Torvalds at FNAL - Spring Comdex 1999

Spring Comdex 99/Linux Global Summit

Day 2

Torvalds at FNAL - Spring Comdex 1999
The next day, I drove in early enough to be able to catch a seat for the Tuesday keynote. The speaker was Rick Roscitt. A very slick ATT exec. He started off his talk by saying that he had to rush off to find a suit and tie for this talk, and that being a networking geek, he didn't own one. I found this very hard to swallow. That suit he was wearing fit him awfully well to be something he snagged at JC Penny on his way to Comdex. (From the content of his keynote, he would have argued that he clicked around using IE looking for a web aware mens clothing site, used a virtual model of himself to tailor his suit, and have it delivered FedEx overnight to the Comdex green room. Maybe that's why the suit fit him so well...)

Torvalds at FNAL - Spring Comdex 1999
Rick is the networking services guy at ATT. This translates to the guy who is going to be running the Internet N number of years from now. His sleek and polished look reminded me of a corporate survivor, and he is now riding the Internet bull for none other than ATT. He has a clear vision of what life on the Internet is like and going to be. He wouldn't have gotten to where he was if he didn't. And I must say, this vision, and these are his own words, "is a bit Orwellian". He talked about how 2 or 3 years from now, all cars rolling off the assembly line will have a couple of networking chips (ASICs?) which coupled to the GPS chips (another set of ASIC) will track your car, over IP, every where it goes. You locked your keys in your car? A quick call to the car company will have an attendant unlock it for you. (IP unlock the goofs car packet ping -> your car.) You crash? The air bag deployment system will make an automatic 911 call for you. Your wife wants to know where you were last night? No problem, a couple of clicks on the car companies web site, will show her which securitus route you took to get to her bests friends house. (Sorry, driving under the FDR drive didn't work. She knows where you went.) The coke machine down the hall is getting empty. An IP packet to Coke-a-cola corporate will get a delivery truck out to restock the coke machine. Your thirsty, and there is an IP aware coke machine down the hall from your dorm room? Fire up your Linux box and port scan the sucker. You'll empty the coke machine and have a pizza party with your dorm buddies. Coke machine now empty? It pings corporate for a reload. The next night you can break back in through the back door you left the night before, for another midnight coke and pizza party. (The silly remarks are mine, but the car and coke examples are Rick's.)

My camera is just not up to taking pictures of these high powered exec's. Even so, you can tell that suit he is wearing fits awfully nice on him. Common Rick, are you really a networking geek?
Torvalds at FNAL - Spring Comdex 1999

Rick touched on a theme which I've thought of as well. Its an obvious one, and I'm sure many have thought of this as well. The have and have not social structure, where the have are the ones who have access to the Internet and the have nots don't. He used the term, have and have nots, but also was referring to those who have and don't have the willingness to change to the Internet culture. In many businesses today, (the local bank branch is the example he gave) don't have or understand the Internet mentality. Its all an IP packet away. Everything we will do, will be IP based at some point in the future. Even Linus Torvalds talked about a refrigerator which had a web browser on its front door at the Comdex or FNAL talk, (I can't remember which at this point.) "I would buy one of those" was his comment after excusing himself for making the rather politically incorrect statement that there are people who's lives revolved around the contents of their refrigerator.

Rick is going to go far. He is in a very inviable position of leading the networking services team for ATT. You really have to be a schmuck to screw that one up. He boasted that his team has cleared over a billion dollars in sales last year and had 10 billion in unfulfilled backlog orders. My God. The whole Internet thing is a fast moving target and who knows what or who will be around next year or 10 years from now. But I would put my money on ATT still managing, to a large extent, many corporate networks around the world and making a good profit in doing so.

The talk ended with a spiffy video of a bunch of clients talking wonders about Rick's services department. Lots of time laps footage of expressways showing cars flying around really fast. After a while one gets sick of that kind of vido promo.

