The introduction of Linus Torvalds starts with a call to the audience:
"Anyone who has contributed something that ships on a Linux distribution CD--documentation, a patch, code--stand up!" One out of every 20 people in a crowd of 5,000-plus stands, to tremendous applause. Larry Augustin, president and CEO, VA Linux Systems, and program chair of the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, beams at the crowd. "Those of you who are trying to understand what is exciting about the Linux thing--this is it! Linux belongs to everyone out there. It belongs to those people who just stood up. There's this great show going on next door; there are huge exhibits and everything, but it's the people out here who are the real contributors, not those companies. That's important for all of us to remember, and that's what's important about Linux. It's controlled by the people here who built it."
The words ring out across Hall One at the San Jose Convention Center to a wave of applause, cheers, whistling. On this Monday evening in early August, near the epicenter of the Silicon Valley phenomenon, a stranger to the world of Linux--a computer operating system built on an open-code model by Linus Torvalds, a Finnish software engineer, with the aid of hundreds of like-minded programmers, known as the Linux Community--might wonder what kind of conference this is. What's going on when the program chair starts his introduction of the keynote speaker by reminding everyone that the exhibitors are really secondary to the main event? Well, IDG World Expo is running this conference, and CEO Charlie Greco may not claim to grasp every nuance of the Linux Community, but he's already lining up exhibitors for the next show in New York City in February 2000, and he's feeling pretty good about the show that's on now. Anyway, the real radical of the evening hasn't had his moment in the spotlight yet.
"This August show is twice the size of the show we held in March," says Greco. "It's gone from 50,000 gross square feet to over 100,000 gross square feet." In March, LinuxWorld drew 12,000 attendees, and just five months later, 14,278.
IDG Is Back The first LinuxWorld Confer-ence & Expo in March, also in San Jose, marked IDG World Expo's return to active show management in North America. IDG puts on 168 tech-related expositions and conferences around the world, but has been moribund in the U.S. for the last six years, following a decision to decentralize management of its international properties. All that remained were the MacWorld and ComNet shows, and management of these was outsourced to a private company, confusingly named IDG Expo Manage-ment (veterans of the computer event business will remember the company as Mitch Hall Associates). Then, last August, IDG, the $2.5 billion parent company, decided to resurrect the Framing-ham, Mass.-based IDG World Expo. To do this, it called in Greco, who started his career 18 years ago as an IDG market analyst and who later managed MacWorld.
"When I came back a year ago, there was a director of finance and one salesperson," says Greco. "Now there are 30 people working on six shows, and at the end of our fiscal year in October, we'll have revenue of more than $20 million. So it's been a phenomenal 12 months."
Equally impressive is the way this growth has been achieved. The new IDG World Expo is growing by launching shows, not acquiring them. The company is betting that the future lies with new vertical market shows like LinuxWorld. "The exhibitor community is voting with their dollars. They no longer want to be part of huge events that draw a lot of people but don't do anything for them."
Another business that Greco does not want to be in is proprietary events. "Lucrative though that business may be . . . we consider it a distraction from our primary mission."
Success Factors: Focus and Speed Two important strategies have helped IDG World Expo be successful. One is focus. "We decided we were going to be an event management com-pany, only," says Greco. "So we decided whenever possible, whenever it makes sense, to outsource as much of the actual activities as we could." Thus, IDG World Expo has a registration manager, whose job is to oversee relations with registration vendors like Expo International and RCS, and a housing manager, who deals with housing vendors like Event Travel Management of Dedham, Mass. Its marketing managers outsource creative design and copy-writing. And while the move has been reconsidered, it even outsourced some exhibit space sales for its Windows 2000 show, coming to the Moscone Center in San Francisco in February. "It was truly a last resort," says Greco. "But we've had difficulty finding talented people. Our biggest challenge now is not market challenges, but human resource challenges."
