December 2, 2004

Italian Linux Day 2004

Author: Marco Fioretti

Last Saturday was an important and busy day for Italian Tux fans. The fourth edition of the Italian National Day of Linux and Free Software took place in more than 100 cities all across the country. Not bad for a young, fully volunteer event.

The Rome session was organized inside University of Tor Vergata by the GNU/Linux User Group Roma, founded in December 1996 by a small group of enthusiastic engineering students of the Faculty of Engineering of "La Sapienza," the first University of Rome. The freshly formed LUG of University of Tor Vergata was also present.

The day in Rome started with pouring rain outside and bureaucratic problems inside. Official permission to use the halls had not yet reached the building supervisors. Everything turned out fine, however, with just a small delay at the beginning of the event.

The sessions were enough to give an idea of how vast and varied the free software world is. The two most popular ones, at least in the morning, were the two presentations covering the configuration and usage of Apache 2 and an introduction to Mono. The program also included tutorials on shell scripting, cryptography, software development with Qt and Python, and Knoppix. This last presentation also mentioned So.Di.Linux, an Italian Knoppix derivative with a special focus on educational software.

The official program and the corresponding Linux Day wiki page contain the abstract of all talks and, when available, a link to a downloadable PDF or version. However, don't expect to find anything for the presentation titled "Beyond Linux: *BSD, etc...". The talk itself was very interesting and well-led. It's just that it wasn't a slide show, but a speech supported by on-the-fly chalk sketches on a blackboard! Talk about time travel! It was really a refreshing experience.

During the whole day, the reception desk made it easy even for the casual passer-by to try GNU/Linux software safely. The LUG members had organized a no-stop, a-la-carte CD burning service for all visitors. The catalog offered a lot of LiveCD distributions, including specialized ones like So.Di.Linux's direct ancestor EduKnoppix (Live GNU/Linux for schools), the multimedia-oriented dyne:bolic, and BristolMorphix, which includes the video-editing suite Cinelerra.

The two official side events, a GPG party to exchange crypto keys and an Install Fest, also had their share of visitors. The latter illustrated step by step for the whole audience, thanks to a projector connected to the PC, an installation of Mandrake 10.1.

I had presented the technical, hacker-stimulating side of the RULE Project to a small but interested audience. It proved to be another demonstration that free software always finds new and unexpected uses. I had announced that people are trying to run RULE on such unexpected platforms as the Norhtec Micro Client. Much to my surprise, one of the participants made the same point, asking how RULE and User-Mode Linux could be used to squeeze as many copies as possible of Linux into the same computer, to test networking protocols.

I'm proud to report that I earned a standing ovation, only it wasn't for my presentation. Due to the problems mentioned above, the room had not yet been equipped with a laptop when I was supposed to start. The speaker after me, Enrico Speranza, kindly connected to the projector his own Windows XP laptop and let me use it to run my slide show from my USB stick. I use only Linux, so at the end, in good faith, I asked, "Is there anybody who knows Windows XP, to unmount my stick and shut the system down properly?" After some seconds of astonished silence, Enrico came to the rescue, seeking applause from the audience because "he's such a good Linux user that he doesn't know how to use Windows!" Ah, well...

Nationwide, different LUGs independently discussed cryptography and security on Linux. There were at least two other common trends that are worth reporting. Almost always, when free software arrives in any country, it comes in first through its universities, which usually are in its bigger, or anyway more mundane and important, cities. It is only later, when awareness spreads and competence matures, that it reaches the smaller towns. Italy seems already well into this second phase. The official Italian Lug List already covers all corners of the country, though not all LUGs have enough resources to host a local Linux Day. Should you compare, however, the list of those who already had such resources this year with a detailed map of Italy you would discover that a lot of shows were organized in lovely little cities.

On a smaller scale, the second thing that several local programs had in common was a presentation of trashware-related initiatives like RULE. The Italian Trashware Resources portal contains a still partial list of these talks. It always feels good to let people know that Linux can also save them money they had already spent.

Click Here!