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Postcard from Penguin Land, Part 1

One of the first things I learned at LinuxWorld upon arriving at the show in New York City's Javits Convention Center is that next year's show is taking place in Boston. Suggesting that some sort of scandal is behind the move, open source maverick Bruce Perens told me over dinner that some journalist needs to do his or her homework.
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Written by David Berlind, Inactive on

One of the first things I learned at LinuxWorld upon arriving at the show in New York City's Javits Convention Center is that next year's show is taking place in Boston. Suggesting that some sort of scandal is behind the move, open source maverick Bruce Perens told me over dinner that some journalist needs to do his or her homework. "That sort of story is not in my wheelhouse," I told Bruce.

Scandals aside, I was happy that the show was moving within commuting distance, but I was also a little disappointed. For the first time since moving to Massachusetts, I took the train to New York instead of flying on the shuttle. Aside from having lots of room to spread out, every seat on the Amtrak's high speed Acela has power outlets. No one was telling passengers when they could and couldn't use their electronics devices or cell phones or get out of their seats. On the downside, neither the train stations nor the trains have any sort of Wi-Fi service. Apparently, an RFP has just been completed and a provider has been selected to bring the Wi-Fi service into six Eastern seaboard train stations by early summer: Baltimore, Wilmington , 30th St in Philadelphia, Penn Station (NYC), Providence, and the Rt. 128 station just outside of Boston.

The company has its sights set on the trains as well, but not until after the six stations are up and running. My guess is that the service won't be free. Whether you'll need to pay Amtrak or subscribe to some Wi-Fi provider remains to be seen. Fortunately, I always have plenty of work to do off-line, so lack of connectivity isn't a deal breaker for me. If it were, I'd probably invest in a card to connect to Sprint's CDMA service (see "Why go with WiFi when CDMA can do?").

The trip was pleasurable and relaxing compared to the rushed and stressful airborne alternative. As I got off the train in Penn Station with almost four hours of uninterrupted work (free of battery concerns) in my bag, I predicted I would never fly again to LinuxWorld. Little did I know that LinuxWorld itself would be the one to make that prediction come true.

Wednesday, 8:15 am, The Tic Toc Diner

One of the funny things about LinuxWorld in New York in the dead of winter is the crystalline look on the faces of the folks from California's Silicon Valley when the first stiff wind off the Hudson River hits them. Such were the looks on the faces of Veritas' executives as we tried to hail a cab in the heart of rush hour. To be fair, I'm from Boston and I was cold too. Prior to stepping onto the frozen tundra of New York City, I learned about how VMware's ESX Server was added to the list of other operating systems that are supported by Veritas' Cluster Technology (VCS). The announcement puts a unique twist (one that I explore in more detail in another column) on the sorts of systems that VCS has traditionally supported.

Wednesday, 9:23 am, The Jacob Javits Convention Center

I must be in the wrong place. It seems like everybody in the building, including some guy with an electronic lapel pin streaming words, is wearing a suit and tie. My suits and ties are back in Boston. The guy with the marquis on his lapel turns out to be Bruce Perens. This ain't your Birkenstocked, pony-tailed father's LinuxWorld anymore, is it? I bypass the opportunity to corner Perens since I'm having dinner with him, Codeweavers president Jeremy White, and Linux Terminal Server Project's Erik Tyack later tonight.

Wednesday, 10:00 am, Novell CEO keynote

Fresh from aquisitions of Ximian and SuSE, and a day after SCO announces that it's launching a suit, Novell CEO Jack Messman gives an impassioned keynote about how his company has adopted a new religion: open source. He sets the stage for two themes that for me will drive the focus of LinuxWorld: raising the bar on managing everything from Linux desktops to servers to clusters and the SCO indemnification issue. Novell indemnifies. HP indemnifies. Red Hat announced it will replace any code found to be infringing. But what about IBM, Sun, Dell and others?

Wednesday, 12:30 pm, BEA rountable

At an invite-only, closed-door roundtable, BEA trots out some of its biggest customers, and its own CIO Rhonda Hocker, to talk about how they've all gone mission critical with Linux for their internal systems. Hocker said, "In two year's time, Linux will be the operating system of choice for enterprise computing." My first thought was that this can't be good news for Sun whose systems have traditionally been paired with the majority of BEA's Weblogic installations. Depending on what day it is and how the Sun, the moon and the stars are lined up, and how badly the data being furnished to the research outlets by the vendors has been massaged, BEA's WebLogic is either the top-selling or second most top-selling (behind IBM's WebSphere) Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE)-based application server. To make matters worse for Sun, BEA Systems Java Runtime Group vice president and general manager Bob Griswold spoke in great detail of BEA's partnership with Intel to tune and optimize the company's various Java Runtime Environments (JREs) for use with Intel 32- and 64-bit processors. Intel Software and Solutions group vice president and general manager Will Swope, who was sitting next to Griswold, nodded silently in approval.

The two most interesting characters at the roundtable were Bob Schwarz, Northern Trust's vice president of worldwide technology, and Demetri Mouratis, senior technical Unix architect. The two provided a rare peek into how a Fortune 500 company deals with open source. For example, to keep its nose clean on issues relating to intellectual property, Northern Trust pays close attention to which of the Open Source Initiative-approved open source licenses is paired with a technology that the company is interested in using. Said Schwarz, "So far, we've approved eight of the licenses. The most recent one was for Eclipse, which we've standardized on internally for development."

