March 8, 2004

Five years of bringing Linux to the Feds first-hand

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

Tim Bogart, a mainstay of the Northern Virginia Linux Users Group (NoVaLUG), is getting ready for the group's fifth annual appearance at FOSE, the Federal Office Systems Exposition. The LUG setup is always among the most humble ones, seemingly lost in the midst of flashy displays from commercial hardware and software vendors hoping for a piece of the federal pie, but it is always one of the busiest spots on the show floor. Tim and I chatted via IM a few days ago. This edited transcript of our conversation can and should serve as an "advocacy guide" for other LUG activists who want to do effective Linux promotion at computer expositions that are not all about Linux -- which are often the kind of shows where LUG advocacy does the most good.Roblimo: How did the first FOSE appearance come about? Did you ask FOSE or did FOSE ask you?

Tim: Actually I annoyed them until they agreed to open a dialog. I pestered them for about three months. Then Red Hat had their IPO ... more phone calls ... then VA Linux ... then I got to talk to them. It was nothing but bulldog tenacity that got us in there.

They said they weren't sure if they were going to show any interest at all in Linux. But as news events unfolded they indicated that they were going to try and have some sort of Linux presence. They eventually asked for a meeting and Greg Prezby and I went to Applebee's in Chantilly, VA, to have lunch with them. (Greg needed to be there because he was then president of Tux.org and was the one who was going to sign the papers.)

We discussed it, and they decided to donate booth space to us. I had no idea what to expect. But they said they wanted more. They wanted a presentation to their sales staff for educational purposes. What is Linux? What does it do? What is it good for? Who's using it? All typical stuff you would expect a sales rep to ask. So (Linux author and fellow LUG member) Billy Ball grabbed some of his toys and I printed up a presentation, and we went over to their offices. They had a catered lunch, to which we were invited.

Roblimo: Who was "they" from the FOSE side?

Tim: It started out being my current contact, Industry Manager Lois Rude, and another woman who doesn't work there anymore, and I don't remember her name. Now my contact there is Lois and I've been known to have a word with Bill Howell, the president, in the past. The actual name of the people who sponsor the FOSE trade show is Post Newsweek Business International, Tech Group. What a mouthful.

Anyway, when the day of the show came, I was surprised to find a very large 8-sided kiosk that looked like a big gazebo. I think we had more fun that first year than any other time.

Roblimo: You've gotten some pretty prime speakers, too.

Tim: Oh yes. Jon "maddog" Hall was there one year. They have some impressive folks there this year too.

Roblimo: Speakers you've helped arrange?

Tim: I just put the bug in Lois's ear. She actually makes contact and does the work. But I do admit to doing some behind-the-scenes legwork to kind of "prime the pump."

Roblimo: So you've managed to infiltrate open source-type speakers?

Tim: Kind of, yes. In a very roundabout way. I will point out to Lois what's being discussed and in the news, and ask her if she would like an introduction. Sometimes she says yes, other times no. She's pretty good about doing her own thing in that regard, so I just kind of offer a shepherding nudge when it comes to open source stuff. I was directly responsible for Chris DiBona being at that first FOSE for us in 2000.

This is our fifth year at FOSE, and this is the first year we are listed in the promotional materials as being Tux.org rather than Novalug.

Roblimo: Is NoVaLUG changing its name?

Tim: No. Tux.org is simply the "umbrella" organization that helps to sponsor LUGs all up and down the eastern US seaboard and as far west as Nashville. NoVaLug is still NoVaLug and DClug is still DClug. It's just that Tux.org is the entity that is incorporated as a 503c educational not-for-profit corporation.

I act as director of marketing for Tux.org.

Roblimo: So now all of Tux.org -- all the LUGs -- are in on FOSE?

Tim: No, but they are all represented and are welcome to participate, though the only other LUG that has ever sent a representative to FOSE is Shenandoah LUG, and that was two years ago. The Tux.org representation at the FOSE trade show on behalf of Tux.org largely consists of members of NoVAlug and DClug.

I have invited members of NYLUG a few times, but it seems our counterparts in New York have other things to do. Too bad. It would make a nice road trip for them.

Roblimo: Anything "hot" going on at FOSE this year?

Tim: Well, I hate to blow our own horn, but NoVaLugger Pete Newayser, who works for the Federal Trade Commission, will be doing exhibitions in the Homeland Security Pavilion and that one was a direct result of my intervention.

I was talking to Lois and she mentioned that she needed to find some government people to do something appropriate for the pavilion. Having just seen Pete's NovaLug presentation about 2 or 3 months earlier on the kind of security-related functions the FTC is involved with, I hooked her up with Pete. As a result, he won't be working our booth this year, but the good news is we will have one of our members presenting on another part of the show floor, so actually we've doubled our exposure. Lois is happy, Pete's happy, and I'm happy.

Roblimo: Is your booth space bigger than it was in earlier shows?

Tim: Actually it has been decreasing year by year. The biggest was the second year when we had about 3 10-foot tables. Last year we actually had 2 booths in different parts of the show floor. The coolest though was the first year in the gazebo. Guess who was there that first year and who was responsible for them being there? Caldera. Guess who talked them into attending? That's right. (Shamefully looks at floor.)

Roblimo: One thing I've noticed when I've gone to FOSE is that the LUG booth, big or small, is one of the least professional-looking ones, but always seems to be the most popular.

Tim: That's true. There is a buzz on the show floor that comes from nowhere else. Just go to the noisiest places. Just follow the noise and it will lead you to where the Linux distributions are being given out.

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