Red Hat's summit kicked off on Tuesday evening with a welcome reception party which was slightly marred for Red Hat by the fact that the main sponsor of the event was PC maker Dell. This wouldn't have been a problem, apart from the fact that Dell had announced on Monday that it was joining Novell and Microsoft's proprietary/open-source tie-up — a move that was deeply unpopular with the open-source community.
The main keynote session on Wednesday morning was led by Red Hat chief executive Matthew Szulik, who was on passionate, if slightly vague, form. Although he made a good job of being evangelical about the importance of open source and its potential to improve healthcare and even combat global terrorism, his speech was pretty short of any actual new technology announcements. This was apparently on purpose, as he later claimed in a press conference that he didn't want to simply bang on about how many units of the company's latest operating system, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, had been sold — despite requests from Wall Street analysts to do just that. But, although the lack of marketing spiel was admirable, the lack of a roadmap did not go down too well. Hints were made about a desktop, based on online services, that did not ape areas which Microsoft has already sown-up.
However, despite even more hints about online desktops from Red Hat chief technology officer Brian Stevens, what was actually announced was something quite different. The Global Desktop (GD) — as the product, due to be released next month, will be known — is actually a traditional non-online platform that takes much of its character from the cut-down OS developed for the "One Laptop per Child" project. The GD will be aimed at the developing world and will be available only on Intel hardware, through its cheap PC range, such as the Classmate.
Red Hat has mostly benefited from the kudos associated with the sometimes-controversial "$100 Laptop" or "One Laptop per Child" (OLPC) scheme. Although AMD is a major partner in the scheme, Red Hat has somehow managed to manoeuvre itself so that it is now heavily involved in a rival scheme from Intel, which is developing a range of low-cost PCs for developing markets, such as its Classmate device. Not only is Red Hat involved in both schemes, but it has admitted that the operating system it will use for the Intel device — the Global Desktop — is about 95 percent similar to the operating system running the OLPC PC.
Chris Blizzard is Red Hat's man on the OLPC project and he revealed that the organisation is aiming to have its final production spec machine ready to go out to one of the first recipient countries — Brazil, Libya or maybe Nigeria — by September this year. Effectively in beta phase, the XO device (as the OLPC machine is known) is receiving some last-minute fine-tuning based on findings from field trials. The flip-up aerials — or ears, as they are affectionately known — are being replaced with soft rubber, as the current plastic ones seem prone to breaking. Oh yes, and you can play Tetris on it too.
The last year has been a tough one for Red Hat, with Novell and Microsoft joining forces to rain on its parade. But perhaps the biggest shock came with the announcement from Oracle that it would be launching its own distribution of Linux — called Unbreakable Linux. However, now some of the dust has settled and despite Wall Street's reaction causing a nose-dive in Red Hat stock, the Linux maker is still in business and able to see the funny side of the Oracle deal, with its own brand of "Unfakeable Linux" T-shirts sported by attendees at the summit.
The studio responsible for Shrek and other animation hits is always a good customer to roll out at a conference that can get pretty dry at the best of times — showing delegates cartoons in the name of work is always going to be winner. Derek Chan, head of digital operations at DreamWorks Animation, was on hand to provide some interesting but relevant diversion and discuss how the studio has been using Red Hat Linux. Although it is still using the previous version of Red Hat's OS — RHEL 4 — it is using it on the server and desktop. "For us, Linux was a vital part of scaling our studio," he claimed. The audience was treated to a sneak peak at the studio's latest movie, Shrek 3 — due to be released in the US next week.
User conferences are always an opportunity for a party or two, and the Red Hat Summit is no exception. As with last year's show in Nashville, which used a country music motif to guide the event's entertainment and branding, this year's show was based around the southern-Californian hobby of choice, surfing.