LinuxTag show report
By Nicholas Blachford, 1st August 2003

LinuxTag, Europe's largest Linux show was held from the 10th to the 13th of July 2003 in Karlsruhe Kongresszentrum, Germany. Myself and a colleague (Debian developer Sven Luther) were there for 3 of those days.

The organisers took to the free software philosophy with some enthusiasm, the entrance is free but the downloadable ticket is supplied with LaTex source code! Then again this is the same organisation which, knowing German law didn't allow you to threaten legal action without proof told SCO to put up or shut up, SCO promptly shut up.

LinuxTag is a pretty big show but nothing compared to really big trade shows like IBC or CES. But, none the less it was a pretty good size with something in the region of 150 exhibitors and close to 20,000 visitors.

The Exhibition
Once you'd navigated your way around the bag givers and made it to the hall, the exhibition was a strange mixture of community and business, I think the "where .com meets .org" slogan was quite fitting. There were some big impressive stands from companies like HP, SAP and SuSE, on the other hand there were stands which seemed to consist of nothing more than a bunch of geeks sitting around hacking.

All the big names in the Linux scene were there: Red Hat, Suse, Debian, Gentoo as well as a few smaller distros I don't know such as Rock Linux and Ark Linux.

However other industry players were also there such as IBM, Intel, AMD, Quantum, Segate. Toshiba, Fujitsu/Seimens, Apple, HP and SAP.

Samsung in was showing Contact, their so called "Exchange killer", most Exchange replacements are missing one or other features whereas this has them all but costs less. It's interesting now there is momentum against Microsoft seeing big companies sniffing blood and ganging up against them, especially given Samsung is one of the few companies still using Microsoft's smart phone platform.

AMD were showing Opteron processors in various guises mainly in racks of one sort or another but had a small PC running what appeared to be a simulation of radioactive decay. This machine had a clear side panel and you could see the giant green cooler these CPUs have.

Sun had a stand showing off their wares and beside it a section set up for internet access so you could get and send your email (turned out quite useful). What I'd like to know is who's idea it was to move the backspace key down one on their keyboards, grrr...

HP had a pretty big stand, one one side they were showing their hardware as a normal trade show stand but on the other side was a hacking competition. Some instructions were given on a board and a group of hackers would sit around among the plants doing the task set.

Apple had a stand complete with a few systems, a rack of X-Serves, and their gorgeous LCD screens. Apparently the only G5 in Europe put in an appearance on the Thursday but of course I wasn't there that day to have a look at it :-/

Many of the big Linux Distros were present: SuSE had an impressive along stand which was staffed by themselves and some business partners. This stand in particular seemed to be getting a lot of attention from business people. SuSE is a German company targeting businesses so you'd expect it to have a good showing.

Red Hat
Another company targeting business is RedHat who had a smaller stand staffed by people wearing (oddly enough) red hats. They didn't seem to attract quite the crowd of SuSE or Debian (at least when I was there) but there were always people on the stand.

The Debian stand seemed to be one of the most popular stands constantly getting a crowd of people many of whom picked up the debian CDs they were giving away, they also seemed to be doing a pretty good trade in T-shirts. At the back of the stand they ran an ascii art animation via a beamer which got some very bewildered looks at times. Also on the Debian stand was a version of Debian running on the Hurd Kernel and our Pegasos.

Just across from the Debian stand was the small Ark Linux stand. This distro is still in development and concentrates itself on ease of use. On the same stand they had some fan-less cases complete with 2.6GHz Pentium 4s. I didn't think that was possible but with some clever engineering and 9Kgs of Aluminium you had a quiet but rather hot case.

One of the "bunch of geeks sitting around hacking" stands was Gentoo who had a stand with lots of people hacking away. They got quite a crowd watching as well when they showed the hilarious Matrix-XP movie.

Only a few stands away was Rock Linux which is a distro I'd never heard of, It's a "meta" distro which isn't really a distro but a distro compilation kit. I guess this could be pretty useful if you want to deploy a distro across a number of machines with only the components you want.

Other orgs
There were also some other orgs any open sorcerer would know.

FSF Europe also had a stand complete with a very funny poster with the GNU and a Penguin flying in a super-hero style (apparently based on quite an old image but I'd never seen it before).

MySQL had a small stand where they no doubt people queried them using a structured language.

PHP had a few stands labelled "PHP and friends" one of who did hosting with PHP.

Something slightly more fishy was also present in the form of the language Pike.

Some decidedly non-Linux organisations were also present not least in the form of the BSDs who were sharing a stand. Wim Vandeputte of OpenBSD was showing a small 486 "communications computer" which can be used for packet filtering and the like.

KDE, Gnome and were also present showing off eye candy for those who wanted to see something sweet.

Racks were out in force on a number of stands, not surprising given Linux's main claim to fame as a server OS. SAP and HP both had big racks which attracted a steady stream of geeks but there were rack mount servers at different stands some of which you could see into. One company specialising in linux security had a very colourful rack which almost looked like some of the gear you might find in recording studios. Apple also had a rack of X-Serves and of course being from Apple it looked cooler than the other racks.

There were various other companies selling products and services though many were German and I didn't know them.

There were also a smattering of stands where you buy various other goodies such as printer cartridge refills, magazines, clothes and books (including every geeks favourite: O'Reilly).

