Ohio LinuxFest 2008


Tomorrow is the 6th annual Ohio LinuxFest conference. This free event is the midwest’s best conference on Free and Open Source software. This year’s schedule includes a number of really interesting sessions, covering new user how-to to nitty-gritty technical implementation details. There should be something for everyone!

As I’ve done for the last couple of years, I’m involved with the planning committee, and am again in charge of the check-in desk the morning of the show. That means I need to arrive super early to get everything ready so that attendees can check in and get their goodie bags. I have a small cadre of volunteers helping me out, and if it’s anything like last year it should be plenty fun. The check-in desk is a great place to volunteer because you get to meet a lot of people simply by doing your job! It’s also often the first official experience many OLF attendees have, so it helps set the tone of the show for the guests. I always make it a point to thank each attendee as I check them in, and encourage all the volunteers helping me to do the same.

Another role I have for OLF is that of a mule. As the only guy local to Columbus, I am the official recipient of swag, goodie bag inserts, and other items to be distributed at the show. Last year I received 2,000 Google t-shirts. This year, HP sent a color laser printer and 4 mini-notebooks as raffle prizes. O’Reilly books sent an assortment of their titles, too.

Last night I joined a handful of other OLF staffers and volunteers to prepare the goodie bags we distribute to attendees. It’s boring manual labor - stuffing filers into plastic bags – but it’s a great opportunity to meet interesting people who are enthusiastic about Free and Open Source Software. At last night’s session, for example, I met Tom, a Google sysadmin from the New York office. Tom, the other volunteers, and I enjoyed a number of interesting discussions as we filled the bags. I learned a lot about Google – for example, the Google home page doesn’t close all of their HTML tags, rendering the page technically non-compliant. They do this, however, to save ISPs trillions of bytes of traffic, since so many people all over the world load the Google home page so often. Tom was genuinely interested in hearing our feedback on the various Google services – even though he’s not directly involved with many of them – and he took a lot of notes as we brainstormed ideas together. (My own personal request was the ability to unify my GMail account and my Google Apps for Domains accounts, so that I can use my Apps for Domains account to access Google Reader.)

Afterwards I joined Jorge and Jono of Ubuntu, along with some other OLFers, for a couple of beers. I learned that Ubuntu is now getting 5 thousand bug reports a month. We had an interesting – albeit brief – discussion about strategies to deal with that volume, along with how to scale the community in a sustainable, supportable manner. I’m looking forward to chatting with Jorge and Jono some more throughout the weekend, time permitting.

This is the kind of thing that makes these regional conferences so interesting: meeting people who are active participants in the products we use on a daily basis. It’s particularly interesting to me in the Free and Open Source communities, because the people creating the products are also users of the products. And unlike many closed-source shops, free software teams are extremely receptive to great new ideas from the community. Indeed, they often thrive on that kind of positive interaction. Conversely, many closed-source shops suffer from a “not invented here” mentality, and actively reject outside influence, assuming that they alone know what’s best for the users / customers.

If you’re free on Saturday, come on down to the Greater Columbus Convention Center and join us for the 6th annual Ohio LinuxFest. Look for me at the check-in desk, and say hi! Or find me at the party after the show! I’d love to meet you.

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