OhioLinux 2005


Saturday, October 1, was the third annual OhioLinux conference. Like last year, this was a great geek event.

Friday night DrBacchus rolled into town, and stayed with us. Early Saturday morning, we loaded up the van with computers from FreeGeek Columbus, for use at the conference check-in stations, and headed to the Columbus Convention Center. When we arrived shortly after 7 there were already a number of booths being erected, and a large crowd of people bustling about. The entire setup process was pretty well organized (except for the fact that FreeGeek Columbus was assigned to the wrong table! Thankfully no problems arose). Registration began at 8, and it was obvious that turn out was going to be strong. There was a steady line for registrations from 8 to 9. Before things got underway, I took DrBacchus to the North Market for coffee and a bit of window shopping.

The morning keynote presentation was given by IBM. The content was interesting, but not particularly compelling. It was, in truth, a glorified sales pitch for the IBM Power platform.

This year the conference was broken into “tracks”: users, tech, and community. I attended Novell’s “ Linux Migration” presentation first. This was something of a follow-up to the Novell presentation from last year’s event, in which the Novell guys said that their goal was to migrate 100% of their corporate desktop systems to GNU/Linux and OpenOffice.org. It was reported that only 80% of the conversion was complete, but even that was impressive. Novell’s 6,000 employees use 15,000 individual systems. So far, the conversion to GNU/Linux and OpenOffice.org has saved the company $900,000 in licensing fees to Microsoft. Several tools were mentioned to facilitate the migration process. By all accounts, it’s been remarkably successfuly, even though they didn’t reach their 100% goal in one year.

The next session I wanted to attend was “Digital Forensics”, but unfortunately it was cancelled. In its place someone spoke about GNOME, which I really wanted to attend. Between sessions, though, I was helping out at the FreeGeek Columbus table, and got engaged in a wonderful, energetic conversation with a few folks interested in our mission. By the time we finished up, the GNOME presentation was well over half finished, so I stuck around the table and spent the remainder of that session talking about FreeGeek with others who stopped by.

After this was lunch. Last year I introduced DrBacchus and Buca di Beppo, where we had a great time (and from which came several long-lived location jokes that we still rehash!). This year, I took the liberty of booking us The Pope Room. Minimum party size for this room is 12, so we grabbed a few friends on our way out. We ended up with 16 (I think), and it was a snug fit, but we all had a really great time. It was generally agreed that the Pope needed laser beams in his eyes.

Lunch ran long, as you can imagine it might for 16 hungry geeks at a restaurant that serves “family style” portions, so we missed the first half of the sessions after lunch. Rather than catch half a presentation, I stuck around at the FreeGeek Columbus table, answering questions. It was about this time that a steady stream of people started seeking me out: “Hey, you in the red Hawaiian shirt – are you Skippy?” The fine folks at the CACert table were sending people my way to provide additional identity assurance. So I was basically doing triple duty at the table: introducing and advocating FreeGeek Columbus, verifying identities for CACert, and answering general questions about GNU/Linux and the Central Ohio Linux User Group (I am the meeting coordinator for that group). It was a hectic half-hour, but it was super to meet all the passionate geeks at the conference.

Next up was DrBacchus’ mod_rewrite presentation. This was, without doubt, the most accessible, easy-to-understand introduction to regular expressions I have ever seen. I really wish this presentation had been available when I was first struggling with regexes. After this quick intro, DrBacchus presented the case for (and against, in some circumstances) mod_rewrite, and provided articulate, useful examples. It was a fantastic presentation. It looked to me as though half of the conference attendees were present for this session.

Another short break was spent advocating FreeGeek Columbus and doing CACert assurances, and then I sat through the introduction to Novell’s Hula Project, their open source web-based collaborative mail and calendaring suite. The product looks interesting, but the presentation was dry.

The last session I attended was “Quality of Service using Open Source Linux Tools”, presented by Doug Hass of ImageStream. For the first third of the presentation I was pretty well convinced that this was going to be a sales pitch. ImageStream sells hardware products to do all the QoS stuff that I had expected to learn in this presentation. A high-level overview of QoS (combined with a fully belly of pasta!) had me nearly falling asleep. But then Doug shifted into practical examples of QoS tools on GNU/Linux, using iptables and iproute2. He highlighted several specific differences between the 2.4 and 2.6 Linux kernels, which was enough to convince me that Doug was a true geek, and not just a marketing guy regurgitating what his engineering staff had told him. One example showed how to provide QoS for low priority character based SSH sessions, which prompted me to lean over to a COLUG member sitting next to me and quietly ask “Yeah, but what about scp, when you actually want to use more bandwidth to speed up the transfer?” To my extreme surprise, this very question was answered by Doug’s next slide. Not once did he mention his product. As such, I have zero qualms about strongly recommending that anyone looking for QoS solutions without mucking about on the command line should consider ImageStream. Clearly this is a company that “gets it” when it comes not only to Free Software, but geek conferences generally. If only more of the vendors could have taken a page from their book…

The final keynote session was from Jerry Mayfield, Senior Corporate Business Strategist at Novell. It was an interesting examination of how Novell draws from, and contributes back to, the larger Free Software and Open Source communities. Novell is heavily invested in several major projects, and they’re working to get hardware vendors to commit to better GNU/Linux support. About half-way through the speech, most people realized that this, too, was a glorified sales pitch. It wasn’t quite as brazen as IBM’s pitch in the morning, thankfully, but it left me wanting something a little less commercialized to wrap up a day of energy and community.

Finally, after an overly prolonged raffle (in which I won nothing!), and a frenzied loading and subsequent unloading of the FreeGeek computer, I took DrBacchus and a fellow FreeGeek member to The Blue Danube for some local flavor. The food was good, as usual, and the company was excellent. We chatted for about an hour, and generally had a great time unwinding from the busy day.

Overall attendence at OhioLinux 2005 was a little over 700 people – more than twice the number of attendees last year. I’m really excited about OhioLinux 2006!

You can see all of my photos from the event here.

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