LinuxWorld outgrows original outfit

The confab's not just for Linux anymore. The show draws a desirable audience, and the agenda now includes many related products.

LinuxWorld isn't just for Linux anymore.

In the early days of the show, the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo was about basics such as the arrival of IBM support. Each show featured a technical speech by founder and leader Linus Torvalds.

Now, for many, Linux isn't even on center stage at a show that's expected to attract more than 11,000 attendees and 200 exhibitors to San Francisco. Instead, the open-source operating system acts as a draw for a certain desirable audience.


What's new:
LinuxWorld will have its share of Linux news, but these days, much of the action there is with companies with different open-source software or with products that that work in conjunction with Linux.

Bottom line:
As Linux has become a broadly accepted element of the computing industry, LinuxWorld has become a more general show not just for the OS but for many related products.

More stories on Linux

"People adopting Linux are early adopters," said Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing officer of start-up and show exhibitor Virtual Iron. "As we look at early adopters of Linux, they are consistent with early adopters of almost any technology," and those are the customers he wants to find, too.

In recent years, Linux has grown from a hobbyist project chiefly of academic interest to a major force to be reckoned with. It's endorsed or supported by most computing companies, and the operating system and its open-source philosophy now touch many parts of the information technology industry.

Even foe Microsoft is involved in Linux in its own way. At the conference, Bill Hilf, who runs a Microsoft lab chock-full of Linux computers, will describe what he's learned while making his machines get along with his employer's Windows infrastructure.

He said he's speaking on the subject because many customers have said they'd like to learn how to face Linux-Windows interoperability challenges. In effect, Microsoft has recognized that it's in the company's interest to help the two realms come together.

Indeed, from 2003 to 2004, Linux server sales grew 44 percent to $4.25 billion, out of an overall market of $46.2 billion, IDC analyst Jean Bozman said. By 2009, Linux server revenue should reach $9.3 billion, out of $60.8 billion in total.

Against the flow
The breadth of Linux's influence has pushed LinuxWorld in the opposite direction to typical computing trade shows today. Many in the expo business narrowed their focus, as general-purpose shows such as Comdex and CeBit America became casualties of a financially strapped trade show environment.

"I almost think the industry wants or needs at some subliminal level a general show to be going on at any point in time. It's a good place to congregate and blend the pieces together," said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. "LinuxWorld is almost evolving into that show."

One effect of Linux over the years has been to help establish open-source software, which is built by cooperating programmers who are free to modify, share and redistribute the code without paying anyone. Many companies at the show sell open-source software products.

What's not clear yet is how well open-source software works as a way of making money.

"There's only one open-source pure-play that's making money, and that's Red Hat. A lot of these business models haven't been proven yet," said Nick Sturiale, a general partner at venture capital firm Sevin Rosen Funds. But while the risks are sizeable, so are the potential rewards. "There's definitely a tremendous amount of venture capitalist interest in open-source deals," he added.

Among open-source start-ups at the show:

•  OpenMFG is building the accounting and inventory management software that companies use to run their businesses. It competes with major rivals such as SAP and Oracle but hopes to gain an edge

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