Linux World Expo 2004 (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 03 Aug 2004

Linux World Expo 2004

I just got back from Linuxworld.

The exhibit floor isn't very different from last year. A few more desktop booths, a few fewer embedded and small (e.g. PDA) booths, still dominated by server oriented exhibits -- clustering, network monitoring and similar sysadmin tools. The "Dot Org Pavilion" was quite a bit bigger than last year (which I like, since that's where most of the interest is for me).

The most interesting corporate booth was Psion, which was showing a small device midway between a large PDA (like their old Revo) and a small subnotebook (like my Vaio SR). It has a keyboard that looks smaller than my Vaio's, but which types very well, surprisingly comparable to the Sony. It uses CF as its main disk, but also has a SD/MMC slot, and PCMCIA and USB (no actual hard drive). And a touchscreen. They claim 8 hours battery life. They told Dave that it might sell for around $1000-1500 (too much, probably because of the touchscreen).

They've been trying to sell the hardware as a WinCE box to corporate buyers and vertical markets, and I guess it isn't doing well, so they put linux on it (a Debian variant) and brought two of them to the show to gauge interest. It looked like they weren't expecting any interest at all: their booth was spare, with a table with two of the devices on it, one guy who seemed to know something and two women who just stood around and didn't seem inclined to talk to anyone or answer questions. No fliers, no sign, no nuthin. There were people crowded around the booth (not thickly, but a few) both times I passed. Perhaps they'll decide there's enough interest to go ahead.

The guy was there again (with a friend) showing off a live homebuilt seismometer, recording on the show floor. Very cool. Someone who came to visit the booth showed his latest hack, a knoppix that boots from an NTFS partition (so it's fast and doesn't require a CD). I suggested he show it to the open source in education guy in the booth next door, since I'd just been commiserating with him about how hard it is to get people at schools (or any Windows users, really) to try something like Knoppix.

The Mozilla booth was doing great and always had a crowd around it. Apparently they sold out of the plush firefox toys immediately, surprising everyone since they hadn't been selling on the web site. The Debian and local LUG (shared between LUGoD, SVLUG, PenLUG and BayLUG) booths were both doing well, and the Gentoo booth always had a few visitors typing on the demo machines. The Fedora staffer looked lonely; hardly anyone seemed interested in the Fedora booth.

I did my usual quick survey of which of the big booths were running linux in their booth. Oracle and Redhat were clear winners, with no definite Windows boxes (a few in each case which were running full screen presentation software so I couldn't tell what the OS was). Sun was the worst, with only one Linux box I saw, and the rest all Windows: no Solaris that I saw. AMD leaned toward Linux (maybe 60%), Veritas leaned the other way (60% Windows) and IBM was about 50-50 (no better than last year).

The "Golden Penguin Bowl" was strange. It's a trivia contest between two teams of luminaries; but in this case, one team (the Nerds) was three big-name Linux luminaries, and the other team (the Geeks) was all Apple or BSD people with no connection to Linux at all. Dave kept wondering, "And his connection to Linux is ...?" About half the questions dealt with sci-fi rather than computers, and the Geeks had a strong lead there, but the Nerds cleaned up on the computer questions and ended up with the prize. Timothy D. Witham (of OSDL) was particularly impressive with his knowledge of obscure CPUs, and got several major ovations from the audience after correcting the judges.

Then it was BOF time, and I chose the Zeroconf BOF. I'd done a little research into Zeroconf a month ago for a possible article, but hadn't been able to get it to work, and ran into a snag that the sourceforge page on zcip says it's been removed because of Apple asserting intellectual property rights over the protocol. I hoped that the BOF would shed some light on what I was missing.

Boy, was that wrong! The BOF was a long advertisement for Apple, run by an Apple employee, Stuart Cheshire, and an Apple user (and former employee? I wasn't clear). It consisted of a powerpoint presentation followed by numerous demos of two Mac laptops talking to each other, or a Mac laptop talking to some obscure-but-nifty piece of hardware that implements rendezvous (or whatever Apple is calling it now). After about an hour of this I finally asked where linux fit in, and the answer boiled down to, "Gee, linux doesn't really do zeroconf very well and we wish it did, we're hoping someone writes it."

He mentioned zcip as one of the options, so I made the mistake of asking about the message on sourceforge about Apple's patents, and got a long lecture on how beneficent apple was and how they'd never sue anyone other than in self defense, and anyone who says otherwise is probably trying to push an anti-patent political agenda, but poor apple has to have patents to protect itself from mean companies. And besides, he thinks the patent expired a couple of weeks ago, but it was a good patent, which may seem obvious now but probably wasn't back when it was issued.

Hoping to get back on track after unintentionally derailling the conversation, I asked what Linux users should use given that his first suggestion, zcip, was unavailable. He mentioned HOWL, by Scott Herscher (who was there at the session), which implements all three parts of zeroconf. Googling later at home, I found it at Porchdog software. It's apparently a mixture of BSD licensed code and Apple licensed code. But it doesn't seem to require signing the Apple developer agreement to download it. I haven't tried it yet.

He said that the zcip part of zeroconf would be much better implemented in the kernel, where it would be only about twelve lines of additional code. (He seemed to be talking about the "choose a random number, check for traffic, and back off if it's occupied" portion. Isn't there more to zcip than that? Or is the rest already there in the kernel?) He wondered why no one was adding it. Dave asked, "So, why don't you do it? C'mon, just twelve lines!" Stuart was not amused, and said that while writing the twelve lines wasn't a problem, setting up the build environment for the kernel takes a lot of time, far more than he had available.

Speaking of that Apple license and agreement, Stuart says that there's nothing prohibiting Apple licensed code like zeroconf from being distributed in any linux distro, and he seemed surprised and perturbed that no distro was shipping it (of course, the fact that it just released a couple weeks ago might have something to do with that. :-)

Other bits I wasn't previously clear on: a machine can have a link local address and a regular IP address concurrently, on the same ethernet card. I'm not clear how this shows up in ifconfig (if it does). Link local addressing is not required for the other two parts of zeroconf: MDNS and service discovery should work even over normal IP addresses.

Some of the docs on the web about zeroconf say that MS is backing a service discovery protocol called SLP, rather than the DNS-SD protocol used by Apple, and that most people think SLP scales much better than DNS-SD. As presented at the BOF, both Apple and MS support Rendezvous as it exists now (but then why point out that Apple's Rendezvous is now available for Windows? If Windows already does it, why would anyone need to register with Apple and download different software? I wasn't clear on that) and UPNP, backed by MS, is losing ground and probably won't win in the long run. Perhaps UPNP is a renaming of SLP. I declined to ask about the scaling issues, having already unwittingly caused enough trouble asking about patents.

Great quote from Stuart, possibly sufficient to justify sitting through an hour and a half of Apple advertising: he was talking about somebody having trouble with a networked printer which it turned out had been configured to have a non-default IP, then returned to Fry's, and added "Fry's is the Silicon Valley Hardware Lending Library."

Incidentally, the BOF area was supposed to have wi-fi, with an essid that was given on the signs, but I got "access point out of range". I guess I really should try one of the other drivers, linux-wlan or hostap. Dancer says hostap is easier to set up, and apparently it uses the normal wireless-tools, unlike linux-wlan which uses its own set of tools. I don't need hostap mode, but if it's a good driver for normal client use then I guess that's what matters. Though the Apple people didn't see a network either, but maybe that's because they didn't know about the essid.

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[ 23:36 Aug 03, 2004    More conferences | permalink to this entry | ]

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