Dustup hits desktop Linux confab

Hewlett-Packard and others pull out of a Linux conference after sponsor Lindows bumps open-source advocate Bruce Perens out of the keynote speech slot in favor of its chief executive.

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Hewlett-Packard and other participants have withdrawn from a February conference on the use of Linux on desktop computers, casting a shadow on the show's debut.

At the root of the spat are objections to the main sponsor's prominence in the Desktop Linux Summit. News site DesktopLinux.com had been a sponsor, and open-source advocate Bruce Perens was scheduled to deliver the show's opening keynote speech. But both pulled out after the conference's sponsor and organizer Lindows decided its chief executive, Michael Robertson, would give the first talk.

"DesktopLinux.com is withdrawing our support for the Desktop Linux Summit," said publisher Rick Lehrbaum in a posting Thursday, objecting to Lindows' decision to change the event agenda without consulting the show advisory board. "Lindows.com is certainly within their rights to host a conference on any subject whatsoever, but DesktopLinux.com is committed to the principle of vendor neutrality in its editorial content and initiatives, and our continued support for the conference as its major media sponsor would constitute a violation of the trust that the community places in our objectivity."

An HP representative confirmed Friday that the company had withdrawn from the conference. Sun Microsystems, another big-name exhibitor, appeared on an earlier exhibitor list, but its name isn't on the current lineup. A Sun representative couldn't immediately confirm that it had withdrawn.

Robertson was unrepentant, saying he wasn't obliged to follow the advisory board's recommendations.

"Lindows.com is paying to put on this conference, and like any conference planner, we ultimately have the obligation to make the choices to insure the success of the conference," he said in an e-mail interview. "The Desktop Linux Summit is heavily consumer-focused, which not everyone agrees with, but it is what will make this conference very unique. It's not about the politics or the philosophy, but about affordable Linux products available to consumers today."

"Every company in attendance wants to talk about their products or services to advance their agenda, so I'm not sure Lindows.com is different in that regard than any company or organization in attendance," Robertson added.

Intel, EarthLink and Epson have joined as participants, Robertson said.

Intel was approached Thursday to participate in the conference and plans to send a representative from its wireless networking group, said spokesman Scott McLaughlin. The company is not a sponsor, he added.

The news comes on the eve of another show, the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in New York. At that event, larger Linux companies such as SuSE are expected to announce their own versions of Linux for desktop PCs.

Lindows sells a version of Linux designed for average computer users. Robertson, the founder of MP3.com, also has funded a $200,000 prize for any programmer who gets Linux working on Microsoft's Xbox game console.

Perens, whose influence reaches widely into the computing industry, said he's told Robertson he's no longer attending. Lindows' founding and funding status gives it a say in how the show runs, but "they just haven't figured out how to share the toys and play with others. It's a power grab," Perens said in an interview.

Lindows spokeswoman Cheryl Schwartzman said the company wanted to concentrate on desktop Linux for customers who'll use it, not for programmers who'll develop it. "If you want to talk about the Linux kernel, this is not the conference for you," she said.

Lindows spent about $100,000 organizing and catering the conference, she added. The company expects a sold-out show with 600 attendees.

The show is scheduled for Feb. 20 and 21 in San Diego, where Lindows is headquartered. On Friday, the list of exhibitors included desktop Linux software companies such as Xandros, Ximian, theKompany, SuSE, StepUp Computing and Lycoris.