The second success factor is speed. LinuxWorld was launched with a five-month window. "We felt, from the start, that we had a hot property," says Greco. He decided the way to keep it hot was to put heat on the competition by launching the first show without the usual 12- to 18-month selling window, and then coming right back five months later in the same facility with a second show. The third LinuxWorld Conference & Expo will take place in February at the Javits Center in New York. That's three shows in 15 months. "If you are anothercompany looking to get into the Linux market, just where and when would you place your show?" asks Greco. "We've been able to block any major attempt at launching another Linux-related event." And, in fact, LinuxWorld Expo is, on the basis of two shows, the biggest Linux event in the world. Should Greco achieve his targets of 20,000 attendees and 800 booth units in New York, his position may prove unassailable.
How does a hard-charger like Charlie Greco fit in with the Linux Community? For one thing, he does something show managers are not supposed to do: He gives away floor space. LinuxWorld Expo has an area called the .org pavilion, where space has been donated to the nonprofit developer groups that make the Linux operating system go. Most of those 250 people who stood up at the keynote on Larry Augustin's cue don't work for IBM; they don't even work for the hot start-up software firm Red Hat, which went public during the show. Instead, they belong to nonprofit organizations like the Free Software Foundation, Debian, and Stampede Linux. These names are not yet known in corporate America, but they loom large in the Linux Community.
Greco also turns to luminaries of the Linux Community who are commercially oriented. The LinuxWorld Expo advisory committee is studded with stars of the open-source software movement, including John "Maddog" Hall, executive director of Linux International; Alad Fedder, president of the UniForum Association, and Larry Augustin, who, when we left him, was about to introduce the star of LinuxWorld Expo:
Linus Torvalds, Anti-Celebrity The Linux Community developers sit back down in their chairs. Augustin says, in all sincerity, that the man he is about to introduce needs no introduction. And out walks the balding, bespectacled 28-year-old software engineer from Helsinki, Finland, who is ultimately responsible for this event. The crowd goes absolutely nuts. Girls are screaming. You'd think John Lennon had come back from the dead. And Linus Torvalds, with two words, reveals the secret of his success:
"Calm down. Calm down." Here is the leader of the world's hottest software--so hot that even Microsoft is paying attention to his every move--at the center of his universe, and he refuses adulation. If Charlie Greco is focused, Linus Torvalds is incredibly focused. He is interested in Linux operating code and not much else.
He proceeds to give a keynote address the like of which would turn any communications consultant green--although it's a toss-up as to whether the color change would be due to illness or envy. He gives a 15-minute technical update on the latest release of the Linux operating system, then takes questions from the audience for about 30 minutes. He answers questions about code-writing styles, about USB drivers, about naming protocols, and about the scalability of Linux for operating large computer networks. As the questions become more and more complex and arcane, a significant portion of the audience trickles out the door. Most are wearing exhibitor badges. But the kids and codgers of the Linux Community hang on his every word.
He has two pages of notes, which he stops referring to after the technical update. He has no PowerPoint, no slides, no special lighting effects. He is his own communication tool, and his presentation is a tour de force.
People Are Strange After he wraps up, there is an episode that no event manager would ever want to see: Torvalds announces that the conference organizer wants him to introduce Patrick McGov-ern, chairman of IDG (parent company of IDG World Expo), and that he is doing it even though he doesn't want to. He proceeds to read off McGovern's bio in a rapid, sing-song voice that mocks the document's self importance. He pauses and says, "They won't ask me to do this again."
The purpose of the introduction is to give out the first IDG/Linus Torvalds Community Award, a $25,000 grant to a person or organization that has advanced the cause of the Linux operating system. The winner is Richard Stallman of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Free Software Foundation, and as he bounds up to the stage, it becomes clear that this strange ceremony is about to get stranger. He poses behind a giant representation of the check with Torvalds, McGovern, and his partner Tim Ney. When McGovern asks whether Stallman would like to say a few words, he grins broadly, takes the mike, and says, "In the 15 years of the free software movement, a lot of surprising and ironic things have happened, but never anything to match this. . . . Giving the Linus Torvalds award to the Free Software Foundation is sort of like giving the Han Solo award to the Rebel Fleet." He proceeds to tell the assembled multitude that it is the Free Software Foundation's GNU software that is the real Linux, and that people should be calling it GNU/Linux. Torvalds says nothing, but brings his two young daughters up on stage, who, in turn, upstage Stallman, who goes on ranting for another five minutes or so. And with that, mercifully, the keynote session ends.
