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Red Hat is following the Second Life path and is set to host an online conference for users and partners of its JBoss Java-based middleware products.

Red Hat is following the Second Life path and is set to host an online conference for users and partners of its JBoss Java-based middleware products.

The JBoss Virtual Experience is a web-based conference through which JBoss executives and engineers will give the usual keynote speeches and host sessions just as they would at a regular trade show, according to Red Hat. The virtual conference, for which people can register now, also will have booth exhibits from JBoss, Red Hat and other event sponsors.

Attendees will have avatars that allow them to "walk" around a virtual exhibit floor and into rooms where there are presentations and discussion panels, said Red Hat spokeswoman Caroline Kazmierski. If they want to ask questions, they can do so via an instant-messaging interface, just as in the Second Life virtual-reality game.

The face-to-face networking aspect of conferences that sometimes is the key reason IT professionals attend them won't be lost in the virtual realm, Kazmierski said. Attendees can walk their avatars around an exhibit floor and approach exhibitors to discuss products and services on display through the IM interface.

However, she acknowledged that there is "no substitute for meeting face to face," so JBoss users and partners will have an opportunity to do this at the combined JBoss World and Red Hat Summit in September in Chicago. But since the JBoss conference historically has been held earlier in the year, Red Hat wanted to host a virtual conference to give customers an opportunity to interact before September, Kazmierski said.

Red Hat purchased JBoss in 2006 and hosted separate JBoss and Red Hat conferences in 2007 and last year before deciding to combine them in 2009 to cut costs for both its customers and the company.

The JBoss Virtual Experience is scheduled for Wednesday, 11 February.