Attending the bizarre

"IS ANYONE STILL NOT FUNCTIONING?"The call blasted out through the loudspeakers, within earshot of everyonewho was attending The Bazaar.

"IS ANYONE STILL NOT FUNCTIONING?"

The call blasted out through the loudspeakers, within earshot of everyone who was attending The Bazaar. Staged mid-December in what seemed like the attic of New York's cavernous Javits Center, this conference cum mini-tradeshow looks to me to be the first casualty from among the many emerging Linux and open source conferences. That is, unless the organizers are masochists.

That loudspeaker announcement was intended for exhibitors who had discovered that their Internet feeds weren't working -- for all that it mattered. Though I haven't yet been able to get solid figures -- nobody who could know was available at press time -- attendance looked miserable. At one presentation given by IBM, the speakers outnumbered the listeners. In the exhibitors' hall, the kids running around with nerf guns had plenty of room to move. Not only were there few people looking around, but there weren't many exhibitors either. Neither Caldera nor SuSE showed up. Other high profile Linux companies such as Linuxcare couldn't be bothered with booth space either.

As if to rub salt in the wounds, The Bazaar was literally surrounded by the much larger eBusiness Conference & Expo, also held at Javits. Even the appeal of the Big Apple failed the organizers. Of course, the looming threat of a New York City transit strike during the week of the show couldn't have helped.

Content conundrum
Not that those who stayed away missed much. The conference program listed little that hadn't been covered in just about every other Linux conference over the last year. At this stage in the maturity of the open source movement, is there still demand for sessions such as "Apache -- What's all the fuss?" By now I suspect that most people who care, especially the developers targeted by The Bazaar, already know what the fuss is about.

I wonder if, in hindsight, The Bazaar wasn't partially a victim of its own politics. It's no coincidence that, on The Bazaar home page, Linux is last on the list of covered technologies behind Perl, BSD, GNU and Apache. People who know the history of the show told me that it was envisioned as an almost counter-Linux event, an attempt to showcase all the non-Linux elements of the open source world and to show that Linux isn't the only game in town.

Topping the show's display of non-Linux open source efforts was the GNU Project, which has long whined about not getting its proper share of the credit for Linux's success. The Bazaar also offered the BSD people a place to call their own. And there were other groups represented, all trying to remind the computing world that Linux isn't the only open source kid on the block.

Problem was, while The Bazaar organizers were rescheduling the show, both the Perl and BSD folk staged their own. In fact, the FreeBSD people had a bigger presence at Fall Comdex than they did here. Apache now has a convention planned for March. And if you take away the Linux-related sessions and exhibits from the final turnout at The Bazaar, you'd have yourself one very tiny conference.

In other words, The Bazaar has almost no subject matter to call its own. The only thing here that you wouldn't find at other shows was a keynote by Ralph Nader, perhaps hoping to do to Microsoft what he did to the Corvair. I couldn't care less about this so-called highlight; the Linux community doesn't really need high-profile, professional Microsoft-bashers. The amateurs among us are doing quite well enough.

Good intentions, bad attendance
Given all the factors working against The Bazaar, it should be no surprise that the show stiffed. One estimate suggested that more than 1,000 people who registered didn't show up. Many who were even less charitable than I didn't want to be quoted -- the organizers have their hearts in the right place and nobody wants to go on record complaining. But the inescapable end result is what even The Bazaar founder Steve Blood called disappointing attendance.

Despite the lower than expected body count, the optimistic Blood said he considered the show a success. "The community was pretty psyched," he said. "We attracted a lot of great developers." He also insists there'll be another Bazaar next year.

I guess I just can't share his enthusiasm. If The Bazaar does poorly in the midst of the current Linux hype, right in the land of Wall Street, how can it stand a chance once Linux is in the mainstream and the novelty has worn off? Trying this again will indeed be an exercise in masochism.

Now all that's left to do is find out whether there'll actually be a Linux Expo next year. But that's a different story.

Do you think the Bazaar should return next year? Let us know in the ZDNet Linux Forum. Or write to Evan directly at evan@starnix.com.