The Last Roundup

SAN FRANCISCO (08/31/2000) - The last San Jose LinuxWorld Expo (next year's summer event will be in San Francisco) was memorable for many reasons. In terms of both exhibitors and visitors, it was the largest LWCE to date. On opening day, the IDG people told everyone that the keynotes and feature presentations were being held across the street in order to provide more room than they had last year. I seriously doubt that's the case. The auditorium appeared to have about half the capacity of the room in which Torvalds delivered his keynote last year. A much more likely explanation is that no space was available in the main building.

Ringing the bell for Dell

Michael Dell's keynote was a serious pitch to sell the Linux community on Dell Computer. I would say it fell short of being totally convincing. During his keynote, Dell said that all his company's products were available with Linux preloaded. When he opened the floor up for questions, I asked him about that, mentioning that only selected models were available preloaded the week before the show. He responded by directing me to the Dell Linux pages (see Resources for a link). Well, I've since been back to Dell's site and Linux is still available only on select models. Perhaps Dell meant to say Linux was available across each product line (server, laptop, and desktop) rather than on every product.

Others in the audience, including our own Rawn Shah, asked why Dell products that are preloaded with Linux cost more than equivalent systems that come with Microsoft Windows and Office installed. The suspicion of many was that they were paying for the Microsoft software whether they wanted it -- or even got it -- or not. Dell denied that was the case but never explained why the price is higher with Linux than with Windows, other than to say that prices are driven by cost. Does that mean the support costs are higher for Linux? It would be interesting to know, but we didn't get the answer.

I don't fault Michael Dell for coming to LWCE and trying to sell his computers. Everyone was trying to sell something, even if it was just the notion that free software is a better choice than proprietary. But I'm not convinced he did a good job of selling Dell. Certainly when I read the full page ad Dell ran in the business section of the San Jose Mercury News two days after his keynote, an ad which plainly states "Dell recommends Windows 2000 Professional for business," it triggered rolling echoes of cognitive dissonance.

The real keynote

Later that day in the exhibition hall pressroom, I heard two journalists from describe the press conference unveiling the GNOME Foundation as the real keynote. It certainly drew press attention that day. I wasn't able to even get into the pressroom because it was so crowded.

In the days since GNOME's announcement, I've fluctuated between being glad and sad about the situation. I've used both KDE and GNOME, and with the exception of a single problem with KMail, I've been very happy with KDE. KDE 2.0 promises to take it to another level. For the past month or so, I've been using Helix GNOME and I love it. I think the install and update processes are going to put it and keep it on a lot of desktops.

The problem is that I don't want to see a single desktop environment for Linux. I think having KDE and GNOME competing for users is a win-win-win situation. KDE gets better, GNOME gets better, and all users benefit. And of course, it goes without saying that many Linux users prefer not to use either one. That is the way it should be. There should always be choice. The idea that the GNOME Foundation wants to become the Linux (and Unix) desktop is one that needs rethinking. It also represents another point of contention between Red Hat and SuSE, and thus another opportunity to fragment Linux in bad ways.

Geeks bearing gifts

I met with Tony de la Lama, Michael Swindell, and Simon Thornhill from Inprise/Borland later that day. They briefed me on the announcement that Inprise was adopting IBM's JDK 1.3 for the popular J Builder IDE, touting JDK 1.3's ability to deliver speed to Java client software. De la Lama, vice president and general manager of Inprise's Java Business Unit, explained the move by saying that Inprise felt Sun wasn't supporting Java on Linux as well as IBM has been. Inprise thinks Sun does a great job with Java on Windows and Solaris but feels IBM really gets it when it comes to Java on Linux.

I asked de la Lama, Swindell, and Thornhill if there were still any repercussions from the failed merger attempt with Corel and heard nothing but positives about Inprise's current situation. Naturally, they aren't saying if any other merger talks might be going on -- with IBM, for example -- but they pointed out their company has a lot of money in the bank and certainly doesn't need a merger to stay afloat. I also took advantage of the meeting to ask if Microsoft was still targeting Inprise as a labor pool. They explained that a lawsuit filed against the software giant for just that sort of behavior had been settled out of court. In short, they said the problem no longer existed.

