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August 12, 1999


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Frisbees fly in the rebel camp! Linux World Expo looks the hacker territory that it is. Notes from the diary of Gautam Godse. August 10, San Jose Convention Center: The first day of Linux World Expo is filled with announcements of new technologies from every major computer company but Microsoft!

Email this story to a friend. I had registered for the conference earlier so did not have to wait in the long line to register and enter. The exhibit halls are huge. I think they can easily have a Boeing 777 parked in it with room to spare.

Linux World Expo
Microsoft-Kale deal
MP on Airtel backbone
Madras park by Jan
Brightly coloured stalls and pulsating music makes this show different from any other exhibition I have been to in India.

Firstly, the showmanship and exhibition stall decoration of these guys is simply beyond par. Secondly, because the topic is Linux, which is hacker territory, it provides an excuse to behave crazily and come up with whacky ideas.

How's this for instance: A company called SAGE, which manufactures a product called BrickHouse, a firewall software, is giving away $5 per person just to fill in a form. You should have seen the line of cash strapped Indians outside the stall... ;-) Kidding!

Then they drew a lottery and the winner got a chance to grab some cash that was blowing about in a Perspex case. Anyway, the product itself is quite good and you can check it up at

Another innovative product is from a Japanese company. It is a very small footprint computer called Pathfinder. The computer holds a Pentium 233 MHz processor with 32 MB RAM and a 6.5 GB HDD besides video and Ethernet cards. Yet the size of this machine is about the same as a paperback novel. The incredible machine should be just great for ISPs and people who are running out of space for their machines. And this machine is portable. You just need a external monitor and keyboard wherever you go!

Corel has launched its version of Linux and it has a fantastic install demo going on. It is dramatised well and the audience cheers it. Corel is also manufacturing boxes running only Linux and, of course, has released a new version of WordPerfect for Linux.

The Oracle area is huge and it is heartening to see the kind of commitment it has made to Linux. It is just like IBM that has the biggest stall on the floor, I think.

RedHat is giving away free copies of 6.0. Besides, it threw its PR machinery into top gear on Wednesday. The company is going for an IPO! Theirs is the most eagerly awaited stock in IT history. It's supposed to open at $14 and then skyrocket.

One of the best theme pavilions is the .org pavilion. This is a common pavilion for all those sites that made Linux what it is today.

Organisations like Free Software Foundation, Slashdot, Freshmeat, GNOME, KDE... This pavilion is quite crazy with people lounging on beanbags, pinball machines blaring away at their nosiest and people ducking to avoid Frisbees. Quite like a carnival. The Slashdot crowd is hacker frenzy with people crowding around CmdrTaco, if you know who I am talking about.

After 5.30 pm everyone starts moving out of the hall and lining up outside the seminar room to hear Linus Torvalds. The queue stretches for a mile! When we get into the place, it is filled with about 6,000 people.

Larry Agustin, the CEO of VALinux comes on stage and talks for a while about the Linux community. He asks all those who have contributed to Linux distribution in some way to stand up and be applauded.

Then he asks all those who have contributed to Windows NT distribution to stand up... and not a single one does! A laugh riot follows.

Linus is soon called on stage. I am seated about 10 rows away. As Linus takes the podium, everyone in the hall stands up and cheers. Linus is a hero for not only leading the project to build Linux but also because he has accomplished so much while so young. Linus is 27 and the father of two.

Linus starts his speech by saying that he was not going to come but the organisers persuaded him. He discusses the kernel that he is most passionate about and describes the directions the kernel development team is going to take. He announces the availability of kernel 2.2.11 and hopes that the next stable release 2.4 will be some time later this year.

Linus gets quite animated while describing the work they are doing on the kernel, like scaling for SMP, or 'symmetric mulit-processing' and adding more functionality in the kernel.

After speaking for about 30 minutes, he breaks off into a question-answer session with people throwing deep-ended kernel questions at him: Things about 'devfs', ISDN, SMP, coding styles etc. He ends the talk by announcing the Linus Torvalds Prize to the Free Software Foundation led by Richard Stallman.

Stallman is a longhaired hacker who jumps on stage with a fake paper gun and points it at Linus. Stallman is a tad embarrassed about receiving the award. For him, it is like giving the 'Han Solo Award' to the 'Rebel Fleet' itself!

Stallman started the GNU project 15 years ago and had built all the pieces that make an operating system, except for the kernel. Linus came along and built the kernel and made everything work. Most of the tools in Linux are GNU tools, things like 'make', cc, awk, grep and emacs.

By the way, Richard Stallman is the author of emacs. So, he requested people to call Linux, GNU Linux and not just Linux alone. He is quite a phenomenon.

That ends the day's activities and we go back home, ignoring a free beer bash organised by Slashdot... hmm... maybe next time...

Till tomorrow then!

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