September 13, 2006

Ohio LinuxFest 2006: Plans, presentations, and penguins

Author: Lisa Hoover

Linux and open source software users in the Buckeye State who want to network with several hundred of their colleagues will get the chance when Ohio LinuxFest 2006 gets underway later this month. The one-day conference, to be held on Saturday, September 30, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in downtown Columbus, features presentations, exhibits, an after-conference party, and a special appearance by some live penguins.

There is no cost to attend Ohio LinuxFest 2006, but registration is required. An All Conference Pass is also available for $65. Passholders will receive access to the Conference Suite at the Holiday Inn, lunch on the day of the event, drink tickets for the after-conference party, an Ohio LinuxFest T-shirt, and additional vendor goodies. Registration ends on Friday, September 22.

Ohio LinuxFest will feature 19 speakers with presentations running concurrently in three large ballrooms. Richard Bowen of Asbury College will offer 20 ways to enhance your Web site using Apache Web Server; Google's Open Source Programs Manager, Chris DiBona, will talk about Google's relationship with open source developers and how it uses open source code in their products; Stephen Swaney of Fort Systems, Ltd. will hold a presentation on using open source software to set up secure email gateways; and Ed Montgomery of the Toronto District School Board will discuss the use of open source software in an educational setting.

Jon "maddog" Hall, well-known consultant, author, and executive director of Linux International, returns as keynote speaker with a presentation entitled "Free and Open Source: The Next Steps."

A highlight of the day will be a presentation entitled "Spheniscus Demersus: Funny Name, Serious Bird." Zookeepers from the Columbus Zoo will give a pre-keynote talk about penguins, and plan bring along two of the zoo's tuxedoed birds as visual aids.

Organizer Greg Boehnlein says one of the main goals in choosing speakers for this year's conference was finding the right mix of presenters from corporations and members of the user community. "We received a lot of positive feedback in 2005, but many attendees commented on the corporate nature of the presentations and requested that we consider providing more community-focused presentations for 2006," he said. "So, we de-coupled the sponsorship committee from the speaker committee so that sponsorship did not guarantee a presentation slot. We really feel that this year's presentation schedule represents an excellent balance between business and community interests, and we are thrilled with the job that the speaking committee has done."

In addition to presentations and penguins, a large expo area in an adjacent ballroom will feature exhibits from a variety of vendors and non-profit organizations. Exhibitors scheduled to attend include Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, Digium, The GNOME Project, Linux Box, DeVry University, and FreeGeek Columbus.

Elizabeth Ziph, CEO of Linux Box, said the decision to support Ohio LinuxFest 2006 for a second year was an easy one. "There's a lot of support for open source software in Ohio, and LinuxFest draws a very interesting mix of people. We really think [the fest] will continue to grow."

Growth spurts and growing pains

Attendance at Ohio LinuxFest has grown steadily, with last year's numbers topping out at over 750. "We hope to attract more than 1,000 attendees this year, which we believe is achievable, given the feedback we received in 2005," says head organizer Mike Meffie. In fact, interest in the conference is so strong that the block of 100 hotel rooms reserved at the Holiday Inn City Center has already sold out, so the organizers have arranged for additional rooms at the nearby Midwest Hotel & Conference Center.

"The hotel rooms went very quickly this year and we had no idea that we'd see this kind of demand. Now that the schedule is posted, I expect hotel reservations to climb," said Beth Lynn Eicher, coordinator of the hotels, food, and meeting space for the conference. Eicher says lunch will also be available for purchase this year to help alleviate the problem of long food court lines at past conferences.

Fest organizers say that challenges while organizing previous years' events have helped them anticipate issues before they become problems. The first Ohio LinuxFest in 2003 attracted about 100 people, most of whom said they would like to see the conference become an annual event. In response, organizers secured a conference room at Ohio State University the following year that was capable of holding up to 200 people. More than 500 registrations poured in during the weeks leading up to Ohio LinuxFest 2004, prompting organizers to scramble to find a new location for the event. Fortunately, another venue was located at the last minute. "Without a doubt, surviving 2004 convinced us that we must boldly proceed every year," said Eicher.

"Heading into 2006, we decided to internalize the business and financial aspects of the conference to make it easier to work with the vendors and sponsors," said Boehnlein. "As a result, the Ohio Linuxfest Corp. was born, with Michael Meffie, Beth Lynn Eicher, and myself as trustees. While we do have a corporation to back up the conference, positions are strictly voluntary. We view it as our responsibility to uphold the values of the open source community and provide a forum for Linux and open source proponents to mingle."

Meffie agrees that forming the corporation was vital to being able to plan a good conference. "[The] main benefit is to create an operating budget, so we can continue hosting the LinuxFest as long as there is an interest in the community for such an event," he said. "Planning an event like this, even if it is free for the attendees and the organizers are volunteers, still takes some financial management. We need to collect funds from the sponsors and pay the venue, catering, and so forth. And this all needs to be done for the proper accounting, for tax purposes, and as well as to maintain the trust of the community."

With the conference quickly approaching, organizers say they are looking forward to their favorite part of the event: getting to meet new open source software users and reunite with past attendees. "The best part is undoubtably the chance to meet everyone at the LinuxFest, to see everyone engaged in the presentations, learning, and making new friends and business contacts," said Meffie.

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