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LinuxWorld: Watching wikis, communities and GNOME vs. KDE

In seven years of attending LinuxWorld conferences, I've witnessed its transformation from an IT Woodstock to an expo populated by Fortune 500 executives.

Although the penguin has definitely changed out of the tie-dyed tee shirt and into a three-piece suit, LinuxWorld still turns heads as the heartbeat of this vibrant community. And, the latest installment has proven to be no different.

Despite the presence of men in suits, this IT gathering focused on populist topics, and I'm going to talk about the hottest ones: the $100 laptop for every child; a fight between two free platforms; and wikis.

Write once?

Linux appeals to a large swath of technologists because it's all about choice. Yet, there are instances where one can argue that this flexibility has been a detriment to the community. One such instance is the emergence of two distinct desktop environments: GNOME and KDE.

While both GNOME and KDE have their merits, they are sufficiently different that developers are forced to choose which environment their applications will target. Of course, they could make the challenging decision to support two versions of their products. In the end, the community suffers because of the duplicated efforts required to create similar applications that target the different environments.

Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), a non-profit organization that promotes Linux adoption, hopes to eliminate this problem by creating a bridging facility that allows developers to write one application capable of running on both GNOME and KDE. OSDL's initiative, dubbed the Portland Project, will provide developers with a set of command-line tools and APIs that can be used to create custom services while ensuring a common interface for both environments.

A preview release is available now via the Portland Web site, with the final release due to arrive in June.

A laptop for everyone

I was fascinated by MIT Media Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte's keynote presentation on the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. He first announced this effort at the Davos World Economic Forum a little over a year ago.

The $100 laptop (as the laptop has been dubbed, reflecting the initial target cost) is based on a slimmed-down version of Fedora Core, dubbed Skinny Linux, sporting a 500 Mhz AMD processor. It has the ability to form ad hoc local networks with other laptops located across remote villages in developing countries. Also, the $100 laptop will sport a human-powered generator capable of powering the laptop even in areas lacking traditional electricity resources.

According to Negroponte, seven countries are on the short list for receiving the first shipment of five to 10 million units scheduled for release in first quarter of 2007, They are Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt and various parts of the Middle East, India, Nigeria and Thailand.

Wikis are hot

The love of wikis unites the suits and tie-dyed elements at LinuxWorld. Wikis are fast becoming a key corporate medium for facilitating internal team discussions, maintaining system documentation and encouraging community-driven product knowledge bases.

Seeking to capitalize on the growing interest in this arena, two wiki-focused companies are making prominent showings at the event.

Pushing wiki's merits in the role it plays in lessening the onslaught of corporate e-mail, Socialtext, an open source company, offers corporate teams the means to easily create and group-manage Web pages. Acknowledging that it does not need to disrupt the traditional penchant for using e-mail, Socialtext's Enterprise wiki product allows users to both send wiki pages via e-mail and create and update existing pages by way of sending an e-mail.

Seeking to help organizations better organize their increasingly scattered arrays of IT documentation, Splunk Inc. announced the launch of Splunk Base. Offering both a downloadable product and a service-based initiative, Splunk Base is intended to help users aggregate the knowledge of colleagues within the organization and even share information from other IT staff members from around the globe.

Both Socialtext and Splunk got a lot of attention from attendees, myself included.

I was surprised to see that attendance at this show was not up to the usual LinuxWorld standards. I, for one, have already confirmed my attendance at LinuxWorld San Francisco in August. I hope to see you there!

About the author: W. Jason Gilmore has developed countless Web applications over the past seven years and has dozens of articles to his credit on topics pertinent to Internet application development. He is the author of three books, including Beginning PHP 5 and MySQL 5: From Novice to Professional (Apress), now in its second edition, and with co-author Robert Treat, Beginning PHP and PostgreSQL 8: From Novice to Professional (Apress).

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