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Linux - the Darling of Comdex 1998?

By Norman M. Jacobowitz

Once again the mega-computer show known as Comdex (http://www.comdex.com/) took over Las Vegas, Nevada, this past November 15 through 20th. On hand to represent the Linux community were 12 vendors who made up this year's Linux Pavilion: Linux Journal, Red Hat, S.u.S.E., Caldera, VA Research, Linux Hardware Solutions, Linux International, InfoMagic, Enhanced Software Technologies, Turbo Linux, Interix and ApplixWare. Special Linux-related events included the presentation of the first annual Linux Journal Editor's Choice Awards by our esteemed editor, Marjorie Richardson.

As usual, there were throngs of corporate buyers, sellers and interested onlookers from nearly every nation on hand for the event. Hundreds of exhibits, from small, quiet displays of software to a real high-wire balancing act performed above the crowd, entertained and informed visitors.

But there are several factors that set the recent Comdex apart from years past. Number one, there was a noticeable drop-off in business attendance. Several major corporations, including Netscape and Intel, either did not show up at all or rented small meeting spaces rather than building booths. Mirroring the corporate no-shows was the precipitous decline in individual attendance. The missing visitors were readily noticed -- taxi lines were shorter, hotel rooms were easily secured, etc.

What makes Comdex 1998 stand out even more is the dramatic increase in the amount of attention that was received by Linux. Not only was the Linux Pavilion packed from the opening on Monday until the close on Friday, but other exhibitors had more to say about Linux during the course of the show.

Evidence was everywhere that Linux is reaching past the IT departments at major corporations and getting the attention of management and other non-technical decision makers. This in turn meant that press attention was focused on Linux as never before. Several vendors in the Linux Pavilion were interviewed for a local TV news segment, while most major computer oriented print outlets made at least some mention of the Linux presence at Comdex.

Even more impressive were the numbers of average computer users who approached vendors at the Linux Pavilion with an open mind and lots of questions ... and then walked away with a distribution CD! Linux International was distributing several different CD-ROMs and asking for a $1 donation. They "sold out" of CDs quite quickly, and were eventually rescued by the generosity of S.u.S.E. As a result of the efforts of LI and the rest of the Linux Pavilion, there are now perhaps as many as several thousand new Linux users.

So, what does Comdex 1998 mean for the future of Linux? Well, based on my experience there and the people I spoke to, I believe we can expect several of the following events, if not all, to occur between now and the turn of the century:

In all fairness, there are some negative interpretations of the attention Linux received at Comdex. For one, the strong press attention could be somewhat explained by the very point made in the previous paragraph: because the big vendors like Microsoft didn't have any new mind-boggling toys to show off, the press had to look for news where it could find it. Linux was the biggest new thing to talk about. Plus, with attendance off and fewer vendors on hand, visitors had to look harder to find anything interesting to see at the show; it's possible they may not have come down to see us had their been more going on at the other Comdex venues.

Yet the reception received by Linux vendors and enthusiasts at Comdex 1998 can only be described as overwhelmingly positive. As a final bit of evidence to support that claim, let me relate the following personal anecdote ...

On the flight down to Las Vegas from Seattle, it was my pleasure to sit next to a Vice President from Microsoft. This gentleman was a pleasure to speak with about Microsoft, Open Source software and Linux. He was filled not with judgment and disdain, but genuine interest and thoughtful questions about what free software and Linux mean for the future of computing. Not only that, but he did assert that while companies like Microsoft are in business to make money, he himself is very interested in learning more about Linux and other free software. He said that many of his colleagues and contemporaries all over the business spectrum are equally intrigued. Something tells me his attitude is not unique ... Linux and Free/Open Source Software are poised to take a remarkable position in the future of computing and technology.

With all of these facts taken into consideration, there is one logical conclusion: Comdex 1998 was one more step on Linux's way to complete world domination.

Copyright © 1998, Norman M. Jacobowitz
Published in Issue 35 of Linux Gazette, December 1998