Dot-Orgs Keep Community Alive at LinuxWorld Expo

With more than 150 commercial Linux vendors at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, including industry heavyweights such as Compaq Computer, IBM, Computer Associates, Red Hat, and Corel, it was easy to overlook the people and organizations that truly make Linux what it is. Many attendees were no doubt taken in by the glitzy marketing blitz, by the magicians, acrobats, and flashy displays. Personally, I went to the Expo to meet the community. I wanted to know what was going on with the people who actually created Linux as we know it today. They are the ones who started developing for Linux on an old 386. They are the people who generally don't get paid a dime to work on their beloved operating system. I wanted to talk to the folks who get their hands dirty with Linux, the ones involved with KDE, GNOME (not Helix or Eazel), and GNU.

The dot-org pavilion was sponsored by VA Linux and included GNU, Perl Monks, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Linux Documentation Project, Stampede, Linux Fund, GNOME, KDE, and others. As a member of the Linux community, I would like to thank VA, who has not forgotten the community -- the very community that made VA possible.

GNU was selling its books and capitalizing as much as it could on Linux's success. I haven't made up my mind on the GNU/Linux vs. Linux debate yet, but I'm leaning towards Linux. It was good to see GNU at the expo, though, because continued exposure for the cause is always a good thing. The only thing I found odd was GNU's distribution of old pamphlets. The information was probably still accurate, but the pamphlets were worn, as if they had sat in a box for two years.

The Perl Monks of seemed more interested in playing their Sega Dreamcast than actually selling their wares or sharing their project. After reviewing their Website, I can see why. The site is great for Perl programmers. It is designed to be a central resource for talking about Perl coding and getting support. Although is worthy, it seemed out of place at a Linux expo.

The Stampede folks were probably the most hacker-like of the bunch; one of its members frequented the Red Hat pavilion with a "F**k Red Hat" T-shirt. Stampede is a written-from-scratch Linux distribution that is optimized for Pentium-class CPUs and features its own package management system. I spoke about Red Hat with the aforementioned Stampede member, who was quite forthcoming about the company's faults. The person said Red Hat had betrayed Linux users by providing a system that was inherently insecure and had a horrible package management system.

GNOME's booth actually seemed a little slow, but that might have been because the crowds were drawn to the Eazel and Helix Code booths. I was curious about what was happening with GNOME; I have tried it several times and have found that it lacks stability and usability in comparison with KDE.

At the GNOME booth, there was a little business card that read, "The leading desktop for Linux." I picked up the card and said, "I can argue this point." I did this with a smile, looking for some technical conversation on why they considered their system to be "leading." Unfortunately, I got defensiveness. This attitude is common among Linux geeks, who can be very passionate about their favorite tools. An actual technical or business perspective would have been refreshing. I hope that as the GNOME project continues to mature, it will provide better arguments based on technical merit. I have seen the Helix Code GNOME and Eazel products, which are both good, and necessary for GNOME to have any viability. Without those two products, companies like Sun would not have supported GNOME.

By contrast, the folks at the KDE booth were helpful. They even logged a bug I found. I probed the KDE members about two things: SSL support in Konqueror and alternate CORBA support. They told me SSL support in Konqueror is shaky, but it's under development and should be stable soon. They added, vaguely, that KDE plans to support all major CORBA implementations. I asked if they could be more specific, but they said they preferred to wait until they had something concrete to demonstrate. I asked what they thought about the backing GNOME was getting --they simply said, "We still have a better product." In my humble opinion, KDE is the best desktop for Linux. It is still the most widely used and shipped. It is flexible and stable. And KDE2 is miles beyond even Helix Code's GNOME. The KDE project was given the LinuxWorld Expo award for best desktop.

The people at the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) booth were very busy. LPI and SAIR are the two largest Linux certification organizations. SAIR appears to have the business momentum, but appearances can be deceiving. Every major Linux distribution except Red Hat backs the nonprofit community-based LPI project. The LPI does things a little differently than traditional certification programs. They do not have instructor certification and do not specify a curriculum. This is foreign to many corporations seeking training, because they have to find their own study materials. This should not hamper the process, though, as there is at least one book available for the LPI, with several more on the way.

When I started using Linux 10 years ago, it was about something different, something new. As I became more involved with the Linux community, I recognized that Linux was about choice. If the LinuxWorld Expo showed me one thing, it is that Linux is about freedom -- a user's freedom to do anything they want to their system, or a business's freedom to make money freely without the constraints of monopolistic vendors.