If yesterday’s shock to the system wasn’t enough, I am now looking around a room packed (and I mean PACKED) with media, vendors, sponsors, entrepreneurs, small business users, users, fans, and fanatics—all awaiting the keynote address to be delivered by Michael Dell, president of Dell computing. Media is everywhere. All of a sudden, Linux is the rock and roll star of computing, and that’s okay with me!

Flashback! Day one
I was privileged to get a one-on-one interview with one of the programmers for MandrakeSoft (Linux Mandrake), Jean-Michel Dault, as well as Mandrake’s PR person, Molly Blewett. Mr. Dault is heading up Internet/Network Development, specializing in the Apache implementation, and shows the typical passion and openness that has catapulted the Linux community to the success it is now enjoying.

What Dault is bringing to Linux Mandrake is a modular Apache that almost any IT professional (regardless of skill level) will find to be the most robust and user-friendly Web server to date. Will it happen? Judging from Dault’s knowledge and passion—yes.

Like many distributions, MandrakeSoft is approaching its business model with an “end user first” attack. However, unlike many other distributions, MandrakeSoft just might have what it takes to win. The “end user first” approach says that what Mandrake needs—in order to lift Linux above the heads of the crowd—is desktop success. Certainly not a new idea, but one that must continually be revisited. Just how is Mandrake going to achieve this goal? Simplicity and ease of use of the desktop. It could work, but not in and of itself. It’s been proven—over many years and much caffeine—that one of the highest hurdles the Linux desktop has to overcome is applications, applications, applications! Without a larger span of applications, the Linux desktop is simply a vastly configurable, stable, and usable environment struggling to gain popularity because it has little to offer the user. Has this changed, and if so, how? To say that it has done a complete turnaround would be a flat-out lie. Linux still lags behind in the application race (however, not far these days), and catching up to Microsoft would be quite a feat. But it can happen—and Mandrake seems to know just how to make it so.

Supporting the supporters!
MandrakeSoft has made a concerted effort to help support some of the more ambitious Linux projects to date. If you haven’t heard of the KOffice suite of applications, you should take the time to learn. The KOffice Suite will be released (I hope) with version 2 of KDE and hopes to be THE suite for Linux.

MandrakeSoft, in its efforts to push forward the Linux desktop, has put forth the effort to help see these projects to fruition. Wisely so! The release of the new KDE will herald a new era for Linux, which will be flagshipped by the newest Web browser—and salvation to Linux Webbies—Konqueror.

It was very clear that MandrakeSoft is champing at the bit to drop Netscape from its main binary… with good reason. For one, Linux Netscape is buggy. The famous Netscape crash is not the only reason, however. Linux Netscape is a closed-source application! Think about it… all the open-source distributions touting their openness when they rely on a proprietary browser! Bitter irony yet again. Konqueror will allow (or at least should allow) many distributions to drop Netscape like the rock it has become—and MandrakeSoft will be leading the parade!

Let’s talk about day two, shall we?
As I said in the beginning, the opening shock was just not enough. No, I needed defibbing and I got it! Day two started out with a press release from Agenda Computing that really rocked my world. Agenda will be releasing a new PDA called the Agenda VR3. The VR3 is something to behold. When you think of a PDA, you think of Pilot or CE and you know their limitations. But the VR3 is Linux, and the VR3 is more a PC than it is a PDA. Let’s talk tiny servers. Let’s talk multitasking, multiuser PC in the palm of your hand. Let’s talk completely GPL’d software (including the Linux VR OS). And what about this Linux VR OS? The specs of this OS read more like a full-fledged desktop workstation than a PDA: 2.4 kernel, Xfree86 4.0, xterm, bash, fltk toolkit, embedded database, gcc, glibc, full networking stack (you can Telnet to this baby), and a kernel that actually runs in ROM (that’s not a typo)!

This little baby is gonna scream. Running on a 66-MHz MIPS processor, it should make your current PDA look like a Cracker Jack toy. And unlike many other Linux PDAs, this particular piece of hardware is going to ship. I was there. I saw the working machine and the boxes. I will have one. I am excited. It’s a good time to be involved in Linux… a darn good time.

How Linux found its groove
The Agenda VR3 is not the only sign that Linux has found its groove in the IT world. As I meandered around the exhibit hall, I saw an enterprise dream! Clustering, groupware, high-end servers, e-commerce galore, office suites, amazing desktop improvements (thank you, Eazel), 64-bit computing, cross-platform development, ASP applications, fallback systems, backup systems, RAID, large-scale support, certifications, etc., etc., etc. It’s all here, wrapped in a newer, brighter, and more corporate package than ever before!

An expo that once showcased the hackers and crackers is now focusing on small to big business and high-volume vendors. The dollars and sense are now the headliners. The hackers and developers are still around—I even passed Linus Torvalds on the street. (He said hello. It made my day.) But now the coders are merely the opening act for such Tinseltown rock stars as Dell, IBM, Compaq, VA Linux, Red Hat, MandrakeSoft, Caldera, Corel, SGI, and Sun.

The evolution of Linux is obvious, and the path it is following is one of success. As I continue with my coverage of the fourth annual LinuxWorld Expo (and the last in San Jose—it has completely outgrown this venue, and next year we head to San Francisco), I only hope the pattern continues and the song remains the same!

Now… on to the MandrakeSoft MoJo party!

Jack Wallen, Jr. is editor in chief of Linux content. Jack was thrown out of the “Window” back in 1995 when he grew tired of the “blue screen of death” and realized that “computing does not equal rebooting.” Prior to Jack’s headfirst dive into the computer industry, he was a professional actor with both film, TV, and Broadway credits. Now Jack is content with his new position of Linux Evangelist. Ladies and gentlemen—the poster boy for the Linux Generation!

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