Community Activists As unorthodox as its leaders are, the Linux Community is preternaturally polite and easy-going. When they began crowding into the lobby of the convention center in anticipation of the keynote session, Karen Whitman, IDG's director of operations, needed to decide whether she wanted ropes and stanchions set up. "But [the crowds] formed their own line. As if it were planned," marvels Whitman. "Everyone was so calm and orderly-this crowd is great. It's a refreshing change from, say, the Internet Commerce Expo, where everybody's dressed for success."
Civilized as it may be, the Linux Community is also very touchy about its software. At the first LinuxWorld Expo in March, attendees were scandalized to learn that Expo International, the show's registration vendor, was not using the Linux operating system. "I had to approach Expo International and give them almost an ultimatum that they had to get up and running on Linux--in five months," says Whitman. Which they did. "That's another example of a vendor really coming through for us."
Another vendor she relies heavily upon is Event Travel Management, which provides her with her very own account representative. "Jane Davis, director of convention services, goes out to the Fairmont and Hilton and negotiates on my behalf. She secures room blocks. And at some point in the process, she makes sure I meet the sales managers for the hotels, so they have a face to put with the signature on the checks." Because of the broad demographic of the Linux Community, LinuxWorld Expo needs a range of room rates. This is no problem in San Jose, where the expense-account crowd stays at the Fairmont and the Hilton, and the Linux Community stays at the San Jose Convention Inn and the Crowne Plaza.
"When we launched the show, there was a concern: Could our attendees afford the hotels? Would they be pitching tents in front of the convention center, or rolling out sleeping bags in the hallways?" Whitman says. "But it's worked out. I have not had complaints about affordability." In the event, the peak room block was 500, and total room nights for the four-day event worked out to 1,200.
Growing into San Jose In addition to having a good mix of hotel properties, San Jose had the added benefit of having the four show hotels within walking distance of the Convention Center. "We're not using a shuttle bus vendor now, which is a relief," says Whitman. Next year will be different, however. When the show returns in August 2000, IDG expects to sell out the exhibit space, which will mean finding a new venue for the keynote speeches. Whitman has her eye on the San Jose Arena, which is five blocks away. The 18,000-seat hall can be partitioned to hold 6,000. "It's a seven-minute shuttle bus ride," says Whitman, who adds that she's looking at facilities at Stanford University, too. "It will add a whole new element in front of the Convention Center. We'll be staging buses, giving people directions; we'll have more staff."
The city's convention and visitors bureau was also helpful in getting the event together. "What the CVB really does is send out leads to the hotels. That way, neither I nor my vendor has to go around to every hotel in San Jose." IDG also wanted to put up banners in the city to promote the show; the CVB was instrumental in guiding them through the city's regulations.
And for Our Next Trick . . . As LinuxWorld grows, will it end up as another Comdex? Charlie Greco sincerely believes it when he says LinuxWorld Conference & Expo is now a mainstream show. But the Linux Community is already dissatisfied with what some of its members see as the second-class status afforded them by the .org pavilion (see "An Anthro-pologist on Linux," page 50). And while Greco says he sees the community as wanting to embrace the values of corporate America, some community members think it should be the other way around: That the IBMs and Microsofts of the world ought to do the embracing. Stay tuned.
Eric S. Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative, based in Malvern, Pa., is, by his own admission, an unusual person. He is a software engineer who has long been an advocate of open-source products like Linux, and he is also a self-described "participant/anthropologist" in the Linux Community. Among other things, he serves as a kind of advance man for the software; he's recruited by commercial Linux firms to explain the Linux Community ethos to the likes of Microsoft--a formidable task.
Raymond is also full of ideas about how to run a conference, as well as how to run a business. He took a moment from a frantic schedule at LinuxWorld Expo in San Jose to talk about the show, the Community, and why it is economically expedient to approach work as fun.