Kylix, the code name for Inprise's port of its C/C++ IDE to Linux, was the next subject of discussion. The name comes from the Greek word for a bowl used to make offerings to the gods. Swindell said he is very confident that the finished product will ship this year. A poll conducted by Borland in July of 1999 reflected tremendous developer community interest in seeing its C/C++ on Linux.

Of course, after the poll showed up on Slashdot, Inprise was able to gauge the interest level firsthand. The company expected perhaps 2,000 responses to the poll, but with the Slashdot effect it received more than 24,000. I cannot remember any other Linux product being as eagerly anticipated as Kylix.

Swindell told me that since late 1998 the Delphi and C Builder Windows development community requested more support for Linux than any other feature. Inprise began to look more closely at the Linux market and found that not only were Windows developers looking for Linux support, Linux developers were looking for Delphi and C Builder. The Slashdot treatment of its internal poll served to underscore that interest.


Kathy Badertscher, LinuxWorld's editor in chief, and I visited with some of Covalent's people, including founder and CTO Randy Terbush, and met the new management team headed by John M. Jack, president and CEO. We talked briefly about Covalent's newest product, a McAfee Virus Security module for Apache. Covalent is also hard at work on three other new offerings: an SNMP plug-in module, a credit card processor plug-in, and an Apache Web server setup tool.

I also got to spend a few minutes with Marco Boerries, Sun VP and general manager of Webtop and application software. He's the man who convinced Sun to place Star Office under the GPL and led the company to membership in the GNOME Foundation. Boerries told me that Sun was drawn to the GNOME platform because of the infrastructure that has been put in place over the past year or two.

On the morning of the last day of LWCE, I spent a very interesting hour with Bob Mitton, AMD's division marketing manager for workstation products, and Sean Cleveland of AMD Public Relations. They described AMD's forthcoming 64-bit processor, code-named Sledgehammer. AMD was not an official part of the show, but it threw a wonderful party at the Fairmont and gave press briefings each day. It's obvious AMD wants to attract Linux hackers to its 64-bit product. While the processor doesn't yet exist, its specifications do, and work on porting tools and applications can begin. It appears to me that AMD has put a lot of effort into easing the shock of transition from 32 to 64 bits. Remember the embarrassment of Windows 95 on Intel's 32-bit Pentium Pro? I don't believe we are going to see similar problems with AMD and any of the major OS players. AMD is out in front to make sure it doesn't run into similar difficulties.

I took the opportunity to ask about SMP for the Athlon. Mitton explained to me that the Athlons are ready to do SMP, but the supporting chipset isn't quite soup. He said AMD expects to have SMP in the marketplace this year. With the improved scalability in the coming 2.4 kernel, SMP could get quite a boost from having another player on the scene.

My favorite moments

The Geek Bowl, featuring host Nicholas Petreley and a wonderful lineup of geeks and nerds to play the game, was the most fun event of the entire week. I also enjoyed the LinuxWorld staff dinner, meeting Mary Jo Foley, getting to shake hands and share a few words with Michael Dell, and having lunch with Leonard and Celeste. I took advantage of my moment with Dell not to press him with another question, but simply to thank him for a personal favor he did for a good friend of mine five or six years ago.

I also enjoyed the chance to visit the booths of two Austin firms that were part of the show: Emperor Systems and Gnumatic. Emperor Systems has been hosting the weekly Austin LUG meetings for the past few months and certainly deserves a big thanks for that. Emperor Systems' set-top box seemed to be drawing a lot of attention as I stood nearby waiting for a chance to say hello. Gnumatic is the creation of Austinite Linas Vepstas. It is all about providing support and enhancements for GnuCash, the GNOME personal finance manager.

The crowning moment came on Thursday as my spiritual adviser/fitness trainer and I were walking back towards the exhibit hall. Miguel de Icaza joined us as we strolled along and observed, "This is Richard [Stallman]'s dream come true: competing on services rather than with proprietary code which locks customers in."

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