May 2, 2005

Linuxfest Northwest 2005 in review

Author: Aaron E. Klemm

If giving away T-shirts is an accurate way to estimate attendees, then at least 750 people made the trip to Linuxfest Northwest in Bellingham, Wash., last weekend. Linuxfest Northwest 2005 continued the conference's strong focus on highly technical presentations -- this is not a vendor-centric event.

The all-volunteer, grassroots festival is held annually on the Bellingham Technical College campus. The college provides facilities for the event at no charge. Mark Ashworth, a Linuxfest volunteer, explained that the low overhead allows the event to be free to the public and also helps make it all about the technology. Funds are raised through a raucous raffle at the end of the day, and also from the $100 donations that are requested of exhibitors. Ashworth said there are about half a dozen key volunteer organizers and 30 more student volunteers who help out on the day of the festival. "[It's an] all volunteer staff. We're not paid at all," he said.

George Dyson presented the keynote this year on "Von Neumman's Universe." It was based on the presentation he gave at OSCON in 2003. Dyson is a computer "paleontologist," as he describes himself, and happens to live in Bellingham.

On the vendor side, Pogo Linux continued its strong support of the event by chartering two buses to bring people to Bellingham free of charge. Google also made its first showing at Linuxfest with a recruiting booth for potential employees.

One notable difference from Linuxfest 2004 was the lessened concern over legal issues in the GNU/Linux world. In 2004 there was much talk about the SCO/IBM lawsuit, and presentations were given on the matter. Happily, that was not the case this year.


With as many as 12 presentations happening simultaneously throughout the day, some attendees may have found Linuxfest too much of a good thing. Attending one talk meant missing several others. But high-profile speakers and technically focused talks ensured attendees an engaging day.

Chris DiBona, formerly of Slashdot and currently Google's open source program manager, spoke about how Google uses open source, and also about the software on Brian "Krow" Aker, also formerly of Slashdot, who currently works for MySQL AB, was on the bill to give an update on the "State of the Dolphin."

Talk topics ranged from help for the GNU/Linux beginner to advanced server configuration and usage. Some topics of the 45 sessions included:

  • Digital Photos with Gimp by Rikke D. Giles
  • User Mode Linux by Jed Reynolds
  • Impact of Linux by Chuck Gray of IBM
  • by Jorge E. Restrepo
  • Open Source Accounting Tools by Ski Kacoroski
  • Subversion Revision Control System by Ron Tidd

The Linux Professional Institute was on hand, offering LPI Certification exams to attendees for $40. A new Linuxfest feature was a four-member Linux security panel discussion. A moderator took questions from the audience for the panel.

Video of several presentations were streamed live this year and will be archived on the Linuxfest Web site. The event organizers hope the archives will provide a useful resource and help generate more interest in the event. "We need to keep the buzz going all year long," Mark Ashworth said.


Exhibitors represented familiar companies that work with GNU/Linux and that have a presence in the Pacific Northwest. They included Google, Pogo Linux, Real Networks, and MySQL. But local businesses offering colocation, consulting, software design, and other tech services seemed to outnumber the big-name companies.

Ashworth explained that -- a local company making a repeat visit to Linuxfest -- was founded as a result of an attendee winning free colocation for a year during the festival's raffle in a previous year. After all, what else should one do with free colo services?

Non-commercial exhibitors made up the rest of the exhibitors. These included such things as BSD advocacy, TVLinux (a local GNU/Linux television show), the University of Washington, a Linux yard sale, and a research group that runs software on Gentoo to model Bellingham Bay.

Ashworth says that one of the things being discussed for next year is extending Linuxfest to a two-day event. He mentioned the possibility of a recreational geek event for Sunday. There are no concrete plans as yet, but with the continued interest in Linuxfest, Ashworth said providing alternative activities is becoming more important.


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