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LinuxWorld gets Seoul

By Rob Reilly on June 20, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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I attended Korea's first LinuxWorld Conference and Expo last week in Seoul. The three-day event included keynotes from industry leaders, training sessions, and a show floor featuring roughly 50 vendors.

Local TV cameras captured the opening ribbon-cutting ceremony, with a dozen or so Korean dignitaries and personalities doing the honors. David Korse, the CEO of conference sponsor IDG World Expo, kicked off the event with a few words on how excited he was that the company could bring LinuxWorld to Korea.

Show attendance was a little light on Monday, the show's first day, as is usually the case with most LinuxWorld conferences. Tuesday marked Korea's Memorial Day, recognizing the country's fallen military heroes, and had noticeably more attendees walking around the booths on the show floor. Wednesday seemed to have the most traffic, but several vendors told me that they had hoped for a higher turnout.

The COEX Conference Center, where the show was held, was about a third the size of the LinuxWorld venue in Boston. Attendees could easily walk from the show floor to the education sessions with plenty of time to stop for refreshments and get settled in their seats.

The Conference Center was conveniently attached to the COEX Intercontinental Hotel. Below ground level, the COEX Mall made for a pleasant after-hours diversion or lunch break.

On Thursday morning I awoke at 3:30 a.m. to a low pitched "bong." It went on for about 10 minutes. It turned out to be a giant bell being rung at the Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple across the street. The monks sound the bell with a giant wooden striker during their early morning ritual. Future conference visitors should take in a peaceful daybreak walk over to the temple while in town.

Linux In Korea

Korea is hard at work adopting Linux into its information technology infrastructure. Not only are country-specific vendors developing IT solutions, but government agencies, institutions of higher learning, and various supporting organizations are contributing too. While covering the conference I had the opportunity to interview a number of executives on the state of IT in Korea.

Korean Educational & Research Information Service (KERIS)

KERIS investigates e-learning and develops information related to education and research. It also operates the National Education Information Service System (EDUNET), the Research Information Service System (NISS), and the National Education Information Service (NEIS).

NEIS runs more than 4,800 servers that manage teacher and student records and lesson plans in both primary and secondary schools. There are about 600 group servers (Unix), 2,200 unit servers (Linux), and almost 400 Web servers (Linux), with the balance handling administration tasks. The Web-based system supports 11,000 schools and almost 400,000 teachers.

KERIS CEO and President Dae-Joon Hwang said that Korea's national competitiveness depends on its educational efforts. His organization, with roughly 15,000 people on staff, has embraced Linux and open source in the last couple of years. It is now conducting a pilot program in 40 primary and secondary schools called the Ubiquitous Learning Project, which explores how tablet PCs, PDAs, and other devices can encourage participation and provide learning opportunities for Korea's students.

Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI)

ETRI helps transfer new technology out of the research lab and into industry. Major areas of interest for ETRI include wearable computing, home networking, and the next generation of supercomputers. Digital video broadcasting, wireless broadband, embedded system development, and robotics also garner attention within the organization.

Dr. Chae-Kyu Kim, vice president of the Digital Home Research Division, explained that his group has developed home servers that act as a gateway for all types of digital media and information transfer. Work on home server technology began way back in 1999. Roughly one million of 13 million Korean households now have home servers installed. Family members can access and control their lighting, air conditioning, and appliances from any Web browser, or even from their cell phones.

To enhance digital content distribution, especially video, Dr. Kim is also exploring ways to boost bandwidth. As fiber to the home becomes more common, he expects bandwidth to eventually increase to 1.5Gbps in the 2009-2010 time frame.

A great deal of effort is also going into developing QPlus, a family of products based on a common Linux platform, supporting three levels of microprocessor devices. The Standard version (for set-top boxes and home servers) is designed to run on machines that can accommodate a kernel of about 500KB in size. The Micro version for embedded devices, with possible real-time operating system capabilities, will run in 100KB of memory. The Nano version for microcontroller-sized networked sensor devices takes up about 10KB. The idea behind QPlus is to be able to port it to a variety of devices by developing a single interface API. Using the Target Builder toolkit, programmers can use the same development environment to easily build applications on all the target platforms.

