LinuxWorld Preview: Mobility Mavens, Mock Elections and Robot Cars

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. -- We all know that Linux, the free and open-source operating system once the very icon of counterculture computing, is now solidly a mainstream technology running servers in every major industry and spinning hard drives for a burgeoning fleet of corporate desktops. But Linux hasn't lost its edge cred; Stanford is using it to run robot cars.

Sebastian Thrun, director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab and Leader of the Stanford University Racing Team, is set to kick off the annual LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, this afternoon here in San Francisco by introducing the attending penguinistas to Linux in the world of robotic cars. Thrun is set to talk about the Linux operating system in the context of "machine perception, computer vision, machine learning, and probabilistic computation," all of which played "major roles" in the design of the systems of the Stanford Racing Team's robotic car, Junior.

Junior will be on display on the show floor, promises Melinda Kendall, vice president and general manager of LinuxWorld. Though Junior came in second place in last year's Defense Department robot car competition (he got caught in traffic), he's the star of the conference because he's running on Linux, Kendall said.

The conference keynote roster includes a range of presentations, from the staid (Jeffrey Birnbaum, managing director and chief technology architect at Merrill Lynch, on "Stateless Computing") to the downright sexy (Kevin Clark, director of IT Operations at Lucasfilm, on "The Magic Behind the Screens"). Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of Open Source and Standards, will be on hand to talk about Big Blue's Linux and open source strategy in the next decade. And representatives from Oracle, Citrix and Cisco Systems will be there to put their company's tech into a Linux context.

LinuxWorld is one of the planet's largest open-source events. The organizers are expecting about 7,500 attendees at this year's conference, which is roughly the same as last year.

"We are the umbrella event," Kendall said. "We bring together all the communities, from the developers to the sys admins, the open-source projects to commercial vendors. We want to be the one place where everyone comes to meet like-minded people and learn something new, and maybe get beyond the world they're used to working in."

New this year is a conference within a conference focused on mobility. The inaugural Mobile Linux Conference drew some of the largest exhibitors on the conference, Kendall said, including Trolltech, Wind River, Access -- each of which is also sponsoring its own conference track. Both Motorola and Nokia are also "heavily involved" in the event, though they're not exhibiting.

The overall mobile Linux track will offer developers views into the technical capabilities of mobile Linux, as well as strategies for creating and customizing mobile system software and building apps on Linux-based mobile phones. Look also for sessions on technical and market challenges facing Linux deployment in mobile environments.

Even the venerable Golden Penguin Bowl will be reflecting the mobility focus; the theme of this year's competition is "mobile versus stationary." The perennial conference fav is moderated again this year by the inimitable Jeremy Allison, co-creator of Samba. Two three-person teams (traditionally "The Geeks" and "The Nerds") will match wits in this "battle for who can recall the most inane trivia regarding sci-fi, high-tech, Linux and all things geek."

So-called green tech will also be a part of this year's show. On Wednesday, a panel discussion entitled "Green is Still the Color of Money" will include AMD's Andy Rawson, Intel's John Wallerich and IBM's Rich Lechner.

Later that same day, Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, will moderate a panel discussing "major Linux milestones in business and on the desktop that have resulted from this mass community effort." This intriguing panel includes speakers representing servers, mobile, and desktop: James Bottomley, key Linux kernel sub-system maintainer and chair of the Linux Foundation's Technical Advisory Board; Christy Wyatt, vice president of the Ecosystem and Market Development group for Motorola's Mobile Devices business; and David Liu, founder, gOS (maker of the Ubuntu-based "Good OS").

Some of this year's presentations are aimed sparely at management, Kendall said. "We started a couple of years ago featuring CIO's as keynote speakers," she said, "because what our executive attendees most want to hear is from each other." To satisfy the C-level seats, the conference features two case studies: One is the Birnbaum presentation; the other will be presented by McKesson's executive vice president and CIO Randall Spratt, on Linux in healthcare environments. "Both are talking about Linux and how it fits into a next-generation data center," Kendal said.

Attendees will also find a new feature in the exhibit hall: The Linux Garage, which is a forum for the creators of innovative devices that employ Linux as an embedded OS. Conference organizers call it "a themed area of the show floor that pays homage to the tinkering spirit inside every successful Linux developer."

Also, the nonprofit Open Voting Consortium is scheduled to demo an open-source voting system via a mock presidential election. All of the 2008 candidates will be on the ballot (including Bob Bar and Ralph Nader). Attendees will also be invited to use the machines to cast their vote for the People's Choice in the Product Excellence Awards.

Lots of vendors are planning announcements at this year's show. Some are keeping their news under wraps until Tuesday (IBM has scheduled a big press conference for that day), but others have already put the word out. Look product news from these vendors, among many others:

  • Hewlett-Packard is expected to unveil expanded support for its Serviceguard for Linux product, as well as OpenLDAP, the open-source directory. New Serviceguard support will include high-availability clustering and disaster tolerance features under Novell SUSE Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Linux using Xen virtualization, the company said. OpenLDAP will be supported the HP Strategy Workshop and Migration Assessment Services division.
  • Alfresco is launching a new community release of Alfresco Labs 3 and announcing a partnership with Ubuntu at this week's show. Alfresco Labs 3 is designed to let companies use SharePoint in Linux and Java environments (as well as Windows and .NET). Also, Canonical, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu, plans offer Alfresco Labs 3 as part of its partner repository within a pre-built software download.
  • Hyperic, the open-source Web infrastructure management provider, plans to take the wraps of Hyperic HQ of the XenServer. The company is billing this system as "the first enterprise-class management and monitoring software for Citrix XenServer."
  • Movial will unveil plans to open source its Browser D-Bus Bridge technology, which is designed to enable Web developers to create UI's that "transform Web widgets into seamless, user-driven mobile applications." Movial made the announcement just as it joined the LiMo Foundation, the global consortium of open-source mobility vendors.
  • Disaster recovery company InMage Systems is showing off its flagship DR-Scout software at the show. Based on continuous data protection (CDP) technology, DR-Scout supports the latest distribution versions of Red Hat, SUSE, Oracle Unbreakable Linux and Debian, the company said. It also supports Xen.
  • The non-profit Literacy Bridge will be displaying its Talking Book Device, a low-cost, Linux-based digital audio player and recorder for people in the developing world.
  • BakBone will be demoing the free-use edition of its flagship data protection product, NetVault:Backup. The company bills it as "the industry's first commercially-developed data protection solution provided as a free-use license worldwide." The free-use edition is available via Red Hat's Compatible Software Catalog.
  • Lingora is boasting the largest booth on the exhibit floor (400 square feet), from which it plans to "unveil its ambitions on the international arena." The French company, which maintains the OBM messaging and collaboration platform, is also celebrating the opening of its first U.S. offices in San Francisco.
  • Cloud computing and utility services company 3Tera is set to show of its AppLogic grid operating system. Designed to enable "the first true utility computing services," AppLogic converts commodity servers into "scalable grids on which users can visually operate, deploy, and scale transactional Web applications without any modification of code," the company said.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].