A tale of two LinuxWorld Expos

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San Jose, Calif. -- "Suits" and "geeks": the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo was well-represented by both. Most notable was the formation of the GNOME Foundation, populated by suits (corporate Linux advocates who sense a potent competitor to Microsoft's Windows 2000 platform) and geeks (less corporate Linux advocates who, with considerable effort and devotion, popularized the platform).

Much attention has been paid to the commercialization of Linux, but the spirit of open source that drives Linux may be best seen in efforts like the Debian development group, which is something of a labor of love for the programmers involved.

At LinuxWorld, the Debian development group rolled out Debian 2.2, the latest version of its operating system distribution based on a Linux kernel. In fact, this not a Linux-only effort -- other kernel support is in the works.

Like many software releases, Debian 2.2 is searching for the right moniker, and has come to be called "Potato." This being an exposition as well as a conference, "Mr. Potato Headware" was available in bulk as part of the Debian 2.2 promotion.

Version 2.2's adherents say it is more scalable and robust than previous versions, and supports the ability to update the underlying OS or applications without rebooting the machine. It runs on major hardware platforms, including Pentium, PowerPC, Sparc, Alpha, and even old 68000-based machines like the Amiga and Atari.

Debian 2.2 also supports multiple languages, including Japanese, German, and French; support for Chinese is nearing completion. It supports authentication and LDAP, and is said to include better support for the new Linux File Hierarchy Standard.

Debian is a distribution of Linux, much like Red Hat, Caldera, or the other 140 or so distributions.

Worldly vision

Ian Murdoch, president and CEO of Progeny, began the Debian movement in 1994. He said one of Debian's underlying strengths is that its developers were located all over the world, and many of them never spoke to each other. This development methodology helped form a template for the Open Source Foundation when it set out to develop Linux.

"The most interesting thing about Debian is that about 500 people are now collaborating all over the world," said Bruce Perens, a leader in the open source movement and president of Linux Capital Group. "Most are volunteers, although many are doing it on behalf of their companies."

To protect the code's integrity and prevent programmers from inserting Trojan horses, the developers use public key cryptography to sign all code. That way, a malicious piece of code can be traced back to the developer.

Why Potato? Apparently, characters from the movie Toy Story have provided more than one unauthorized trademark name for Debian releases.

Build to suit

In the opposite direction, if not entirely on the other end of the LinuxWorld spectrum, are deals like the one made by IBM and Red Hat. As part of a worldwide software agreement, Red Hat will bundle IBM's Linux-based software, IBM announced Tuesday at LinuxWorld.

IBM will provide the software infrastructure for Red Hat Linux solutions. Infrastructure software takes the form of IBM DB2, WebSphere, Lotus Domino, Tivoli Framework, and IBM's Small Business Pack for Linux.

The motivation is to simplify Linux from a corporate administrator's perspective, not always the goal of end-user advocates who are more comfortable doing the administration themselves.

"From an IBM perspective, this is the most significant marketing agreement we have had in the Linux space," said Robert LeBlanc, IBM's vice president of software. This will marry IBM's high-end technical competence with Linux's popularity, he said.

Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann said this will enable Linux to go from a mere operating system to a platform for deploying enterprise class applications.

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