January 28, 2001, 4:57 PM — NEWS ANALYSIS The Linux community and its suppliers gather this week to view the latest wares at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo at the Jacob Javits Center overlooking the Hudson River in New York. At the show, the Linux story will continue to be told as a tale of two platforms, with movement on the server side continuing to outpace desktop advances. Many of the key additions to the new Linux 2.4 kernel play to the server crowd, and the kernel is thus likely to be near the center of attention.
As major Linux software efforts can be divided into desktop and server camps, suppliers can likewise be placed in two broad categories: specialty Linux startups, and established vendors that have just recently caught the Linux bug. The former group is under pressure to demonstrate that open source enthusiasm can translate into profitable businesses. The latter group, which can shield its Linux software ramp-up costs under a wider umbrella, has the means to garner attention at the show, and much of this group's activity will be server-related.
IBM chairman and chief executive Lou Gerstner vowed last month to invest nearly $1 billion in Linux development. His company will again seek at this show to mark itself as the champion of things Linux. Other big computer vendors, including Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, Dell, and Unisys, will try to catch some of that fire. Most have formalized their Linux efforts in recent months, forming Linux-specialist offices and such, and they will work on plans and new alliances right up to show time.
For its part, HP is reportedly taking this show as an opportunity to debut a Linux server bundle that includes process-scheduling applications software based on HP's long-touted but rarely seen Change Engine technology.
Even Sun Microsystems, a server and workstation leader that sat out the early Linux battles, is slated to make its presence felt at the show. The company's newly purchased Cobalt Networks arm will display a series of new machines built specifically to run the Linux operating system.
Server-side Linux is the main play for all those vendors, whose desktop Linux efforts have yet to get rolling. They are apparently daunted by the entrenchment of Microsoft as the desktop application leader. And while smaller players are doing interesting things with new Linux GUIs and applications, they too seem unwilling to challenge Microsoft's productivity packages head-on, at least for now.
The so-called war between the KDE and GNOME interfaces gained some attention at the last Linux confab. A more intuitive, more graphical user interface, some believe, might enable Linux to gain a greater foothold on the desktop. The KDE-GNOME tussle is not necessarily a burning issue within the Linux community, because many Linux users prefer command-line control to "pretty pictures" of the graphical variety anyway.