LINUXWORLD SF - The penguin plugs along

Legal efforts by The SCO Group Inc. to license technology that many thought was open source seemed to weigh heavily on exhibitors and attendees at the recent LinuxWorld in the US, but it didn't slow the display of PCs and servers loaded with Linux applications, distributions, and gadgets.

Nor was the event all business. Linux-powered penguin-hunting Centibot robots from SRI International competed to find a hidden stuffed Tux penguin. And the always exciting trivia contest proved who knows the most Linux factoids.

Sneaking Past Windows

Big-name vendors Dell Inc., IBM Corp., and Hewlett-Packard Co. were not showing Linux desktops, but a few penguin-powered PCs could be found.

Polywell now offers all of its systems--from gaming cubes to rack-mounted servers running Linux, Windows, or with a dual-boot option. Customers demanded Linux systems, company representatives say--and one Polywell Inc. staffer suggests Linux is user-friendly enough for the masses.

A Dell representative who asked not to be named says the Linux-friendly vendor is keeping Linux off its desktops because otherwise "Microsoft will kill us."

However, Dell's Poweredge 400SC server is nearly identical to its Dimension Optiplex, which comes with Windows, and the server can instead be shipped without an operating system or loaded with either Windows or Linux.

Application Efforts

As for software, fewer distributions were represented than in the past. Showing off their latest developments were Lycoris Inc., Red Hat Inc., SuSE Linux AG, and Xandros Corp. At a session titled "Desktop Linux: What's Ahead," a panel of representatives from Debian, Lycoris, SuSE, Xandros, and Ximian talked about the usability of Linux desktops.

Demonstrations showed slick-looking icons, easy-to-use applications for home and enterprise use, and from Lycoris, a new Toshiba Corp. Portege 3500 tablet PC running Linux. The tablet will have a virtual keyboard, run a modified version of the KDE desktop environment, and bundle the KOffice office suite, say Lycoris representatives. The tablets are scheduled to ship by year's end.

Xandros (successor to Corel) showed its distribution's single Control Center, reminiscent of Windows XP's own Control Panel.

"If you can configure Windows, you'll have no problem doing a Xandros configuration," says Erich Forler, senior product development manager, who gave the demo. He also showed how to easily join a Windows domain, automatically mount Windows partitions, and detect removable media (like a thumb drive) using Xandros.

"The reality is that we live in a Windows world. People expect it to look like Windows. Anybody should be able to install and configure Xandros," Forler says. Many distributions offer similar one-stop control areas.

Linux Lobbyists

It's not the ongoing litigation by SCO and IBM that threatens the open-source movement, suggests Bruce Perens, open-source advocate and developer, who gave his "State of Linux" talk.

Rather, he points to a lack of open-source lobbying on Capitol Hill and poorly thought-out legislation as a hazard.

Customers should ask their software providers what they're doing in the face of software patents and trusted systems, Perens says. He also wonders why customers aren't pushing back to keep their rights.

Perens commended the efforts of an organization, the Open Source & Industry Alliance, which plans to lobby on Capitol Hill for open-source initiatives. Perens urged companies and individuals to donate to the cause.

Tide Turns Slowly

However, Linux advocates can count some recent successes. Several European cities are adopting Linux as a cheap, easy-to-use alternative to Windows.

Munich has deployed 14,000 Linux desktops; Largo, Florida, has installed 800 desktops, according to Marcel Gagne, author of the book Moving to Linux: Kiss the Blue Screen of Death Goodbye! At Children's Services in Toronto, the information technology staff has installed Linux on 350 PCs.

The Linux revolution may not have happened yet, but "the time is here, we're at the tipping point," Gagne says.

He offers personal testimony for migration. When many friends and family members sought his advice with Windows problems, he agreed to fix the trouble by installing Linux. Now, most of his friends and family run Linux and "they couldn't be happier," Gagne says. "They have nothing but praise, no viruses, and their PCs don't crash."

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