July 15, 2008

Event aims to bring Lindependence to one California town

Author: Thomas King

An enterprising group has taken on a radical approach in attracting users to Linux: switch a whole town! Dubbed "Lindependence 2008" (a.k.a. LIN08), this event strives to switch citizens in Felton, Calif., for at least a week from Microsoft Windows to Linux. The initiative, loosely led by Ken Starks in Austin, Texas, and Larry Cafiero in Felton, has taken the idea of introducing normal computer users to Linux to screaming heights. By July 28, those in Felton who decide to take the plunge will go Microsoft-free for a week or more.

"Who are we to let someone struggle with the absolute nightmare of Microsoft Windows when all we have to do is spend a bit of time in showing them an easier way of doing things?" Starks says, explaining the motivation for the event. "We have a moral obligation to help those who do not know there is an easier way to make their computers do what they need them to do."

Cafiero says, "The perception that there is only one operating system out there -- only two, maybe, if you consider OS X with the rise in Apple use -- you can see that there's a fundamental disconnect in the way people perceive their digital experience. When you go into Baskin-Robbins, you have more than just vanilla and chocolate to choose from. When you buy a car, you don't have to limit yourself to Ford or Chevy. It's a basic tenet of freedom to have a choice in all facets of life, and those choices shouldn't be limited to two. Microsoft should not have that much control of our digital lives."

Lindependence 2008 is a major step beyond handing out CDs or running Craigslist ads offering to switch people to Linux. Inspiration began with Starks remembering a 1970s movie where an entire town quit smoking. When the idea was presented in the Tux Project forums in 2007, several contributors decided to mold the idea into a real event. At first, the project had no name, but Stephen Rufle suggested Lindependence, a concatenation of "Linux" and "independence," and the name stuck.

As for the motivation behind such a publicity stunt, Starks says, "We need to follow the lead of Christian Einfeldt and market this ... thing. It's time for a bit of glitz, glamour and hype." Cafiero means to differentiate Lindependence 2008 from what people may feel is a mere media stunt: "Well, I could jump out of a plane with a penguin parachute -- that would be a media stunt. However, this is somewhat more permanent. We're bringing Linux to the town and we're hoping that people stick with it after we're done."

Plans for LIN08 so far include four or five town meetings and install fests, the first two of which have been scheduled for July 13 and 15. People wishing to follow the events can read Cafiero's Lindependence 2008 Felton Diary or Starks's blog, or visit the #lindependence IRC channel on Freenode. The organizers also hope to set up live video feeds of various events. Christian Einfeldt, a professional filmmaker and author, will be filming LIN08 for The Digital Tipping Point, a ongoing documentary covering the FOSS culture.

Lessons learned

What do Starks and Cafiero wish they'd known before they started? One of the hardest lessons they learned is that there is no single Linux community to lean on. "There might be communities around different distros and FOSS programs, but unfortunately these multiple communities are not united enough -- not yet, anyway -- to raise up Linux and FOSS as a whole," Cafiero says. Communities are built around projects, distributions, and the kernel; but there is really no all-encompassing community to call upon when advocates wish to further FOSS. Thankfully, some of the distributions and projects with their surrounding communities have committed support and will assist in training the folks of Felton. "Although we want to make this as distro- and vendor-neutral as possible," Starkss says, "those supporting it will get their voice."

Starks does have one regret. "When we first announced our plans to carry out LIN08, I was contacted by an executive of a well-known and successful Linux distro. They were absolutely salivating at the chance to fund LIN08, but in my infinite wisdom I refused, because they wanted exclusive use of their distro during the event. This is supposed to be about the community, not one single distro. If I had it to do again? I'd have accepted the one distro fully funding LIN08."

What is going well? Starks reports there will be some national coverage, including a possible National Public Radio feature and partial coverage from Fox News. Also, there are rumblings of other towns that may wish to try the same kind of event. Both Starks and Cafiero have already been asked by others if they could replicate this event. In fact, Cafiero says, "I would like to consult with those who may be interested in doing a Lindependence project in their communities as soon as possible. It doesn't have to be your whole town, either -- it can be a local school, a local school system, any group that you think might benefit from GNU/Linux and FOSS."

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