Showtime! - Part 2

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, July, 2000
As the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, and the buzzards return to Hinkley, local computer pundits (including yours truly ) return to Chicago’s biggest computer trade show, Spring COMDEX 2000, the main difference being the presence of mass quantities of real avian excrement at the first two locations versus the virtual bovine excrement found at the third.

My first view of the exhibit floor was from the balcony along the west wall where Mayor Daley’s press conference (covered in last month’s column) had just ended. My first impression was one of amazement as I realized the LinuxWorld booths covered a HUGE chunk of the floor space.

As I watched the initial inrush of the crowd at opening time, I realized that I could easily define the Linux area even without all of the signs. One side of the show floor was obviously the "suited" side and the other was the "scruffy" side, based on my observation of the attendees. After a while, there was some mixing, but the overall trend remained. The Linux half of the show had the distinct feel of the early microcomputer shows, and even, though I am loathe to admit to being old enough to have attended, some not quite so early minicomputer shows. It was definitely running about an 8.5 on the Face-Fur scale, at least for the male attendees.

As I wandered the aisles, I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the Linux crowd, some of it distinctly anti-Microsoft, but mostly pro-Linux. I was also embarrassed to be corrected in my pronunciation of the operating system. The "i" in Linux is supposed to be short, not long. Oops! I hope they won’t take away my computer geek ID card.

Another example of the mood of the group was the evidence of exhibits that were throwbacks to a bygone era. A big penguin drifted about. I mean really big - something in the 5'8" to 5'10" range. While I did wonder about the health of the occupant of the penguin suit (Heat stroke anyone?), I must admit that I got caught up in the spirit and had my picture taken hugging this big fuzzy mascot of Linux. Too bad my picture wasn’t ready by the time I left. I later saw the empty costume standing up (about three-quarters of the way) in a corner and wondered whether it stood up due some inherent design factor or due to the collective will of some perspiration-induced colony of bacteria.

Later, I encountered a devil mascot. Ironically, the devil suit looked a lot cooler than the penguin suit. One disappointing throwback (in the negative sense of the term) was that the devil was accompanied by a pair of scantily-clad devilettes (for lack of a better term), passing out devil horns. (I’ll decline the opportunity to use the obvious pun.) I’m sure that the many female management, sales, and technical professionals both exhibiting at and attending the show did not appreciate their presence. I guess it’s two steps forward and one giant step back for their business images.

Separate from all of this silliness, I was also impressed by a number of exhibits inhabited by vendor representatives who had serious answers to serious questions about how to use Linux in a business environment. They offered software and hardware solutions that specifically addressed the business concerns that I presented.

The software solutions involved the use of Linux as a server operating system, as an independent desktop operating system, and as the desktop base for running Windows emulators. The hardware solutions included bundled Linux solutions for servers, desktop systems, and various network appliances. Network appliances are specialized "black boxes" made to do one specific task normally done by a full-featured server. The most common examples exhibited in this category were routers.

I was already a fan of Linux-kernel-based network appliances, as evidenced by my recent favorable article on a pseudo CD tower, but, prior to this show, I didn’t have a lot of interest in the other Linux solutions. The serious portion of LinuxWorld has opened my mind up to the possibilities of Linux. I’m not a true convert, but I am noticeably less of a skeptic than I was. Perhaps the "congregation’s" enthusiasm was contagious.

Do not underestimate the importance of the collective enthusiasm of this coiffure- and couture-impaired Linux crowd. This same force of nature conquered overcame the inertia of the corporate computing world to bring PCs and LANs to their current prominence. Bill Gates, be afraid!

�2000, Wayne M. Krakau