Alistair Maclean's Web Site
LinuxWorld Expo, 2001
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Standing Proud

Admission: $25.

Held in the vast David Javitts Center on the west side of New York City, the 2001 LinuxWorld Expo and Conference is one of the bigger computer shows - I suspect that for the exhibitors it is also one of the most expensive. This year the show was intended to attract about 24,000 people. I don't think the body count will be that high, certainly from the thin crowds I saw. However, the low numbers I experienced lead me to have an excellent time at the show, the vendors more than willing to take the time to discuss things with me and answer my stupid questions.

The main show floor at the Javitts center was used for the LinuxWorld Expo, the conference was in the basement. I never do the conferences - I can't bear to hear the speakers give the marketing hype with all its techno-babble and then get salient facts completely wrong. I stick to the vendors in the Expo.

Open Source was a bigger theme than it being strictly a Linux show. There were people all over the show with little red horns on their heads, a gift from the BSD camp - clearly not a Linux player.

The show can be summed up as a demonstation of OS distributions, applications and hardware. The OS distributions included the standard stuff, a slew of companies showing off embedded versions, and then the BSD and Solaris crowd. I managed to come away with 7 different OS distributions, and that was only because I put down so many.

Embedded Solutions

Some of the embedded stuff got my attention. There seem to be two distict versions here, what I would properly call "embedded" and those that I would call "versions for smaller platforms". In the former case were releases like the Lineo µCLinux release, that was demonstrated loaded in a tiny (1½ inch square) PCB running a program that played with some LED's, an Apache web server, a RAM disk, telnet and a reasonable set of /bin utilities. At 16Mhz the machine wasn't going to scorch the air we breathed, but it certainly had ample performance. As the basis for an embedded controller system, it looked like a good bet. There were also various systems around the show cobbled together with the StrongARM chipset and being shown with high res (4x5 inch) LCD screens - very trick.

In the latter case, there were many people serving up lightened versions of Linux that were capable of being run on systems like the Compaq iPaq palm sized machine. Not really embedded, but certainly small footprint systems.

Development Tools

At the large Intel stand was a small desk with a small crowd of Intel people, they were all hunched over the new C++ development toolset display. I had a long chat with these guys about the new compiler, its main features, and some of its history. Seems this compiler will not be able to compile Linux (pity) but it will be able to produce output that is gcc and elf compliant. We schmoozed about the old Intel compilers that I had worked with, primarily the PL/M compilers and the old Intel Development Systems.

Over in another corner were the Arriba! folks demoing a very slick integrated IDE tool that allows for debugging embedded systems. They were showing how they could configure the linux system, compile it, download it to the target, then run and breakpoint in the target. The user interface looked intuitive, but then I was not actually using it. The guys showing it were very switched on, definitely a product that you should visit if you are in the Linux embedded world

I can be a Borland Booster again! Borland was at the show launching the long anticipated Kylix product. There are to be three versions, the Open version being free if downloaded. I hope this is a product that keeps Borland going. The gang at the stand were trying to palm me off with an empty presentation box, I declined the offer on the grounds that there was no CD to go with it.

Servers

Sexy! That, in one word, is how some of the servers looked. There were colourful servers, servers in 1U cases, servers with enormous numbers of processors, servers with vast disk arrays. You name it, the server arena was full of it! I particularly liked the Cobalt stand, with its blue RaQ and Cube servers. These servers could be brought up quickly and the list of pre-installed software read like a what's-what of Linux server software titles. Cobalt were not the only ones going this pre-installed, easy configure route; I found several companies in the same arena. Now I suppose we have to see if someone can come up with a GNU install interface that allows all this stuff to be done for normal distributions.

Other vendors were well up on the server front with many showing off extremely large servers (SGI for one) or servers that were clustered (Intel with an Itanium system). Release speed of the Itaniums is said to be 700Mhz - ehh! Too slow!

Various server related items were present, many companies showing off RAID systems or RAID boards. One I looked at closely was an 8 channel RAID controller, It was a neat thing but when I ask if they were getting to the limits of the PCI bus, I was informed that "Yup! it was bumping its head against that." 64bit PCI has to come along soon, in the main stream, or our hard drive controllers are going to be strangled.

Mass media

On entering the main hall I had to struggle by a gaggle of TV people and a big trolley laden with gear. In the show were several TV or film teams wandering about. At least one lot were just filming for their own company. Its good to see the exposure, or at least the trappings of it. Way in the back I bumped in the TechTV News reporter, Victoria Recaño. We exchanged pleasantries. A fine looking woman. I have yet to see any of the TechTV news bulletins from the show but then again its still happening.

Distributions

I hear now that there are over 188 distributions of linux available, and more are coming each week. The show offered up the opportunity to snag some of these and a few other OS's besides. Here is what I laid my hands on:

Linux
SuSE 7.0 + KDE 2.0 (official release of KDE)
TurboLinux Server 6.0
Debian GNU Linux 2.2
StormLinux 2000
Slackware Linux 7.1
Other OS's
Solaris 8 for Intel
Free BSD 4.2

I suspect I have my time cut out to give these a test.

UPDATE! See the reviews of the distribution installs


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