November 25, 2002

Linux veteran looks for ways to introduce Linux to Congress

- by Grant Gross -
A retired math professor and veteran Linux user is looking for help
from the community to educate the U.S. Congress about Linux and win
some converts on Capitol Hill.

Alan McConnell, from Washington D.C. suburb Silver Spring, Maryland, has
set up the Linux public education email list (send email to linux-pe-request@tux.org to
subscribe) with the hopes of generating constituent pressure on
members of Congress to add Linux to the mix of desktop and server
OSes on the Hill.

McConnell wrote to D.C. area LUGs last week, asking for help. "My
first goal: to get one or more Representatives to put pressure on the
House Information Services to port their server [software] to Linux,
those enabling Representatives, or members of their staffs, to
install Linux on machines in their offices, and use Linux to connect
to the central House servers," he wrote.

Congressional offices seem to use Windows even more than the general
public does. According to McConnell's discussion with IT staff on the
House administration subcommittee, the House side of Capitol Hill
uses about 12,000 Windows machines and less than 150 Macs.

McConnell says part of his motivation is for House Information
Services to allow and support any operating system congressional
workers want. "The second thing is Congress should have some direct
knowledge of some of the controversial issues surrounding
[technology]," he adds. "When Bill Gates gets up in front of a
committee and talks about Microsoft and how integrated it is -- the
idea that you can't rip a browser out without leaving bloody bytes
all over the floor is ridiculous -- I would to like to have some
representatives who know that and can say, 'I run about five
browsers, and I can integrate them all and put them on my
computer.'"

McConnell's basic premise is the more lawmakers know about Linux and
Open Source, the better decisions they can make about technology
legislation. "I'm really frightened of the DMCA," he says. "You just
never know if [the Motion Picture Association of America's] Jack Valenti will win. I was
very afraid of that."

The first step, he says, is to get several people in a handful of
congressional districts to contact their representatives and ask that
the House be opened up to Linux. He expects it won't take many people
to influence a couple of tech-savvy representatives, and it'll take
only a couple of representatives to make House Information Services
to take notice. The goal is to get a couple of representatives to
write letters asking how difficult it would be for House Information
Services to support Linux.

McConnell, who's been running Linux exclusively at home and work
since 1993, says he hasn't yet talked to other Open Source lobbying
efforts, including the American
Open Technology Consortium
and Bruce Perens' Sincere
Choice
. But he says he's willing to work with others who have
similar goals.

"These are all sort of defensive actions," he says. "I'd like to
resist the incursions of American big business generally, and
Microsoft in particular, in foreign countries, especially poor
countries. I'd like to see if Congress can be influenced."

Gregory J. Pryzby, one of the directors of Tux.org, which is hosting
McConnell's email list, says he believes in the concept. "There are a
number of people that are
interested in helping Congress migrate from Microsoft and to the best
of my knowledge there is little organization so there is some
duplicate effort taking place," he says. "I believe that if the word
gets out
about linux-pe@tux.org, it can lend organization to the efforts of
converting Congress from Microsoft products.

"Alan is a very focused and I believe can persuade people in Congress
to consider non-Microsoft solutions," Pryzby adds.

Pryzby says he thinks McConnell's idea will meet a positive reception
in Congress.
"I believe having a focused effort to target Congress will
increase the chances of converting them."

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