One product most people probably weren't even aware of was our Pegasos. Unfortunately we found out about the show too late to get a proper stand but one was on show thanks to to the Debian guys, it was running Debian PPC for the most part but at one point even it was taken over for coding...A Knoppix live CD should be working soon. One of my duties is to assist those porting different Operating Systems to the Pegasos hence my presence at the show.

Zeta Another company also without a stand was YellowTab who are currently developing Zeta (think BeOS R6). They also only found about the show at the last minute and came along to have a look, I had a very interesting chat with Bernd about things. A lot of people have been waiting a long time for Zeta and it looks like it will be well worth the wait, more so than some might think.

That was the business side but there were also quite a number of other stands which seemed to be much more in the ".org" category.

The Linux porters had a whole heap of machines mainly consisting of what were once horribly expensive workstations from SGI, HP and DEC but there was other stuff such as an Amiga 1200, various ARM and PowerPC development boards, a Sega Dreamcast and a phone - yes, someone has Linux running on a phone!

Linux Audio Developers had a stand with a very nice touch - there were a series of small pictures of each program and a description around the stand on the wall. This gave an impression of the wide variety of linux audio programs now available and the standards they adhere to, this is getting on well considering that Linux was once very weak for audio unless you wanted to perform surgery on our own brain using C-sound. Being an audio stand they had various audio programs running and making noise, they had virtual synthesisers running but also had some of the real thing. At the end of each day you'd hear music emanating from their stand.

On one stand there was a machine which had a small magnetic grabber suspended by wires of some form. It was suspended above a metal plate which was covered in holes into which were placed metal balls. The grabber would sweep down and pick up a ball and drop it elsewhere, an animation showed where the different layouts the balls were being moved to and from. I didn't enquire as to what the point of all this was but they were showing a small CPU they'd made in an FPGA which ran forth.

A small stand had a selection of linux games to try out and among other things an iMac to try them on.

For games of a different kind the X-Box linux hackers group had a stand complete with stripped X-box for you to see it's internals.

For refuelling there were a few food places in both the exhibition and congress halls but I preferred the Bockwurst and Pils in the sun outside.

For real geek refuelling however there is only one thing that can do: caffeine. There was a permanently busy refuelling stop selling the extra caffeinated Jolt cola.

All in all the show seem to go pretty well and was especially busy on Saturday. The types of visitors was surprisingly wide, they were mostly normal geeks (identifiable by the umpteen geek T-Shirts) but there were business men, families and a surprisingly high number of girls for a computer show, as well as plenty of couples.

Girls with guys into Linux? Beats me... must be a German thing.

A rather surprising pair of visitors were from the church. Is God considering going open source? I guess he beat us to it... we can after all read our own DNA "source code" these days.

In addition to the exhibition hall there were a number of talks and workshops in the "Fachkongress" hall opposite. Many of these talks looked interesting but unfortunately for me many of them were in German and given that my German language skills consist of "Ein Bier" they weren't of much interest after all. In addition to the main talks there were also some side events such as one on Friday which was talks and workshops devoted to Debian.

I did manage to get along to a couple of the talks though:

The first was "Commercial Involvement in Open Software" by Ken Coar of the Apache Software Foundation / IBM. This was about how IBM teamed up with the Apache organisation and worked with them in a move which has been successful and followed up since further by both IBM and other companies. It was a very interesting and often entertaining talk contrasting the way business and open source developers work and how they can (and did in IBMs case) work together. I also liked the way Ken neatly avoided the Open Source Vs GPL debate by coining the term "Open Software" to cover both. Although as he pointed out, the goals of both are same and the difference really only applies to distribution.

The second talk I attended was "Free Software in the Knowledge Society" by Sandro Zic of ZZ/OSS Information Networking. This wasn't so much of a talk as a discussion about knowledge being free or not and how can it pay the bills if it's free. This was also the first time I'd ever heard the term "Just in Time learning". One point he made was how MySQL hired their developers, essentially they hire people who show themselves to be consistently competent on their mailing lists.

There seemed to be a number of parties and events in the evenings, I only managed to go to one, Thursday nights "social event" which was attended by what must have been a couple of hundred geeks at least. After a while food was served but I opted for the cold food mainly due to the fact that the hot food queues were so long.

We got talking to a couple of guys from a University in Norway who were talking about clustering, free software and the joys (or not) of working in an academic environment. An interesting point they raised is that it is quite possible to do a PhD in software without writing a single line of code! My Colleague (who also happens to be doing a PhD but writes plenty of code) agreed heartily.

Being a social event there was plenty of wine and beer flowing as well as other non-alcoholic drinks. Good luck if you had a beer, the queue was long there as well.

Some consider Linux as not being ready for the desktop yet but I suspect that for many office type users it is just fine and as such more are likely to use it in the future. Some large companies apparently think similar to this and with increasing support from them Linux migration will only increase further. This will pave the way for other alternative Operating Systems and applications. Looks like the computer industry is deciding that choice is good after all.

While much of the development of Linux was and is done outside of the corporate environment this is changing. There were many stands of different companies all selling Linux related products and services. With major enterprise players such as SAP having a stand there can be no doubt that these days Linux means business, serious business.

Here are just some of the pictures I took at the event.

About the Author:
Nicholas Blachford works for Genesi and his work includes working with developrs to get different Operating Systems ported to the Pegasos PowerPC based motherboard. Currently there are 16 different Operating Systems and distros working or on their way.