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Greetings everyone and welcome again to the world of The Answer Gang. It's been quite hectic for me and not all fun and games... among other things, I was ill last month around submission time and that meant that the TAG column wasn't submitted at all, as I missed the deadline, feeling a little too "dead" at the time. Oh well, I guess we all need a break now and then...
Thomas Adam valiantly threw a hand in to help out, and I have to admit he did more than half the work this time around. He says he's learning an awful lot about perl, too.
The peeve of this month is without a doubt a lack of information and extremely poor descriptions in the compositions of the e-mails sent in to TAG. As a positive note, there have been a record number of hits to:
Please, everyone - if you're thinking about asking a question, read that, and ask us what you need as clearly as you can. We understand it is difficult for those who do not speak English very well, but that's rarely been a problem - folks who are so carefully aware of their poor language skills also take a free moment, and only ask what they need to ask, and say what they've tried so far. The point is, if you can't be bothered to ask a clear question, there's far too many messages for us to try to detangle yours.
Regular and attentive readers will note some of the messy messages we have answered. Yes, there's been worse. With a question such as
d00z, cn u h3lp me
... maybe you'll get some chuckles, but you sure won't get an answer. The same goes for you students out there with a take home light quiz. We can spot those a handful of kilometers away, give or take a mile. Maybe you should cc: your professor when you ask us the question, and he can give us the passing marks in your class. The point is to learn a few research skills - so for such questions, search google. Search our KnowedgeBase - it's part of what it's here for. Search TLDP.org and freshmeat if the problem is really about Linux.
And now for what I'd really planned to say last month. I attended Linux World Expo, as I do every year here in the Silicon Valley area, with the prospect of meeting again friends in the open source world from all over the place. But this year, I was also taking a step back and a look around at how the trade show world has changed in its view of Linux. Now I get to write this with the additional perspective of having been invited to PC Expo - a more generic computer trade show.
I can't comment on the view from the press room since all that's in there is pamphlets, a couple of spare computers, and coffee. Maybe a sandwich tray. The seminars are still seminars and the halls still suck your cellphone dry.
However, out in the exhibit hall, the world has changed a lot.
My first Linux World Expo was in San Jose. IDG had just taken over the project from a local group who wanted to create a Linux conference on the same order as regional conventions run for and by science fiction fans. IDG is a big player who runs a lot of trade shows. They invited big names and posted sponsor banners and the whole nine yards. Jim Dennis (our very own Answer Guy) was invited to speak about security for a half day class, and if the next speaker hadn't shown up, the audience would have kept them from cleaning the room so Jim could continue to talk. The hall was filled with a bunch of booths, many of them small companies, but a few names like Intel spring to mind. I recognized about half the listed speakers by face and about a third of them total would surely recognize me back. Geeks were everywhere, confused managerial and business types were too. T-shirts were plentiful.
They also made quite a splash by having a platinum sponsor pay for a bunch of floor space outright and donate it to be used as a Dot Org pavilion, where projects and linux user groups could have small kiosks and generally have a good time. Dot Org was much better laid out the second time I saw it.
As shows pressed on, toys were on the increase, but shirts amd CDs with products on them were certainly around, too. we saw an increase of booths and as more "generic" presence grew the amount of total IQ in the booths could be seen to be being split evenly, because individually talking to vendors, it was definitely going down. Toys were getting insanely cool - drawings for VW Bugs and motorcycles. I volunteered for the FSF booth. I helped out the Gnome guys. When I worked at Tuxtops I went to both LWE/SF and LWE/NY in that year and had a great time at both places. But Dot Org was becoming a ghetto with hardly any color and the main floor felt increasingly like any other computer show. Something was about to break down.
And it did. A lot of companies had picked up starter capital on the magic of the word Linux. Heck, some of them even were trying to be Linux companies. But VC enthusiasm is no excuse for a poor business plan and when something in the economy turned sour - I'm not sure what, but we'll start at asian money difficulties and work our way up from there - anyone who did not have their hand tightly on the finances watched it all start to head down the drain at tornado speed, and the VCs clamp down their pocketbooks. No more toys. T-shirts only if you sit through the spiel. (Booths that still had IQ points left around would also give them to people who seemed genuinely interested in their products, which if you ask me, is the way it should have always been.) More feet hurt because companies watching their dimes only used a single layer of carpet and not the nice padded layer under it which you can pay extra for. Lots of pamphlets though.
I'm pleased to say that I'm seeing winter's end. There are still insipidly blank faces to be foudn at some booths. And there are what I'll call the "barely Linux" booths - hardware vendors selling server racks, RAID arrays, GPS, scanning printers, and other weird peripherals. But Linux products are getting their own booths and that means they're affording them, I hope. The flavors of products are spreading around, and that's part of why it feels like a normal trade show to me - financial, games, diet plan calculators. Backup programs optimized for Linux, like Storix, are not only around but have competitors. All those things I'd see at a Windows oriented show, I'm seeing.
The Dot Org space still looks plain but it's not hiding so much anymore. There are a lot more projects than there used to be and projects were sharing booths - I recommend a little more platinum get spilled on this next time. It's rather cool to see MBNA America (a large VISA card vendor) hanging out in Dot Org plugging their LinuxFund card. They give away big beach towels if you can sign up for a card.
It's hilarious to see Microsoft booths in "the rookery" as if they're newly born open sourcerors. "Well we do let WinCE developers see some sources." Really? Can they compile Windows from scratch and pour it onto a handheld, then run WinCE office binaries out of the OEM private packages to test their build? "Um, no. They can look at selected drivers and structures." I see. Well, it's better than nothing
Yes, I like what I'm seeing. The frost is melting off the ground and not every seed has sprouted again - but things are getting good.
Over at the more ordinary trade show, PC Expo - for the second year running they had a "Linux Boot Camp" track. For the first year running it's calling itself "TechX>NY" instead and I wonder if they are thinking that the PC is on its way out as the only platform to run desktops or servers. Last year "the Linux track" was one lonely guy presenting nonstop between water cups and snack breaks. This year they invited LPI, Novell (well okay Ximian, and maybe they invited themselves since they're a sponsor for the show), and a few of the Answer Gang. Maybe in a few years they'll have the brass of various "Big Linux" companies knocking down their door trying to be on the speaker's list. I'm advised that our presentations were very well recieved, indeed.
On the show floor itself there was only a little of Linux. Local computing groups knew about it and chatted merrily. Product vendors knew what it was and generally whether they supported it or hadn't tested. I didn't really get "We don't support that! Our customers don't ask for that kind of stuff!" flamage which I'd been seeing a few years ago - in fact quite the opposite, one vendor told me that he'd had requests for support and they were working on it, and he kind of hoped for BSD support too, if it wasn't too hard, though it wasn't on the official roadmap. Outsourcing World (sic) mostly didn't know or care what "A Linux" was though there were a few "outsourced programming" firms I didn't think much of. Okay, the computing sector overall may still be heading downhill in places. But Linux is indeed, looking up.