Korea IT Industry Promotion Agency (KIPA)

KIPA is a non-profit organization that helps Korean companies promote software and the digital content industry. It also runs a tech center that answers open source questions from vendors and government. It was started a little more than two years ago and has 170 people on staff. With 13 technical professionals and a database of open source software information, including FAQs, the group supports local vendors when they need help.

Sung-Ha Yang, vice president of the Open Source Software Promotion Center, said that as of 2002 there was a 10-12% Linux adoption rate across all markets in Korea. The adoption in the government was around 6%. KIPA, of course, is 100% Linux.

Haansoft

Haansoft is the leading software company in Korean. It's Hangul office suite has sold more than 10 million copies. The Haansoft Linux Workstation product is localized for the Korean language and features one-click multi-input mode for Chinese and Japanese as well. The company's ThinkFree Java/Web-based office product gives users a convenient way to work from any browser.

Red Flag Linux (China) and Miracle Linux (Japan) have teamed up with Haansoft to create a consortium called Asianux whose focus is on standardization in the Asian Linux market. Roughly 80% of the code is common among the platforms, with the remaining 20% applied to localization.

Daniel Cho, senior director of sales and marketing, said that Haansoft will also lead a Ministry of Information and Communication project to convert the southern city of Kwangju, which has about 1.4 million people (2002 estimate), into an open source software city. The project, with a target completion date of 2009, aims to convert all servers and PCs in public organizations to Linux.

Samsung Electronics

Samsung's interest in Linux and open source is in the area of embedded devices. The main differentiator in the competitive consumer electronics industry is performance.

Young-Kyu Choe, vice president of the System Software Group for Samsung Electronics, said that chip manufacturers have traditionally provided only binary code and documentation with their products. Choe said that being able to fine-tune embedded system parameters is of critical importance. On such small footprint systems, for which Samsung uses MontaVista Linux as a base, tweaking the kernels can mean big improvements in performance. Moving to a common Linux platform also minimizes the number of supported operating systems.

The company is also working with Linux on digital video recorders, set-top boxes, and camcorders.

Training and related conference information

LinuxWorld Korea hosted 30 different training sessions, featuring lectures and case studies whose titles included Free/Open Source Software Legal Issues, Linux Performance Tuning, Porting Linux Device Drivers to Embedded Platforms, and Browser-Independent Web Programming.

Business lecture titles included The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source, The Road Map to E-Government, Software License in Korea, and Linux Multimedia and DRM Issues.

About half of the speakers were from Korea and half were from the United States.

Keynote speakers were almost entirely Western. An exception was Chae-Chol Shin, president of LG CNS (Korea), who gave a talk called Ubiquitous Service Convergence and Challenges to the IT Industry. The headliners were Jon 'maddog' Hall of Linux International, Scott Handy from IBM, Stuart Cohen from OSDL, Eva Brucherseifer from KDE, Jeremy Allison from Novell, Doug Levin from Black Duck Software, and Jim Zemlin of the Free Standards Group.

Many large vendors participated in the show expo. Asianux and Haansoft had a prominent booth at one of the entrances, featuring a stage with live music. Red Hat Linux hosted frequent Korean language presentations about its products. Novell sponsored talks by Samba luminary Jeremy Allison. Hewlett-Packard had loud audience participation contests at its booth.

Conclusion

The conference pulled in a decent number of vendors and what I thought was better-than-average government participation. As the first LinuxWorld Expo to hit Korea, the conference was well-organized and service-oriented.

Taek Wan Kim, CEO of TSKG, organizer of the LinuxWorld Expo in Korea, said, "The first LinuxWorld Korea was aimed to wake up the market by showing where we were about the change toward Linux and open source." He said that there is now momentum for the change based on the content that the conference generated.

"History [has] just begun," he concluded.

Rob Reilly is a consultant, trend spotter, and writer. He specializes in Linux and open source portable computing and presentation technology integration. His coverage of LinuxWorld Korea 2006 was made possible by TSKG, the Korean organizers of the conference, which sponsored his airfare, hotel, and meals.

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