UK Linux Expo 2002 -- Report
Debian at the UK Linux Expo in London
The well-oiled Debian-uk machine rolled into action again for this year's Linux Expo in London. Phil Hands ably negotiated the .org section with the organisers and was vaguely in charge of the Debian effort too. The turnout of developers was excellent and we were the best-manned stand in the whole exhibition, as well as being probably the most-attended stand. Charles Briscoe-Smith provided and ran an on-demand CD production system for the more obscure CD sets so we could blow and print CDs for anything people needed. Wookey and his lard-powered van provided transport of machines, monitors, CDs and beer there and back. CDs/DVDs of Debian-i386 were kindly provided by John Winters of the LinuxEmporium on sale-or-return.
The trend of recent years continued with a large Debian-arm contingent showing off interesting devices and entertaining the crowds. Debian-NetBSD and Debian-alpha were represented and the rest of the team answered questions about Debian and free-software, and sold CDs, DVDs and T-shirts. A lot of people got top-notch technical advice on a range of problems, and enjoyed the experience of no-one trying to sell them anything for a few minutes.
To illustrate the difference between 'free as in beer' and 'free as in freedom', free beer was handed out to people whilst selling them the software. A couple of grands-worth of stuff was sold, making a profit for Debian of around 800 pounds. We even managed to sell a few sets of s390 and arm CDs as well as the more usual ones.
The things demonstrated were:
- Debian-i386 in various guises, on various machines (of course)
- Knoppix - live-cd 'instant Debian' for easily trying out the one true OS. CDs of this were sold too.
- Debian-NetBSD running on Matthew Garrett's laptop.
- Debian-alpha demonstrated by Andrew Cater, helping out blowing CDs
- The Debian-arm corner:
- Paul Kent attempting a live Risc-PC install (with some, if not complete, success)
- A host of funky arm-based devices running Debian or derivatives (Psion5mx, ipaq, LART, RiscPC).
- Nick Bane, demonstrating a new open-hardware ARM platform - 'Balloon' which could speak about 8 languages using 3 different synthesisers. This generated a lot of interest, showing what you can do with Debian/familiar on an embedded device and got us a mention on ZDNet.
Other developers who helped out were: Dave Swegen, Jonathan McDowell, Paul Hedderly, Paul Sladen, and David Pashley (being the KDE stand).
Phil Hands represented Debian in the "Great Linux Debates" both days. He gave a Sun executive a good ranting-at for describing Staroffice as 'free software', which earned him a cheer. His questioning also revealed that Gregory Blepp (SuSE VP International) didn't understand what free software was and, worryingly, seemed rather proud of the fact. Simon Tindel (the Sun Executive) bravely returned on the second day despite Sun having been awarded, by popular vote, a pair of fake breasts for 'services to Linux'.
The IBM representative on the second day, Andy Hoiles, really showed that IBM 'get it' by being extremely positive about the scalability and general goodness of Linux, and dismissive of the "only server", "only 1 or 2 CPU", "only anything" mealy-mouthedness of the other execs (Sun and HP). When he mentioned that Red Hat and SuSE were making major strides towards ISV-friendliness by slowing their release cycles towards 18 months, Phil pointed out that Debian has never managed to put out two releases in the same 18 months, so after a brief exchange he said something like: "Oh, OK then. IBM says “ISVs should target Debian” :-)"
Other .orgers who spoke were: The uniquely entertaining Michael Meeks (Gnome2), the tirelessly well-informed Julian Midgely (Campaign for Digital Rights), Eddie Bleasdale (Secure Desktop Computing), Tom Weiss (Free Content Management) and the irrepressible Luke Leighton (Lessons learned from Samba) who, ignoring announcements of the end of the show, continued talking until after the security guards had started sweeping the last of the public out of the hall.
Overall the Expo was a success for Debian, getting us some exposure to the real public, and making useful profits. It's quite hard work but worth doing. However the Expo itself was a pale shadow of itself in the 'Linux boom' years with a fairly paltry showing of stands. Debian and SuSE were the only big-name distributions represented and a number of attendees reckoned there wasn't a great deal else of interest, although I thought Apple's Mac OS X desktop demos were rather snazzy, and we managed to sneak on to their wireless network too to get that all-important connection to the outside world :-)