"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

1997 Linux Expo

By Jon "maddog" Hall maddog@zk3.dec.com

Linux Expo 97 Photo Album

"Well, should we get one pitcher or two?" That was the question that began the first unofficial event of the Linux Expo Thursday night. A group of people, including Red Hat employees, some of the speakers and a tired maddog were at the Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It was late, and I was the last person to arrive."Two pitchers," I cried,"Now what will you be drinking?"

The next day, Friday April 4th started early, as I had to set up the Linux International booth, as well as absorb all that was happening. The event was held in the North Carolina Biotechnology Center at Research Triangle Park. As I approached the Biotech Center, I was met with a friendly parking coordinator that reinforced the information that "parking was scarce", and that most people had to park at outlying lots. Fortunately Red Hat had arranged for shuttle busses from those lots and from several of the hotels. Since our car had an exhibitor's pass, we were able to park close to the Biotech Center and unload our banners, handouts and stuffed penguins.

There was a large tent to the left outside of the building containing the "Linux Expo Super Store" stocked with Linux books, Linux bumper stickers, T-shirts (including an excellently designed Expo shirt that said "Expose yourself to Linux" with a front and rear view of a penguin holding open an overcoat) and other interesting souvenir items. Further to the left was an outdoor viewing area for the conference talks that (due to the excellent weather) was a favorite spot for people to view the technical talks for free, especially while playing Frisbee. A raffle was held in the registration area, and prizes were given away on an hourly basis. Having registered, attendees were given a copy of the talks as well as an event schedule.

The event was held on two floors with the exhibits spread out on both. There was another conference viewing area inside the building with TV monitors, as well as the conference auditorium itself. There was an Install Fest area (sponsored by the Washington D.C. Linux User's Group, Linux Hardware Solutions and Red Hat Software), where people brought their systems, received help with installing Red Hat's latest release, and Olaf Kirch's kernel-based NFS server was "stress tested" at the same time. Finally, there was a food court area, where people could buy sandwiches, chips, soda and other "software development food".

There were fifteen vendors at the Expo, each with "table-top" booths to display their wares. I prefer the "pipe-and-drape" approach to trade shows rather than expensive booths, since I would rather the vendors put more money into development of the product and less into elaborate displays or floor shows with unicycle riders who juggle things. While not all Linux vendors were at Linux Expo, a wide spectrum of companies, including Linux International, Cyclades, Numerical Algorithms Group, Linux Hardware Solutions, Enhanced Software Technologies, Caldera, Applix, Xess, WorkGroup Solutions, Stay Online, VA Research, Apex Systems Integration, PromoX Systems and (of course) Red Hat Software were present. One item being demonstrated at the Linux Hardware Solutions booth was a free piece of software called [cw]em86[ecw] that allowed an Intel/Linux binary to run without change on an Alpha/Linux system. Being shown for the first time, it allowed Applixware, Netscape and various other applications to execute as if they had been ported to the system.

Penguins abounded in various T-shirts, giveaways and objects d'art. In fact, there were so many people there (I estimated 900 over the two-day event) with penguin "stuff", that I thought I'd had enough of penguins; but afterwards while wandering around Chapel Hill, Alan Cox found some candy in the shape of penguins, so penguin "lust" started all over again.

The technical conference started off with a presentation by Gilbert Coville of Apple Computer with a talk about the MkLinux kernel. For people who were afraid that this would turn into a "Red Hat Only" event, it was interesting that Gilbert's talk opened the Expo and that a talk about the Debian Linux Distribution (given by Bruce Perens) followed shortly after. Bruce also discussed the graphics used in the making of Toy Story in a separate presentation.

Various presentations about hardware-specific ports were given. Dave Miller talked about the "Next Generation SPARCLinux" as well as the Free Software Development Model, and David Mosberger-Tang talked about the Alpha Port, as well as methods, applicable to both Intel and Alpha, for speeding up your programs by paying attention to memory and cache accesses.

Other talks were more general across the Linux OS, such as Jeff Uphoff's "Network File Locking", Alan Cox's "Tour of the Linux Networking Stack", Peter Braam's "Coda Filesystem", Alexander Yuriev's talk on the IPv4 family of protocols and infrastructure and his talk on security, Michael Callahan's "Linux and Legacy LANs", Eric Youngdale's "Beyond ELF", Olaf Kirch's "Linux Network File System", Theodore Ts's "Ext2 File System: Design, Implementation and the Future", Miguel de Icaza's talk on the new RAID code and Daniel Quinlan's talk on the File System Hierarchy Standard.

To round out the list of talks and events was Dr. Greg Wettstein's talk on "Working and Playing with others: Linux Grows Up" and the Linux Bowl.

The Linux Bowl was the final event. Two teams of six developers were pitted against each other to answer thirty questions about Linux and the Linux community. Questions ranged from "What liquid should one drink between rounds of a Finnish sauna?" (correct answer: beer) to "What version library fixed a particular security hole?" to which Alan Cox gave a (seemingly) ten minute answer. While some of the questions were very obscure (even the moderator was unsure of the answer), most of the time either the right answer (or a good facsimile) was given.

The show sponsors (after tallying up the attendence) reported that 958 people showed up, which could be the largest Linux-specific event ever, of which 40% were from within North Carolina. Attendees came from over 25 states, 4 Canadian provinces, and 10 countries, including Australia, Korea and European countries.

Finally, I would like to thank the members of the Atlanta Linux Enthusiasts http://www.ale.org/ group who helped to staff the Linux International booth. They were great and helped give me the freedom to get out from behind the booth every once in a while, because most importantly, Linux Expo was a chance to talk with the vendors, the developers and other old and new friends on a one-to-one, quality basis. Perhaps some things could be improved for next year: A larger auditorium for the talks, more and closer parking and less expensive food in the food court. But certainly the southern hospitality and warmth of Red Hat Software came through. I want to thank the sponsors for arranging a great event, and I hope that next year's will be even larger and better.

Copyright © 1997, Jon "maddog" Hall
Published in Issue 17 of the Linux Gazette, May 1997