March 21, 2002

NoVaLUG takes Linux to government workers at FOSE trade show

- By Grant Gross -

Tucked into one corner of the FOSE technology-for-government trade show was a little booth drawing a crowd that rivaled the numbers at all but the largest exhibit monstrosities from companies like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Gateway.

The NoVaLUG booth -- the FOSE home for the Linux User Group that serves Northern Virginia --was doing brisk business passing out Linux literature, distributions on CDs and answering questions Wednesday, and there always seemed to be 10 or 15 people crowded around. You'd be hard pressed to believe there's technology recession judging by the huge exhibits in the center of the trade show floor -- the number of exhibitors are up by nearly 15% from last year, too -- but the NoVaLUG crowd was succeeding with an approach more grassroots than flash.

"We try to have a few words with everyone before we reward them with a distribution," said Tim Bogart, the high-energy coordinator of the NoVaLUG booth. "This is Linux advocacy. Left it its own devices, it would be in the hands of corporate America. It'd be left to IBM and HP and people who were latecomers to the party."

About 20 volunteers, some from DCLUG as well, signed up to work the booth at the three-day FOSE, which ends today. The group, dressed in T-shirts and polos among the suit-and-tie crowd, had several Linux-related toys at the booth, including a projector showing NoVaLUG scenes from the show. The crew of volunteers, many of whom took time off from work to staff the booth, were handing out copies of Linux.com's introduction to Linux and business card-sized literature from Tux.org, with sayings such as, "No, it does not crash. Yes, it does have Solitaire," and "World Domination. Fast. We'll settle for 5% but they're going to be very happy with our software."

During the three days, the group was also planning on handing out about 1,000 Linux CD sets, most burned by NoVaLUG volunteers and branded as "distributed by DC Metro Area Linux Users Groups and sponsored by FOSE." Among the CDs being distributed:

  • A one-disk Mandrake 8.1 provided by MandrakeSoft, with a NoVaLUG burned CD with Mandrake updates current through March 17.
  • A one-disk and a two-disk "Red Hat-like" distribution, burned by LUG volunteers and labeled "GNU/Linux RPM based distribution version R7.2" to avoid Red Hat trademark issues.
  • A burned CD of Knoppix Linux, a 700MB Linux distribution, including KDE and OpenOffice, on one bootable CD.

The booth volunteers were giving Knoppix to those people who came up and asked, "What is Linux?"

"You push the big red button twice, once to turn the machine off and once to turn it on, and you can test Linux without having to rewrite anything on your harddrive," Bogart said of Knoppix. "Once they realize they can test drive it without messing with their hard drive, their eyes twinkle. Some of these people think that if it ends in X, it must be hard to use. I say, 'No, you've been listening to the FUD.' "

Pete Nuwayser, a booth volunteer, said the questions ranged from those basic questions to advanced administrator queries. A common question is, "Where is Linux used?"

"I tell them if they've used Google, they've used a Linux-powered search engine," Nuwayser said.

Added Bogart: "The point is, you don't have to go find Linux, it'll find you. It'll find you in the form of a Web site or an embedded system. You are a Linux user whether you know it or not."

This is the third year of NoVaLUG at FOSE, and Bogart said the group tries to surprise the trade show organizers with something new every year. Bill Howell, general manager of the trade show group for show organizer Post Newsweek Tech Media, said NoVaLUG is an important piece of FOSE because it adds more community flavor to a show that bills itself as a huge community event.

"FOSE is a place where NoVaLUG can get its message out, can check out the competition and can extend its reach," Howell said. "Three years ago, we didn't know how to spell Linux, and they came to our office and told us why Linux was important and why NoVaLug was important."

Elsewhere at the show, it's still difficult to find Linux, even though there's growing use of Linux and Open Source software at places like the U.S. Census Bureau. Part of the huge Hewlett-Packard booth was branded with "Linux at HP" signs, and today, at 2:15 p.m., there's a panel discussion about the National Security Agency's SELinux project.

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