There was a time when LinuxWorld was one of--if not the-- hottest technology conferences around. This show used to be jammed. The curious would hang on the latest pronouncement from Linus Torvalds. Jon Maddog Hall would hold court on why Linux was headed for "world domination" and if we were really lucky, Eric (Cathedral and the Bazaar) Raymond might muse about how Linux was as American as, well, handgun ownership.
But the real attraction was the novelty of a technology that was just then starting to intrigue the mainstream. The fact that it was considered too eccentric for "really serious" computing applications made it all the more fun. (It was free for Pete's sake. How does that square with serious corporate computing?)
That now seems like ancient history. The roster of keynotes during this week's LinuxWorld conference reads like a Who's Who of the Establishment with the likes of IBM, McKesson and Merrill Lynch, among others, taking turns behind the lectern.
No disrespect to the speakers, but we're not exactly talking about technology rebels. When big companies send their Linux pitchmen to this sort of event, what's really left to talk about? Mostly maintenance issues and a few other (to be sure, important) details which attend the progress of any standard. Relevant? Yes. Earth-shattering? No.
The relatively sparse turnout reflects that change in perception. Some parts of the floor at San Francisco's cavernous Moscone convention center were so thinly populated that you could have run a pickup game of Frisbee football without risk of smacking into bystanders. Ubuntu's booth was the big exception to that generalization--and it was packing them in without needing to toss away any tchotchkes!
Watching the scene from a less crowded vantage point, Cluster Resources President Michael Jackson found an inverse correlation between the dwindling number of people attending LinuxWorld and the spread of Linux into the mainstream.
"The more mature the technology, the less relevant the show," he said. "This is just the medium that people used. Now, you can go to the Web or to your local retailer."
I think he's on target. Red Hat and Novell, which hold their own user conferences, likely siphoned away some would-be LinuxWorld traffic. But Jackson's hinting at a more convincing explanation, which is the success story surrounding Linux. Advocates no longer need to explain why they're not card-carrying loons. Business gets it. Only the most antediluvian data center managers would still hold their nose when an associate brings up the subject of Linux or open source. And they likely won't last long in their current jobs, either.