of EnterpriseDB Replication Server, and the launch of EnterpriseDB Network, a new service that includes real-time notification and delivery of product updates and patches, access to EnterpriseDB online forums, and enhanced product documentation. A week earlier, the company announced that Sun Microsystems would be using EnterpriseDB to provide technical support, services, and training for Sun's PostgreSQL offering in the Solaris 10 operating system.

Most Provocative Statement by an Acknowledged Open Source Thought Leader: Raymond says it's time for some painful compromise.

Eric S. Raymond, author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar (widely considered the open source manifesto), told attendees that the open source community is not moving fast enough to engage non-technical users.

''We need to do whatever ugly, horrible, painful compromises are necessary to get full multimedia screening capability [for the] iPod and things like that running on Linux systems, so that non-technical end users don't dismiss us out of hand,'' Raymond said.

He made the comment twice during a panel discussion that featured VA Software's chairman Larry Augustin (moderator); Jon ''maddog'' Hall, Executive Director of Linux International; Google's open source program manager Chris DiBona; and Intel's Linux and Open Source Strategy exec Dirk Hohndel. The room and the stage got quiet both times he said it.

Most Often Asked Question: Where the hell is Red Hat?

Many of the attendees I spoke with noted with some surprise the absence on the exhibit floor of leading Linux distro Red Hat. Though the company decided not to sponsor a booth at this year's show, Brian Stevens, Red Hat's CTO and VP of engineering, and Pierre Fricke, director of product management of the recently acquired JBoss group, met with reporters about a block away at the St. Regis Hotel.

''We're there, but we're wearing Dell shirts and HP shirts and IBM shirts,'' Stevens said. ''We're participating in the way that makes sense to us right now, which is through our partners. It just didn't make sense do a booth this time around. Instead, we've cycled the cash into hiring talent. We're spending the money on people.''

Stevens said that Red Hat is foregoing ''the generic Linux show'' in favor of ''more focused conferences,'' such as its own Red Hat Summit , held earlier this year in Nashville. That show provided ''serious technical content delivered by the engineers, not defined by marketing,'' he said. He also pointed out that IBM, which had a big presence at this year's show, was absent last year.

Both Stevens and Fricke laughed at the conference scuttlebutt that their company was a no-show because Novell , whose large booth was planted right by the exhibit floor entrance, was using the show as a coming out party for its recently released SuSE Linux Enterprise Server and Desktop 10 platforms.

''I've been at every LinuxWorld but one,'' Fricke said. ''It's changed a lot, and some of these other venues just make more sense.''

Which brings me to... Most Often Heard Complaint: This isn't a developer show, it's a marketing show!

Stevens echoed a sentiment that I heard fairly often this year. And I guess it wasn't as geeky a show as I've attended in the past. Still, there were many good sessions, and all of the Linux superstars attended. The exhibit hall with sort of a productier-than-usual, I guess, with lots of demos by non-engineers. Might be the price of success. (Anyone who had this complaint about the show, jump into the comments and say why.)

Evilest follow up Question at a Golden Penguin Bowl: Can you do the iPod dance?

The traditional LinuxWorld trivia game, hosted this year by Novell's Jeremy Allison (who crept onto the stage in slo-mo dressed in an astronaut costume a la 2001: A Space Odyssey), pitted a team from Ubuntu (the ''Nerds'') against a team from Novell (the ''Geeks''). The game drew a respectable crowd for an end-of-the-day event. Allison, one of the core programmers behind the open-source Samba suite, performed his quizmaster duties with wicked glee, referring to the game as ''ritual humiliation,'' and admonishing contestants to ''let the hate flow through you.''

The Nerds (Malcolm Yates, Jorge Castro, and Corey Berger) thrashed the Geeks (Ted Haeger, Erin, Quill, and Jeff Price) soundly at this year's event, but they willingly abandoned their dignity when they donned ''Steve Jobs black turtlenecks'' and writhed on stage to the music from Apple's silhouette TV ad for the Shuffle.

Word to Allison: Dude, that was depraved.

Most Startling (Literally) Feat of Engineering: That eight-foot-tall inflated Penguin with the guy in it.

How'd they do that? I was standing right next to it at the foot of those mile-long escalators just outside the exhibit hall, thinking it was a display, when the freakin' thing suddenly nudged me, flapped its wings, and did a little dance. Scared the sushi out of me, to the great amusement of about 50 attendees coming down the stairs. I'd love to see how that costume works—and to get my hands on the comedian inside it. ###