Here's my report on this years Linuxworld Conference and Expo where Debian once again had a booth in the .org pavilion.
Some of you may already know my theory on how the location of the .org pavilion indicates the health of the Linux business world. For those who don't, here's an explanation. In the glory days of yore when Red Hat and VA Linux had mega-IPOs, Mozilla was open sourced, and the penguin hordes were about to reduce Redmond to a charred and smoking ruin, the .org pavilion was relegated to the very back of the show floor. As times became more dire, it started creeping up until the fell winter of 2003 when it was actually in the front where ordinary people could see it. This year it was in the middle and to the left side so I predict a good year for the Linux industry. The booth was your basic 10' x 10' at the end of a row with a table, two chairs and a waste paper basket. We had one ethernet feed so had to bring in a hub. There was supposed to be WiFi access but hardly anyone ever got it working.
Debian developers manning the booth this year for one or more days were Clint Adams, Phil Blundell, Adam DiCarlo, Jimmy Kaplowitz, Joe Nahmias, Matt Taggart, and myself. We were also visited by Andres Saloman, Laurence Lane, and Bruce Perens who wanted to get his key signed so he can get back into Debian development with his User Linux initiative.
We decided we were going to do some proper PR this year but had some mixed results some of which were due to totally underestimating the response we thought we would get. I was going to produce posters and flyers. The first printer I approached to make the posters botched the job so at the last minute I had to have one made at Kinkos. They charged a hideous amount of money so I only had one made. The flyers were good but I didn't make enough and they were gone by Thursday morning. Kinkos struck again with the banner Jimmy was going to have made. It never showed up. Luckily we didn't pay for it either because once again they charged way too much. Matt and Adams' efforts were more fruitful. Matt brought swirl t-shirts, this year in powder blue with "debian/rules" on the back. (We also had a box of beige shirts with Tux on the front courtesy of TinyApps.org.) and Debian stickers and case badges. They were a huge hit as always. Adam did a phenomenal job in procuring CD donations. They also flew out of our hands in breathtaking quantities. One slight miscalculation was I asked him to get lots of Sarge netinst CDs with beta 2 of the new installer. My reasoning was that the perennial complaint is that "Debian is too hard to install." so people would be really interested in trying our new installer. But it turned out it was 7-cd sets of Woody which people were really interested in which surprised us all. All these efforts netted us as a total of over $2,000 for the project, a substantial increase over last year.
Once again Sun lent us a computer and once again we had trouble getting Debian installed on it. (Though for a different reason than last time.) We gave up and showed Debian on our laptops. Phil had an IPaq too which looked really cool. Over in the KDE booth they were demoing KDE on Debian machines and our favorite distro was to be found scattered throughout other booths too.
Last year the big event which drew people to us from other distros was Mandrakes' bankruptcy. This year it was Red Hats' refocus of their distribution. Now I understand their reasons (and I'm not just saying that because of the gift of a cardigan I got for attending a presentation for RHCEs) but it has a lot of their customers and supporters worried and Debian is looking like a tempting option for such people. Over all, I was impressed by the more sophisticated knowledge of the various distributions people were showing. Well I did get one person asking me "what is a Linux distribution?" but that was only one. Debian seems to have much better name recognition these days. Even novices want to use Debian. I felt I had to caution them, "Are you sure? Debian is not the most newbie-friendly distribution." but no they wanted Debian. A lot of this publicity is due to commercial distributions like LibraNet, Lindows, and Xandros as wells as Live CDs like Knoppix and Morphix which are based on Debian.
On Friday, I was interviewed by SYS-CON radio and may also do an article about Debian for Linuxworld magazine which they publish. The interview went pretty well. I didn't mumble or ramble on too much. I forgot most of the DFSG and social contract which is a little embarrassing but did manage to mention the more salient bits.
Next year the show is leaving New York for Boston so this may be my last as an Exhibitor but I had a good time and met many interesting people. Getting thankyous from satisfied Debian users really makes all the work worthwhile.
I would like to personally thank all the developers and volunteers who manned the booth, About Debian, BSide Internet Media, The Computer Depot, the crepe lady, DebianVendor.org, Innovation Software Group linux-cd.com, Linux Central, the Pakistani taxi driver with who I had an interesting chat about the similarities between Islam and Hinduism even though we missed the Javits center in the process, Red Hat (haha), The Sphere, Sun, SYS-CON Media, tinyapps.org, and any other helpful person or company who I may have inadvertently failed to mention due my lousy memory.