April 20, 2004

Linuxfest Northwest 2004 in review

Author: Aaron Klemm

About 1,200 penguinistas converged on the campus of Washington's Bellingham Technical College last weekend for Linuxfest Northwest 2004. The event focused on issues of advocacy, migration, law (SCO and other legal cases), and business use of GNU/Linux. Featured presenters included Rasmus Lerdorf, the creator of PHP; Stephen Hemminger of OSDL; Charles Ditzel of Sun; Chuck Gray of IBM; Jackson Harper of the Mono Project; Timothy A. Witteveen from PNW National Laboratory; and Aaron Seigo from the KDE team.

Jakob Perry, webmaster for the Bellingham Linux Users Group, said in an email interview that much of the feedback organizers received centered around the fact that the festival has remain a grassroots event. "Linuxfest started as a grassroots event, and we would like to keep it that way for the most part, maintaining an 'open source community' feeling that commercial expos don't provide," Perry said.

New users

Perry gave a talk on Linux migration, offering practical information to users switching to Linux. For example, he showed how to export bookmarks from Internet Explorer and import them into Mozilla/Firefox. Perry also presented detailed information on two approaches to partitioning: 1) to accommodate Linux on a dual-boot system, or 2) simply to dump Windows altogether.

In an email interview Perry listed Mozilla, OpenOffice.org, and Linux in order from easiest to hardest in terms of getting users to switch. Perry works as a network technician at the university he is attending, and he takes every opportunity he can to install Mozilla for people on their desktops. "Mozilla is fairly easy to get people to switch to as long as they don't have any technical biases."

Lockergnome's Matt Hartley's talk, "Open Source Progress," was a tour of Linux-based software usage from the perspective of a software reviewer. "The new user is where the future of Linux and Open Source [is]," Hartley said. He recommended all Linux advocates carry LiveCDs (Knoppix, for example) with them so they are prepared to show off and debunk myths whenever they get the chance.

Hartley emphasized that each new user is a vital part of the "Linux PR machine." From his own experience of switching to Linux, he said the most frustrating moments were when "I felt like I didn't have the time to learn it properly." He listed the following newbie perspectives as the most common:

  • Hardware setup is difficult
  • Installing software is complicated
  • GUI is not as intuitive
  • Command line is needed far too often
  • Wine is not working right

The author of this article had an interesting exchange with an elderly man, perhaps in his late 70s, who was upset that saving his documents from OpenOffice.org to a floppy disk was not trivial. He had an accusatory tone, almost as if yours truly was responsible for the hardware mounting procedures in Linux, but he mostly wanted to express how important it was for such tasks to become more accessible. Just the fact that a man his age is dabbling in Linux may be more important than the fact that it is not immediately apparent how to send a file to a floppy disk.


Frank Tenorio, a senior network and systems architect for SUSE/Novell, gave an outline of Novell's Linux strategy. According to Tenorio, Novell has 600 engineers working exclusively on Linux. He compared that to Red Hat's total of approximately 200 employees. Tenorio cited the opening of the source code of YaST (SUSE package management), Xtend (J2EE app server), iFolder (network filesystem for personal files), and others as important Open Source moves Novell has already made since the acquisition of SUSE and Ximian.


Steven Reisler, a lawyer specializing in contracts, business law, and technology, presented "A Legal Lens on the SCO Litigation." Reisler explained the compensation agreement between SCO and their law firm; Boies, Schiller & Flexner. According to Reisler, Boies is to receive $1,000,000 and 400,000 shares of SCO stock. He said that while such corporate legal arrangements are not uncommon, taking stock in a client while affecting the stock price is something many lawyers would not do. In fact, such agreements are often discouraged by state bar associations, he said.

Reisler outlined what he called a "potential screw job" that may result from the SCO litigation that centered around the complexity and sheer magnitude of so many lines of code. SCO may try to force IBM or others to spend massive amounts of money proving their innocence, which could drive litigation costs so high that licensing deals could start to happen. These agreements will be much cheaper than fighting the allegations, so companies will follow until SCO is getting paid and setting a precedent for their licensing Linux.

The key to staying ahead of the legal problems is momentum, Reisler said. "You want to have as much mass as possible." He says this is happening now. "The Pentagon is using Linux. China is using it," he said.

Ultimately, Reisler believes the power of engineers and programmers rules the day. He suggested that, in the event of major catastrophes, lawyers, corporate managers, and government officials have no choice but to trust their technical people. "Who runs the world? You do," he told the audience.

Technical talks

Among the other presentations this year were technical sessions on package management for newbies and for compiling software from source. Other scheduled sessions were "DNS/DDNS for 6,000+ Computers" by Chris Kacoroski, "Using CVS" by Jed Reynolds, "OpenVPN and the Userspace VPN" by James Yonan, "Internet Hosting with Linux Servers" by Tom Weeks, "Using CVS" by Jed Reynolds, as well as many others.

Further information

Linuxfest Northwest is coordinated by Bill Wright, and is a joint effort of the Bellingham, WA (BLUG); Tacoma, WA (Taclug); Kitsap Peninsula (KPLUG) Seattle, WA (GSLUG); Victoria, BC (VLUG); and Vancouver, BC (VanLUG) Linux user's groups.

Aaron Klemm is co-founder and technology coordinator for Mathforge.net, an online resource for the
communication of mathematics. He lives and works in Seattle.

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