The Linux International Panel. A who's who panel of Linux. Larry Augustin moderated the session. Seated from left to right are: Ransom Love from Caldera, Maurice Hilarious of Hard Data, Jeff Car of Linus Power PC, Dave Sifry of Linux Care, Ted Cook of EST (the bru guys), Mark Bolzern of Linux Mall, and Bob Young, Mr Red Hat, he also wears red socks too. I'm not going to venture a guess about the color of his underwear...
Torvalds at FNAL - Spring Comdex 1999 Torvalds at FNAL - Spring Comdex 1999

I headed out of Arie Theater back over to McCormick West and went over to my now familiar and cozy room N133 for a panel discussion featuring representatives of the Linux International. Cozy room N133 got rather packed and the panel was moved to room N228. I'm getting rather tried of typing all this stuff so I'm going to let you read which I took. The panel discussion was a standard one with questions from the audience asking about the ins and outs of Linux. Bob Young made a nice introductory remark about how everyone in the Linux business today is stumbling around a dark room, bumping into furniture. Maurice Hilarious made an important observation that no one has gone broke doing Linux business. I had to get my question in which was that Linus is the single point of failure in the whole Linux industry. What was the Linux International going to do when Linus retires? There were several answers, "We will have a Linux standards base to fall back upon", "Yes there will be splintering of the kernel but we can deal with that", "Linus only wrote 10% of the code", "We will miss the leadership role Linus has given us". Bob Young concluded quoting Linus. "After I'm dead, I don't care what happens." It seems to me that this issue has come up, and discussed before. But, if say Linus and Alan Cox are flying together to some conference in Finland and get struck by a missile as they fly over Redmond, then chaos will be inevitable. My guess is that something will sort itself out and I believe the Linux International will play a role in this. The fact is, the code is out there, it does not belong to anyone and its GPL'ed forever.

Bob Young and a nice shot of his Red Socks....
Torvalds at FNAL - Spring Comdex 1999

After this session was over, I went up to Bob Young to introduce myself. To my surprise he remember me or at least remember my name from the time I helped him get in touch with the people at FNAL to get some project between Intel, Redhat and FNAL going. This was a couple of years a go. As I stood there, some guy was talking to him, and Bob was looking at me. He had this, "this guy looks familiar" look to him and he keep looking at me and my Comdex Badge. After about a minute, he broke off talking to this guy, put out his hand to shake mine and said. "So your Steve Adler, this is a very important guy". He then proceeded to thank me for my help with getting FNAL and Redhat communication channel open. This was really cool. I was very appreciative of Bob recognizing me and thanking me. I guess, after spending so much time running around setting up Redhat installs on machines around BNL, trying to do my best to get Linux accepted as a viable platform for physicists by doing crazy things like getting CERNLIB complied with Portland Group's f77 compiler etc. It was a bit of a reward for me to have Bob say, "This is a very important guy", pop a smile on his face and shake my hand.

Bob spent most of his time answering reporters questions. I'm just trying to get a picture with him.
Torvalds at FNAL - Spring Comdex 1999

I stuck around a bit, got my picture taken with Bob and then headed up to the show floor for a quick tour. I walked with Bob and some other guy over to the Linux pavilion which stood to the right of the main entrance to the show floor. Redhat's booth was rather impressive. It had a big illuminated redhat logo swirling away in the center of their booth. Behind them was the main Linux pavilion which had an orange and black motif (Could have the Halloween document played a role in the choice of colors?) Standing in front of the redhat booth, I had a chance to talk a bit more with Bob. I asked him if all this new venture capital flowing into redhat was causing strains on the development of the Redhat distribution. I figured that Netscape would want more attention payed to Netscape, or Intel to proper x86 optimization of gcc etc. His answer was that it was good for Redhat to have all these pressures put on by the investors. It means that more developers are brought in to handle the various pressure points exerted by these new investors. He did admit that he had not sold more than 50% of the shares in Redhat and that Redhat persay (i.e. Bob) has not lost control of the company. "You don't plan on selling more than 50% of your company?" I asked since I thought it would be a bad idea to let a venture capital consortium take over this open source effort. That wasn't the kind of question he wanted discussed, but fornow, the Redhat founding members are in control. Good.

