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Looking back at LinuxWorld. Now that your editor has had some time to recover from last week's LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, it's time to gather together a few thoughts on what was seen there. The Linux world is changing quickly, and there is no better place to see what's up - at least on the business side - than LinuxWorld.

And the business side is doing great. One had to look hard to find unhappy people on the exhibit floor. With very few exceptions, anybody who has [LinuxWorld] been active in the Linux arena for any period of time is in a good position. If you have code, technology, revenue, or readership, you probably have numerous options to choose from. Almost everybody who wants to cash in is able to do so. A rising tide lifts all boats, and this one is rising in a hurry.

How will the Linux community change as a result of this flood of cash, jobs, and stock options? When everybody who wants to has made their deal, will the volunteer spirit remain? At LinuxWorld a year ago, the .org area was known as "the ghetto." This time around, your editor heard it referred to as "acquisition alley" instead. Times have changed.

The interesting thing is that, if anything, the spirit of Linux shines through more strongly now than it did a year ago. Business may be changing Linux and open source, but it is equally true that open source is changing business. Any self-respecting business on the exhibit floor was emphasizing strongly its contributions back to the Linux community. Contributing to open source is not only seen as a requirement for good corporate citizenship; it makes good business sense.

The definitive example from LinuxWorld may well be the Trillian project. Numerous companies that are otherwise in competition with each other have come together to produce something that benefits everybody. This cooperation may well be unprecedented, and the result is Linux support for a new processor before it starts shipping.

Thus, this editor left New York with the observation that, while the world is changing, there is much cause for optimism. The benefits of open source are too great to be submerged under a flood of money. We have succeeded, and the world - while far from perfect - is a better place for it.

Enough of that, time to get to the important question: who had the best giveways at LinuxWorld? Swag hunters with children quickly passed the word about the nice, LED-equipped bouncy ballsbeing handed out by Compaq. Those in the know could also request the special ones with noisemakers as well, but most parents know better.

Those without children may think instead that the battle was won before the exhibit floor even opened by Maximum Linux Magazine. Their Fedex box arrived at the office at the end of January, and contained a LinuxWorld survival kit: a badge-holder pouch stuffed with a box of Penguin caffeinated mints, an "anti-bacterial hand gel kit" (useful after that unwelcome handshake at the LinuxOne booth), and a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey. There was also a first-aid packet with aspirin, presumably meant for recovering from extensive use of the mints and the whiskey...

LWN's coverage of LinuxWorld can be found on this page.

Linux Expo/LinuxWorld Paris was held at the same time as the New York event. A couple of sites have coverage of this event - both in French. On Cyperus is an extensive set of interviews with participants, including Richard Stallman, Jeremy Allison, and more. And ComputerChannel.com has a set of stories as well. Here's a Babelfish link for ComputerChannel.com - unfortunately Babelfish doesn't get along with Cyperus.

ZDNet France has also put up an article about Richard Stallman. It covers the Free Software Foundation, GNU/Linux, and more. Alas, Babelfish doesn't like this one either. (Found in Portalux News).

Real-time Linux is patented. Some RTLinux users have been surprised that the RTLinux concept is subject to patent number 5995745, held by veteran RTLinux hacker Victor Yodaiken. This patent was issued on November 30, 1999, and covers:

  • providing a real time operating system for running real time tasks and components and non-real time tasks;
  • providing a general purpose operating system as one of the non-real time tasks;
  • preempting the general purpose operating system as needed for the real time tasks; and
  • preventing the general purpose operating system from blocking preemption of the non-real time tasks.
In other words, if you're working with a real-time operating system that is attached to a general purpose system, you're treading on this patent's turf. Of course, there may be some prior art problems - one could say that VMS did all of the above 20 years ago.

Mr. Yodaiken's plans for the patent are evidently being worked out in cooperation with Linux International and Linus Torvalds. The components of those plans, according to his posting on the subject, would appear to include:

  • Users of RTLinux need not pay any royalties as a result of this patent.
  • Users of other real-time add-ons for Linux need not pay royalties, but only if (1) the add-on is explicitly labeled as being (or not being) compatible with RTLinux, and (2) the add-on is released under the GPL.
  • Non-open projects will have to pay. It is not clear what the status is for non-Linux free projects, such as one based on one of the BSD variants.
Mr. Yodaiken has done the Linux community a great deal of good through his RTLinux work. And it is good that he is keeping things open for the Linux community. But the use of software patents, even for a "good cause," is a bit troublesome. Software patents are a double-edged weapon at best, and any embracing of them by the free software community is likely to lead to trouble.

Embedded systems everywhere. People have been saying "embedded Linux will be big" for a while yet. Here's some announcements from the last week which demonstrate that the reality is catching up with the hype in this particular area:

  • Lynx Real-Time systems made a number of announcements, including BlueCat Linux 1.0, the first release of its embedded Linux distribution; the release of its "Lynx Messenger" backplane messaging system as open source; and the participation of its chairman, Inder Singh, in the "ask the experts" panel on LinuxDevices.com.

  • MontaVista has announced that its "Hard Hat Linux" has been embedded in Kerbango, Inc.'s standalone "Internet radio" product.

  • Moreton Bay has announced the release of its "eLIA Development Platform" - an embeddable Linux system based on the ColdFire processor. This is a combined hardware and software platform.

  • Picazo has announced a preview of its Linux-based private branch exchange (PBX) system. Soon Linux may be routing your office phone calls as well.

  • EMJ Embedded Systems has announced White Dwarf Linux - yet another distribution for embedded systems applications.

  • Integrated Software & Devices Corporation (ISDCorp) announced that it is shipping "Royal Linux", ISDCorp's port of Linux kernel 2.2.1 for embedded systems.
It does not take much thought to see the potential scope of embedded Linux. General-purpose computers are relatively rare, but embedded processors will be everywhere. All of the benefits of free software apply in this realm, but the "free beer" aspect is especially important. When systems are shipping by the million, even a small cost difference becomes a big deal. When one considersthe reliability and low resource requirements of Linux as well, it looks like a winning combination.

The acquisition of Andover.Net by VA Linux Systems, along with a number of other acquisitions, is covered on this week's Commerce page. We are pleased to offer as well a guest editorial by Scotty Orr on the subject. Mr. Orr believes it is far too soon for this sort of consolidation in the Linux world, and explains why.

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: High-profile distributed denial of service attacks.
  • Kernel: IA-64 and RAID in 2.3, new kernel.org webmaster, device driver book update, IBM releases JFS
  • Distributions: Dragon Linux vs DragonLinux, Kaiwal Linux, a Rock Linux update.
  • Development: All roads lead to SourceForge.
  • Commerce: A massive wave of mergers and acquisitions, The Linux Fund heads toward IPO.
  • Back page: Linux links and letters to the editor
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

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February 10, 2000


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