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Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) 5x exhibitors: non-profits

posted Apr 17, 2013, 1:15 PM by John Jones   [ updated Apr 17, 2013, 1:17 PM ]

(Article originally posted at InfoWorld Magazine)

There was a great variety of exhibitors at the SCALE 5x (5th annual Southern California Linux Expo)event in the LAX Westin Hotel. There were Linux User Groups (LUG), non-profit groups, companies making money by improving and supporting Open Source Software (OSS), companies selling hardware, several companies selling hybrid OSS/proprietary software, and even one or two companies who sold proprietary-only software. I have the news on the interesting mix of non-profit exhibitors at this year’s SCALE event!

There were many Linux User Groups who had small booths at the event. A couple of IT organizations such as Usenix and the League of Professional System Administrators (LOPSA) were there as well. And of course there were numerous booths for various Open Source Software projects. One of the big hits at this year’s event was Inkscape, an OSS vector graphics program, like Adobe Illustrator. Inkscape had an amazing demo graphic on display. They had created a vector graphics rendition of an electric blue Lamborghini which showed off their “blur” feature. The graphic looked more like a photo than an artist’s rendition until you got right up close to look at the computer screen. Inkscape uses the SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) file format. The SVG format is a W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) standard which allows 2D vector graphics to be defined in an XML formatted text file. So when saved to disk, that gorgeous blue Lamborghini was just a text file. Watch out Adobe, Inkscape is creeping up in the rearview mirror!

The usual OSS projects seen at Linux events were there of course. The folks at the KDE booth were showing off their excellent desktop environment for Linux and other OSS operating systems. The KDE group is working hard on KDE4 which promises a number of technological improvements, but is most impressive for its focus on Human-Computer Interface (HCI). The designers and developers will be working more closely than ever before to produce a remarkable user interface. And right across the aisle from the KDE booth was the Gnome Desktop. Gnome is the other outstanding OSS desktop environment that vies with KDE for the role of the most popular on Linux.

As is often the case at Linux events, some of the Open Source BSD projects had booths at the SCALE event. The NetBSD folks had a booth with their famous toaster running the NetBSD operating system. Interestingly, the toaster was powered by a Technologic Systems TS-7200 ARM-based SBC (Single Board Computer) that was about the size of a PC104 board, but runs an energy-efficient ARM processor. NetBSD tries to be the most portable operating system available. Its strong code base is easy to port and to use for embedded devices.

Curiously absent at SCALE was the OpenBSD group. OpenBSD is a BSD operating systems which focuses on security and is ported to an astounding 17 different hardware platforms, with 4 more hardware ports in the works. Open BSD has dropped ports for more hardware platforms than RedHat Linux and SuSE Linux support!

The FreeBSD booth was sponsored by iXSystems, a server hardware vendor who sells equipment pre-installed with FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, or any of a wide variety of Linux distributions. FreeBSD was giving out several good pieces of literature on various aspects of FreeBSD, and they were talking up the PC-BSD variant of FreeBSD. PC-BSD is a special version of FreeBSD for use as a desktop operating system with an easy graphical installer. I found it interesting that iXSystems did not have their name or logo displayed in the booth at all. The only reason that I found out about the sponsorship is because I noticed the company name on the badge of one of the people in the FreeBSD booth who I was talking to about some technical issues. I recognized the name iXSystems because my company had recently purchased a server from them. The person I was talking to turned out to be iXSystems CTO Matt Olander, who is an energetic fellow and astoundingly knowledgeable about OSS operating systems and projects. iXSystems is very involved with the FreeBSD project. Not only does iXSystems help to sponsor the FreeBSD booth, they also sponsor development on FreeBSD projects, host a rack of the FreeBSD project’s equipment along with bandwidth, and even donate cash and hardware to various developers and projects.

Cecil Watson was manning the KnoppMyth booth. KnoppMyth is a special Linux distribution that includes the popular MythTV project for Open Source DVR software. Where MythTV requires a running Linux system and some tweaking, KnoppMyth is a full Linux distro installer which includes the MythTV program installation and configuration, and even provides some extra functionality like backups, restores, and upgrades. To make things even easier, Cecil has identified certain pieces of hardware that work especially well with KnoppMyth, thus creating the KnoppMyth Reference Platform (KRP). Storm Logic’s MythicTV store sells lots of hardware for MythTV, and Cecil was demonstrating MythicTV’s Dragon v2.0 which is  based on the KRP hardware specs and thus makes KnoppMyth installation and use very easy. Cecil also had some literature on CommandIR remote controls and the pcHDTVTM HDTV tuner cards.

PostgreSQL had a booth at the show. Although the much improved version 8.2.3 has already been released, the fine developers of PostgreSQL are not resting on their laurels! I spoke with PostgreSQL Project team member Josh Berkus, who told me about the upcoming version 8.3, which they hope to have ready by the end of this summer. Josh said to expect big performance increases, and much improved data warehousing and OLTP (Online Transaction Processing) thanks to contributions by Greenplum and EnterpriseDB. New features are expected to include on-disk compressed bitmap indexes, SQL:XML syntax support, a PL/pgSQL debugger, and SQL-standard updatable views.