Torvalds at FNAL - Spring Comdex 1999
I spent 4 days at an Internet show in New York Javitz center last fall. I wrote up may experience attending the show, very much like I'm doing now with this Comdex show. I must say that as far as the show floor booths and selling propaganda goes, the NYC show won hands down. The NY show floor was a real show. I'm talking Broadway show. There were singing and dancing acts, as well as mega media displays. There were jugglers on mono-cycles, Larry King impersonaters, and more. The Chicago Comdex show floor paled in comparison. It was really a run of the mill show. There were big impressive booths. Microsoft was ALL OVER THE PLACE. They took up the largest chunk of show floor real estate by far. But the content was rather ordinary. There was this Ziff Davis TV set where a couple were being "interviewed" by some host asking them about the show. This couple were some kind of professional commentators of sorts. They poked fun at the ongoings of the show. They asked the onlookers to show them all the weird paraphernalia they collected at the booths and made silly comments about what was shown to them. (A silver golf ball, pen with a mini-dinky monitor attached etc.) They even claimed that the show floor did not have much to entertain. But there was one exception. This was the presentation given over in the Computer Associates booth. They had this guy, dressed up like an symphony directory, talking about some CA product in a Mozart metaphor. He would swing his baton around, as if he were conducting a great symphony, with some Mozart symphony blaring away, and the large screen displays would show visuals of software running seamlessly through out your company etc. He was good, and the whole presentation was totally hilarious. I tried not to break out giggling. I caught him seeing me trying not to laugh which caused him to struggle to keep his composure as well. It was clear, he knew as well as I that he was putting on a "orchestrated" show for us show attendees.

It was about 2pm at this point, and since I had eaten a full featured breakfast at the Hyatt where I stayed the night before, I thought that instead heading for lunch, I would find a quite area and start writing up this Comdex experience. On level 2.5 I think, there is an area where there were a bunch of tables where people were hang out. It was quite and out of the way and a good place for me to break out my notebook and start writing all this down. My plane left at 6pm so I figured I would spend an hour writing and then leave at 3pm to catch my 6pm flight. (Three hours turned out to be just about the right amount of time needed to go 10 miles from McCormick to the Midway airport. Freeken Chicago traffic...)

"I got some free software." "Yea, what is it?" "It's an OS"...
Torvalds at FNAL - Spring Comdex 1999

As I sat there, settled into this iron chair, typing away on my note book, I noticed two guys sitting down on the adjacent table to my right. My take was that they were local high school or college kids checking out the Comdex show. I eaves dropped on their conversation which went something like this. "Check this out, I got some free software.", the first kid pulls out this red package. "Yea, what is it?", asks the second kid. The first kid opens the 5 1/4 inch package and starts to read the inside labels. "Its an OS" he replies. A close look at what the first kid was checking out revealed a Redhat CD give away. If I were Bill Gates, this scene would scare the living day lights out of me. Being a physicist who has spent 6 years of his life looking for rare statistical processes in Kaon decays, I know right off that bat the significance of the scene playing out before me. Probabilisticly, for two young kids who happen to sit next to me and one pulls out a Redhat CD and is curious about what it has to offer, means MS is going out and Linux is coming in. (i.e. the most probable event occurring is the one which has the largest phase space. Sorry, its physics speak and I'll leave it up to the MS marketing department figure out that it means.) Today at lunch, I was sitting next to a physicist colleague of mine, who has a problem. His daughter wants to put Linux on her PC. She tells him that's what the cool kids are doing, so she wants to install it as well. This takes me back to a comment which Mad Dog said at the FNAL talk. Mad Dogs talked about his first thought 10 minutes after keyboarding on his first Linux system. His thought was, "Linux is inevitable." And that surely was playing out right in front of my eyes as I watched that kid check out his newly acquired free software.

Authored by Stephen Adler

Copyright 1999, Stephen Adler