A Fortune 500 company going with Eclipse is just more bad news for Sun. The open source license that Schwarz was referring to is IBM's Common Public License. I asked Schwarz what his perception was of the fact that IBM so far has not joined the recently formed Java Tools Community to which he responded, "Eclipse is a great tool. IBM is the way to go."

With Novell's CEO Jack Messman having just talked about how he expects other industry vendors to emulate Novell's choice to offer indemnification from the wrath of SCO to customers using Linux, I asked Schwarz and Mouratis if Northern Trust was taking the potential liability seriously. So far, Northern Trust is standardized on Red Hat's distribution of Linux. According to Mouratis, "It is of concern to us legally, and as such we have discussed the matter with our legal department. That said, every technology decision is about managing business risk and this is no different. We've gone way down the path with Red Hat and currently have no plans to change that. But it's a situation that continues to develop and we are keeping an eye on it. We're confident that [sticking with Red Hat] is what's right for Northern."

I also asked Schwarz and Mouratis their opinions when it comes to Windows vs. Linux and security. Unlike BEA, which CIO Rhonda Hocker said is going with Linux on all new internal IT deployments moving forward, Schwarz spoke of how The Northern Trust is a strategically more heterogeneous. "Microsoft is a strategic vendor for us," said Schwarz. "We have Microsoft's .Net Framework deployed. Compared to Linux, the frequency of security and bug fixes on Windows has been a struggle to keep up with, but I can't say that the problem is solved by simply replacing it with Linux." Schwarz did acknowledge that the frequency of the patches can drive the cost of infrastructure management up. "The more servers you have and the more applications that the patches need to be tested against before applying them, the higher the cost, particularly if we discover a problem with one of the patches," Schwarz said. "Fortunately, we haven't discovered problems with any of the patches yet, so the time it takes us to patch is usually within a few hours but never more than a day."

Wednesday, 3:00 pm, LinuxWorld Press Room

One of the big changes at this year's LinuxWorld compared to last year is that Wi-Fi-based connectivity to the Internet is free. Like last year, there are only a couple of hot spots, but this time there's no $10 per day charge. Proving the old axiom that you get what you pay for, the connectivity situation was a mess. Despite signs that provided the details on what Wi-Fi SSID to look for, no one was successfully getting a connection, except for a technician with a walkie-talkie who periodically showed up with his Wi-Fi-enabled iPaq to announce that everything is fine. Meanwhile, everyone in the press room tries to tell him he's mistaken, and he leaves again. The problem never gets solved. This is either a real testimony to the difficulty in bringing up ad hoc Wi-Fi networks, or LinuxWorld has made some terrible choices in equipment and/or technicians. Just another good reason to get that Sprint CDMA card.

Wednesday, 5:05 pm, La Giara Restaurant

I arrive almost an hour early for my dinner with Perens, White, and Tyack. The transportation situation outside LinuxWorld during rush hour in New York is a mess since cab drivers seem to avoid the Javits Center like the plague.I'm told that this is about the time that most cabbies do their shift change, which explains why all the cabs driving by the Javits Center have their off-duty light on.

Fortunately, New York is full of vulture limousine drivers who are hip to the problem. I negotiate a $30 fee to get across town to La Giara, a cozy Italian restaurant on New York's east side, to hook up with Perens, White, Tyack and Jill Ratkevic, a director from public relations firm Neale-Maye.

Over wine and spaghetti and meatballs, the discussion goes all over the map. As expected, I'm given a hard time for taking notes on a notebook running Windows. Tyack explains about how large enterprises are loving the Linux Terminal Server Project's thin-client technology for Linux because of the way it allows them to take old 233-MHz Pentium II systems and turn them into desktop terminals that are every bit as capable as a modern-day Linux desktop.

We contemplate the future of QuickTime, as I predict that video is in the future of Apple's iPods and that Apple will make some serious dough in the movie download business in the same way it is beginning to succeed with music. Perens points out that the deal that Jobs crafted with Disney could make that a reality sooner than we think.

The SCO indemnification issue comes up, and Perens unequivocally states that SCO has no case and that before I become too enamored with vendors who are offering indemnification, I should read the fine print. "In every case that I'm aware of, people hear they're indemnified and they're more sanguine than they should be because they don't know what the real terms of the indemnification are," Perens said.

My favorite Perens quote of the evening, however, had to do with his off-the-cuff summary of the open source movement: "Imagine what it took for Microsoft to piss off so many people that they're all willing to work night and day without pay just to bring that company down." I half wonder what, if anything, Microsoft would do differently if it could turn back the clocks.

Coming soon: Part 2 of my trip to Penguin Land, including conversations with MySQL CEO Marten Mickos, ZEND President and CEO Doron Gerstel, Computer Associates Senior Vice President Sam Greenblatt, Scalix CEO Julie Farris, and AMD's Director of Worldwide Business Development, Kevin Knox.

You can write to me at david.berlind@cnet.com. If you're looking for my commentaries on other IT topics, check the archives.

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