A curious booth at this year’s event was Haiku. Haiku is an Open Source operating project that aims to be the ultimate desktop computer operating system. The developers respect the tenants of the famous BeOS and have even made the Haiku operating system byte compatible with BeOS binaries. Haiku does not have the Human-Computer Interface rough edges of Linux and other Open Source Unix-like desktop systems. Haiku is a beautiful, high performance desktop operating system that could be a serious player in the desktop market in the future if it can find a way to gain acceptance with commercial application developers.

The Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) had a booth at SCALE 5x. LTSP makes use of low end hardware for desktop systems by making them simple display terminals, while all the real computing power is housed in the server where applications are actually run. An LTSP setup is similar to the Sun Microsystems Sun Ray systems. This project has been around for a while and has matured quite a bit. The centralized computing model that LTSP uses makes updates and maintenance significantly easier and more efficient. The minimalistic hardware requirements for the client workstations helps reduce costs. LTSP is used often for computing labs and training environments, and there is even a special sub-project of LTSP for K-12 education.

All of the major non-profit Linux distributions were represented at SCALE 5x. Fedora had a steady stream of foot traffic to their booth all day, where they were handing out install disks. Freespire was promoting their Linux desktop operating system which allows you to easily incorporate proprietary drivers and codecs if desired. Gentoo Linux is the ultimate Linux operating system for the advanced user who wants to customize just about any thing in the entire distro. Gentoo is famous for compiling applications instead of installing pre-built binaries. It’s a long process but allows the user to tweak compiler settings to make the resulting binaries optimized for the system’s processor and thus a bit faster than a pre-built binary installation. The venerable Debian had a booth and they were selling shirts, install disks, and other goodies. Blars Blarson and some of the other Debian maintainers were manning the booth.

A more unusual exhibitor at SCALE 5x was Wikipedia. I found out that Wikipedia runs on Open Source Software, in addition to being a community built and maintained encyclopedia of assorted knowledge. They run Linux and Apache and have made some code contributions, particularly to the mod_perl extension to the Apache web server.
Another unique exhibitor was the Linux Astronomy project. Volunteers with an interest in astronomy and Linux work with teenagers who need some leadership or guidance and get the teenagers focused on astronomy projects to keep them out of trouble and into something productive. The booth had their newest project on display: a mechanized telescope that will be remotely controlled via Linux computers. I had a nice discussion with Eugene Clement, the organizer of the Linux Astronomy group. FYI, the group goes out into the desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas for night sky viewing. If you live near the area and would like to join them, contact Eugene through the Linux Astronomy site maintainer Pixo.

Myself and q!Bang Solutions co-owner Josh Kuo have written a couple of articles recently about home-grown Linux-based appliances. So I was drawn to the booth for NSLU2-Linux, an embedded Linux distribution for ixp4xx-based devices such as the Linksys NSLU2. The NSLU2 is a low cost Network Attached Storage (NAS) device which will make your USB-based storage disks available across a network. This project holds special interest for us because it gives you the availability of more storage space to provide a complete Linux distribution with extra storage space on a low-cost device. Thus the memory and storage limitations of a Linksys WRT54G device with the OpenWRT Linux OS installed are addressed by using the NSLU2 with NSLU2-Linux.

Open Source Software is moving into all sorts of industries, and the arts is no exception. The booth for Cinepaint was representing OSS in the photography, movie and animation industries. Cinepaint is used for frame-by-frame retouching on movies, removing wire rigging in action sequences, photo retouching and 3D model texturing. It has been used on many feature films such as The Last Samurai, the Harry Potter series, Spiderman, and many others.

The CAcert project was on hand in their own booth. The CA Cert project issues certificates to the public at large for free. Their goals are to be included in popular web browsers as a certificate authority, and to provide a trust mechanism for encryption security. No more high prices to certificate authorities!

I was pleased to see the booth for Ulteo at the show. Ulteo is essentially a Linux spin on Microsoft’s Terminal Services server. Ulteo is created by Gael Duval, who was a creator of Mandrake Linux (now Mandriva Linux). The SCALE web site lists Ulteo as a non-profit organization in its list of exhibitors, but in the description of Ulteo it indicates:

Ulteo intends to contribute a portion of its profits to humanitarian and ecological organizations. We believe that every company which benefits from the market place should help fight against child malnutrition and current ecological disasters.

I did some research on Ulteo’s web site, but did not find any conclusive indication one way or the other. I have contacted Ulteo and will update this entry once I have heard back. At the booth I got to see an informal demonstration of the Ulteo remote access in action. It looked very good and could help to advance Linux acceptance in enterprises as a desktop OS.