July 28, 2008

Installfest at LinuxWorld could seed national program

Author: Jack M. Germain

IDG World Expo has teamed up with open source security gateway provider Untangle and electronics recycler Alameda County Computer Resource Center (ACCRC) to host an Installfest for Schools at LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco next week. Volunteers will refurbish older discarded computers with free and open source software (FOSS) before they are donated to schools in need.

The Installfest is the second of what organizers hope will be an ongoing activity by the Linux community. The idea for it grew from the San Francisco Linux Users' Group meeting last October. That organization needed help in refurbishing computers for disadvantaged students. Untangle and ACCRC organized the first Installfest for Schools event in March at four San Francisco Bay area locations. During the event 130 volunteers refurbished 350 older computers with Ubuntu for northern California schools, according to says Andrew Fife, senior product manager for

That event sparked a plan to expand the Installfest concept by opening it up to a larger audience of volunteers at LinuxWorld. "Where else can you find more Linux geeks running around in one place at one time?" Fife says.

The concept of a worthwhile public service endeavor that serves the needs of disadvantaged school children interested LinuxWorld organizers. "We were looking for a way to do this and saw the PR results from Untangle's efforts. From LinuxWorld's point of view, we want to see lots of computers donated to schools," says Melinda Kindle, vice president and general manager of LinuxWorld. She says the event could help foster a greater understanding of Linux and the use of open source software.

LinuxWorld will be a collection point for donated computers, Kindle says. Event organizers are encouraging attendees to donate their unused computers. Those who do will receive a tax receipt.

Basic specs

While the Installfest workers hope to get a large supply of computers to renovate, they recognize that not all of the donated units can handle the Ubuntu OS. To qualify for refurbishing with Ubuntu, donated computers need a Pentium III processor with at least 256MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive. Pentium II and Pentium I class processors will not work. Donated computers that do not meet the minimum configuration standards will be passed along to schools as well, Fife says.

The experiences gained from the first Installfest will contribute to minimizing the number of unusable old computers, Fife says. For instance, problematic units will be stripped down, with their usable parts filling up a pool of spare parts.

Donating the refurbished computers to schools helps the sponsoring organizations meet two major goals: it helps spread the news about the alternative Linux platform, and keeps discarded computers from landfills.

"Getting technology in the hands of kids is crucial, as is getting the word about free and open source out there," Fife says. "The users getting these computers have little or no computing experience except for Macs and Windows."

ACCRC regularly donates to schools nationwide. Schools in need of computers can complete an application form available on the Alameda County Computer Resource Center Web site.

Untangle and ACCRC hope to organize more Installfests for schools, and eventually create a distributed national event occurring on a regular basis, according to Fife.


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