Monday, December 12, 2005
Linux World Expo
San Jose Convention Center
Report by Talin
I got there a little late, just in time to see the tail end of the Corel keynote. There was a demo of Quattro Pro running in the WINE environment. WINE (Which stands for "WINE Is Not an Emulator") is a program which allows you to run Windows applications under Linux. Corel has been contributing substantial resources to the WINE project, on the theory that this will be the easiest way to get their applications ported. I have to say that the result looked pretty good, or at least it wasnt obviously slow.
One piece of big news is that Corel is going to be doing their own Linux distribution, called "Corel Desktop Linux". This will be a Linux targeted specifically at desktop users, with an easy installation, a full suite of Corel office applications, and integration with Microsoft networking.
Right after that came a keynote speech from one of the Senior VPs of Oracle computing. The first part of the talk was the typical Oracle agitprop about centralizing everything onto a large server, away from the "client server" architecture "popularized by Microsoft". Methinks were skipping over a little bit of history here. However, once we got past all that, it got real interesting.
Oracle 8i is their new "database for the Internet". It contains a complete Java virtual machineyou do all of your database procedures in Java, and you can in fact write your entire application in Java inside the database itself. The server knows how to talk HTTP, FTP, SMTP, and all of the other popular protocols, so it can act as a web server, FTP server, and can even send email messages. It understands all of the popular file formats, so that you can stuff all of your web pages, images, real-audio streams, MPEG movies, and other media content into the database and have it serve these up to end users. You can tweak the security as you like, and of course since its an Oracle database it can back itself up while its running, which according to the Oracle flack, the MS databases cant do (he claims that Barnes and Noble, which is running an MS database, has never backed up their site.)
One really impressive feature was the fact that the database could be mounted as a network filesystem. So putting all of that "internet content" into the database is incredibly simple, you just drag the data to the "O:" drive. Also, the database knows how to convert between types, so that if you want to view a document as a Word file, you see it as a Word file, and if youre using a Browser, you see it as an HTML document. Pretty powerful stuff, I was impressed. Had it been available today, I would have recommended strongly to my employers that they consider moving to this platform.
According to the speaker, this will be available for Linux in about a month, and developers can get a development version of the server for free. He stated that they have over 100 developers working on Linux, and that Oracle recently did a survey and counted over 1400 Linux servers at their company.
Unfortunately, the people at the Oracle booth werent quite up to speed on all of the technical details of their own product. I had a bunch of questions prepared: "How about version control for Java development? Theres eight people working on our application, how do we keep them from stepping all over each other? Does your server support Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)? Can we get a Verisign global ID for your server?" Unfortunately, no one at the booth was able to answer any of my questions.
There were a number of "major" companies there. Some of the booths were selling the same old legacy unix applications they always had. Sun and SCO were both showing how they could run unmodified Linux binaries there was a demo of Quake running on a Solaris box, for example. (Personally, I dont see how companies like SCO can thrive in the new environment unless they radically change their business model. Otherwise...can you say "deer caught in the headlights?" At least Sun is diversified.)
More interesting was the Hewlett Packard, IBM and Compaq booths. HP was touting their newly-announced commitment to open-source development. IBM was doing its usual pitch, a combination of first-class hand-holding and hardware sales, only this time with a Linux twist. IBM has been doing a lot of really cool open-source work in Java (seehttp://www.alphaworks.ibm.com). I took a picture of an IBM Netfinity server (a 6 tall black rack mount cabinet) running Red Hat.
The Compaq booth also had a bunch of high-end hardware running Linux, in this case it was mostly Alpha boxes. Im not surprised that Compaq is pushing the Alpha stuff at a Linux show, since its about the only major OS that runs on Alphas anymore.
Another set of booths belonged to the "Linux support companies", the most notable being Linux Care (http://www.linuxcare.com/). This is a relatively new but seemingly well-funded startup that does Linux support contracts. They have four different levels of service, ranging from email and phone "incidents" during regular business hours, all the way up to a dedicated engineer, 24x7 service, and on-site maintenance.
Also showing at the Linux Care booth was what I consider to be the most impressive product at the show, a little thing called VMWare (http://www.vmware.com/) that allows you to run multiple operating systems at the same time. They showed a system that was running Red Hat Linux, Caldera Linux, and Microsoft Windows all at the same time! Apparently, this little gadget virtualizes all of the hardware (theyre still working on SCSI support, and 3D cards arent supported either). You switch between OSs using various combinations of modifier keys and function keys.
There were of course a number of booths for the various distributions:
Red Hat, Caldera, Turbo Linux, Debian, Slackware, and S.u.S.E.
There was a booth for the Free Software foundation tucked off in the corner, with Richard Stallman in attendance, sending the "evil eye" and other emanations of disapproval over the whole proceedings. A crowd of wide-eyed hacker wannabees listened on as Stallman lambasted the whole industry for not adhering to his ideal of freedom, and by being distracted and corrupted by grossly pragmatic goals such as "success" and "profit". Also in attendance was Miguel de Icaza, who is one of the leaders (perhaps the prime developer) of the GNOME project (http://www.gnome.org/), an attempt to bring a "user-friendly", free software (free as in GPL/Copyleft) desktop to Linux. This includes things like file managers, task bars, accessory applications, and all of the other things that Windows users expect. I found Miguel to be a friendly sort, if somewhat rambunctious in his gesticulations.
I spent a little bit of time talking with the people responsible for Slashdot. We discussed the problems with anonymous postings, and what could be done about it. Rob, the creator of Slashdot, doesnt want to anger the existing user base by "taking away" privileges that they already have, so hes limited in what he can do with the existing system. However, we talked about the possibility of a parallel site, one that would be focused more on community issues, where the technology would allow some kinds of community standards to be enforced, those standards being determined by the community itself, of course.
At 6:30 the third keynote of the day was given by Linus Torvalds. The hall was packedand this was a very large hall. One thing that has always impressed about Linus is his humility and lack of ego. As he said in the talk "The internet has more than its share of visionaries. Im not a visionaryto me, a guy standing in the middle of the road looks like roadkill. Im just an engineer who knows what he wants, but even more I know how I want to get there." I dont think that the Linux community could have picked a better person to elevate to the status of sainthood; had it been me, I would have found the temptation to exploit my status and my popularity irresistible. "I didnt write Linux for any lofty philosophical ideals, I wrote it because I enjoyed doing it." At the same time, he said that "its good to have some morals" when creating a new technology such as an operating system.
Linus also mentioned that hes happy that a lot of people are still using the 2.0 version of Linux, which at this point is over two and a half years old. He doesnt believe that people should be forced to be on a continuous upgrade treadmill. The fact they they have an old OS, but can still run all of the applications they need is something that he considers a success.
BTW, you can get RealAudio versions of all of the keynotes on Slashdot (http://www.slashdot.org).
Talin (Talin@ACM.org) Talins third law:
http://www.sylvantech.com/~talin "Politeness doesnt scale."
[The following pictures were sent to me uncaptioned, and I include them as sent; the photo titles are generally self explanatory. JEP]