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.

Stephen Shankland
Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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6 min read
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

through open-source software. The show will see the release of OpenMFG version 1.2, which includes improvements either developed or sponsored by customers or resellers--a first in an OpenMFG release, the company said.

•  SugarCRM is another company trying to tackle established software giants, in this case in the customer relationship management market. It will announce Sugar Enterprise Edition, described as a higher-end option with features such as the ability to work with the Oracle 9i database and not just the open-source MySQL. It costs $449 per user per year. All SugarCRM versions also will get a design that permits third-party software modules to be added.

•  Start-up EnterpriseDB is expected to release on Tuesday the first version of its open-source database of the same name, built on top of PostgreSQL. It will also detail a three-tier pricing program for its support services, starting at $1,000 per processor per year.

Linux specialists
That's not to say there's no representation from those focused on Linux itself.

Red Hat, the top Linux seller, will detail a "major security initiative," spokeswoman Leigh Day said, discussing how the company will invest resources in coming months and work with partners to address the issue.

Novell, the No. 2 Linux seller that covets Red Hat's position, will detail a plan to revamp one of its two Linux products, trying to spread it as widely as possible and attract outside programming help. The project, called OpenSuse, resembles Red Hat's Fedora.

Another long-time force in the Linux realm also will try to elevate itself: Debian. This version has chiefly been produced in a noncommercial, volunteer effort, but several organizations whose Linux products are derived from Debian are banding together to try to get more critical mass.

The effort is called the Debian Common Core, or DCC, Alliance, said Ian Murdock, founder of Debian and a company called Progeny that seeks to commercialize Debian. DCC will be detailed Tuesday. Debian itself and several variants will be based on the common core to improve compatibility and provide a single contact point for computing companies, he said. The first version of DCC is expected in September.

Server allies bang the drum
Server manufacturers were among the first in the computing industry to endorse Linux, jumping on the bandwagon in 1999. Linux succeeded there for three reasons: It is well adapted to running on the powerful networked machines; Windows hasn't been as popular in that market as on desktop computers; and servers that ran Unix typically required expensive hardware rather than common and inexpensive Intel-based machines.

At the show, Hewlett-Packard plans to announce it's opened four new Linux expertise centers to help software companies support Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Suse Linux Enterprise Server. And though its high-end NonStop servers don't run Linux, HP will announce they now can run more than 200 open-source software packages, including Apache, Samba, Jabber and Zope.

Blade servers are thin systems that slide into a chassis with a shared power supply and network connection. On Monday, IBM plans to announce that New York University has purchased a system with 256 JS20 blade servers, which use IBM's PowerPC 970 processor and in this case run Linux.

IBM also plans to describe a new high-performance technical computing product called Grid and Grow. The product bundle includes a BladeCenter chassis and several blade servers along with grid software and IBM services for assessment, installation, tuning and training. It uses blade servers with Intel Xeon, AMD Opteron or IBM PowerPC processors and has a starting price of $49,000.

Also planned is an announcement from Dell of two new low-end single-processor servers, the PowerEdge 830 and 850, that incorporate a dual-core Pentium chip. The PowerEdge 830 is a tower model with a starting price of $699 that replaces the 800; the 850 is a 1.75-inch thick rack-mounted model that starts at $749 and replaces the PowerEdge 750.

And Dell said it's added support for the MySQL database and the JBoss Java application server, two widely used open-source software packages sold by companies of the same name. Dell is selling support subscriptions to both packages, a significant endorsement for the start-ups.

Linux can be a convenient entree for hardware makers to make their way into the market. Among those announcing products at the show are Penguin Computing, Pogo Linux and Supermicro.

Another is start-up Bivio Networks, which sells a system that's based on Freescale Semiconductor's PowerPC processors, runs Linux and is equipped with special-purpose hardware to accelerate network traffic. The start-up's products are used as a foundation for network tasks such as monitoring network security or optimizing how information is sent over wide-area networks, said Paul Liesenberg, vice-president of marketing and product planning.

Bivio's products are typically used as a foundation for other companies' products, but the current offering, the Bivio 2000, is used in devices costing $60,000 and up. The company will introduce the Bivio 500, sold at $9,000 to $10,500 for use in devices that retail for about $20,000, Liesenberg said.

Showing up at LinuxWorld is important for the company, which hopes to become profitable in 2006, and should allow it to get close to application developers, Liesenberg said. "Linux has become a vehicle for many different fields, especially networking," he said. "I expect to find quite a few Linux developers working on such applications."