A very nice thing about the Linux community is the sense of altruism that pervades throughout. While the technology is all very well and good, I truly do not think Linux as a concept would keep people around as much as it does without the overall sense of generosity that most Linux users have.
It makes sense; at the deepest level, we share. Code, applications, desktop themes, new and interesting ways to get our tasks done--at some level, even the grouchiest of us share something.
At times, though, there are examples of sharing that go way above and beyond the norm. One such example is the Linux Against Poverty (LAP) program that's happening in Austin, TX tomorrow. On the surface, the program will look like any other Linux installfest, with 50 or so people showing up to get a bunch of machines up and humming with Linux on board. But right away, there's some discrepancies that make you soon realize that this is no ordinary installfest.
For instance, there's the venue: the swanky Union Park nightclub, a space donated to the LAP organizers. The group will descend on Union Park from 1-8 Saturday afternoon and start putting Linux on an estimated 200 machines, with likely more coming from public donations during the event itself (brought in by valet volunteers who will provide curbside pickup).
Another difference is the ultimate destination of these machines: families and children throughout the central Texas area who might not otherwise have the wherewithall to get machines on their own.
How this came about is at once a tale of altrusism and serendipity. Lynn Bender and Michelle Greer, two members of the GeekAustin organization, were hoping to launch a program that would provide older computers with Linux installed to Burmese refugees and then any one else in the Austin region who needed machines.
But while machines and volunteers were plentiful for a big installfest, the logistics of distributing machines proved to be challenging, so the LAP project was put on hold. But then Bender heard about another Texas project that was doing exactly what LAP wanted to do: the HeliOS project, operated by Linux advocate Ken Starks.
Starks has a bit of a reputation already in the Linux community for his advocacy. Besides the HeliOS project, he was active in the Tux500 Project (which raised money to put a small Tux sponsorship on an active Indy 500 racecar), and more recently was directly in conflict with the Austin school teacher who decided that Linux was an illegal operating system. (Starks has since reconciled with the teacher in question.)
[Disclaimer: I worked as an independent auditor on the Tux500 Project.]
Starks' HeliOS Project does what the LAP project was striving for already, but on a smaller scale: Starks estimates that he outfits 3-4 machines per day for local families and foster children.
Now, with this one installfest, all of the finished machines will be donated directly to the HeliOS project, which will give Starks enough machines to finish out the rest of the year. This will be beneficial to him, because it will free Starks up to handle other aspects of his project, such as fundraising.
This is a great example of how the sharing nature of Linux can be carried to a really positive extreme. If you're in the Austin area this weekend, check out the LAP web page to see how you can help. Or learn how to implement such a project in your local community.