TM: Are the needs of the Linux Community being met at this conference?
Raymond: To a significant extent, yeah. I think this conference is a good thing for the Linux Community. It's a different kind of good than we're used to. We're used to gatherings that are smaller, more intimate, a bit more social. We throw better parties, too.
It's worth noting that a lot of people in the Linux Community have overlapping experience in science fiction fandom, which has its own fairly strong traditions about how to run meetings--some of which we're trying to transplant over into this world. For example, one tradition of science-fiction conferences is having a 24-hour hospitality suite that serves as a social nexus. A problem with shows like this is that they have no central focus like that; as a result, all the energy dissipates after five o'clock. That's something that I've recommended that IDG try to address.
Another idea from science fiction conventions--a graffiti board. Pick a wall, cover many square feet with butcher paper, and leave marker pens around. People leave messages, create art, scrawl slogans. It's kind of a collective art manifestation. And every once in a while, the graffiti on the butcher paper gets too dense, and you put up another one.
TM: What do you think of the .org pavilion?
Raymond: I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it's kind of nice to see people from all these organizations at once. On the other hand, it has the feel of a ghetto. I wish they were spread out all over the floor. It's almost like saying, "These are the charity cases over here."
Those bubble chairs were not a win. They look tacky and it's hard to get up once you've sat down. There isn't any "there" there.
TM: Are we going to see this conference mature?
Raymond: What, you mean it isn't mature already?
TM: Let me rephrase that. Is it going to be possible to sustain the raw excitement about Linux?
Raymond: Yeah, I think so. We all own it. It's ours. It's our community artifact. It's our passion; it's our energy.
There's something that bothers me about the way you rephrased the question. It seems there's an opposition between being mature and being excited. That's bulls--t. If we're teaching the world anything in the open source community, it's that it's mature, it's economically effective, it's instrumentally valuable . . . to play. To care. To be excited.
TM: Let me explain the genesis of the question. I've been to keynote addresses where the CEO is backed by orchestra, singers, dancers, smoke machines . . . and it's almost like a TV show. The Torvalds' keynote didn't have any of those things.
Raymond: Don't tell me. With all that paraphernalia, those keynotes don't generate as much energy as Linus Torvalds just doing his shtick.
TM: Well, it's that so many people agreed that the hype was necessary.
Raymond: I'm not going to surprise you with my reaction. Anytime you need those kinds of props, you've already admitted you're out of ideas. You're dead. You don't have anything to contribute anymore.
TM: That was the origin of my question. If we ever see anything like that, it won't be Linux anymore.
Raymond: But I don't see that happening anytime soon. Most developers out there are half my age. They're teenagers and twentysomethings. They'll maintain that energy for a long time yet. I expect to maintain that energy for a long time! But I'm unusual.
TM: Charlie Greco says he thinks the Linux Community is here to learn about the business world so that they may be appropriately rewarded for their hard work and contributions over the last eight years. What do you think of that?
Raymond: Oh, we have greater ambitions than that! We don't want to just be rewarded. We want to transform that world.
I have every respect for Charlie, but when he says "want to be properly rewarded," the subtext is "rewarded on the system's own terms." And a lot of us aren't after that. Money is fine; success is fine; I don't knock those things. But what we really want to do is change the calculus by which rewards are figured in the first place.
TM: And what is that new calculus?
Raymond: Well, I don't do what I do for money. I do it because I love my art. Because what really matters to me is that people who are as expert as I am think I'm doing good work. That's the reward that most people in this culture are looking for. It has the social dynamics of an art colony. I go into this in detail in the papers on my Web site [www.opensource.org].
TM: At the roundtable, it sounded to me as though the participants had come up with a new business model and the question was whether orthodox companies would understand it.
Raymond: That's right. Actually, a collection of new business models. But they're all founded on a couple fundamental insights, one of which is that the software industry is really a service industry. It's got this delusion that it's a manufacturing industry. But the real money has always been in service. That means the real asset isn't the bits in your vault, it's in the brains of your people. Once you realize that, it teaches you a different way of looking at everything from intellectual property to how to manage your workers.