Daily Archives: 2008/04/02

Attacking from all sides

I like to talk a bit of what I am doing locally in my hometown. One thing is that I have worked the last two years in helping to organize a Linux even called “Kieler Linuxtage“. In 2007 we had over 500 visitors and all attendends thought it was a big success, given that we were only a small team. In relation to the population in our region we attracted much more people per inhabitant than other large events in Germany.

But also some problems appeared on the surface. One thing was that one multi day event a year doesnt satisfy all needs that users have, then many people missed some more introductional talks about Linux and we faced the fact that we who organized the event also had to do all stuff like watching the rooms, making photos, everything  – only 2 or 3 people helped in addition. From my perspective this was the result of a much to closed group. We, the KiLux (Kiel Linux Initiative) consisted of round about 10 people. We had requests of people who liked to join the core group but these were dismissed by the majority of us. The argument was that a small group is better for deciding things. That might be true – but what still was missing was some possibility that allowed citizens to help us organize Linux events – or get involved better. As after the Kieler Linuxtage 2007 the result was not really as previously announced an opening of the organisational structure I found that something else needed toi be done to allow people who were willing to get involved.

So I initiated a regular monthly meeting of our KiLux Community called “KiLux /usr Meeting”. We meet in the rooms of a computer/internet club called Toppoint e.V. every last friday of a month. So we dont have the need to consume drinks or food and also have the ability to use some existing infrastructure. KiLux is a mixed virtual organisation consisting of smaller and bigger companies and computer clubs and individuals. KiLux community is the community branch which is meant to be more free and easy to get together. Its is there for people to exchange their knowledge in a free flow – nobody should hold back his wisdom in order to make a profit. We had 5 meetings since November 2007 and each was very interesting with new people coming in. For the Toppoint Club it sure is interesting that a lot more people get to know about them and also we all learn how we can do things while we are doing them. I think part of the problem we were facing in Kiel that lead to degration of the Linux culture was that new people often were turned away by the talks and did not get the feeling that they learned something or maybe even thought they were not welcome. So people came and then left. Since years two groups announced their existence in the internet while they did not make any meetings – so many people did not find an active group and might finally have been given up.

So these meetings are very vital. Everybody can come along with his special problems and meet people who can hopefully help. Or at least he can ask questions and everybody who attends learns that those open questions do exist. So we learn about what users like to know. Direct contact. Direct learning. This is not always easy. It can be nice to just hang around with the folks you know or work on the things you find most interesting. But this often leads to groups that tend to be too self focused and closed rather than open. I try to live some of the philosophies I am talking in this blog and elsewhere and one of these is that I try to maintain a positive culture within our local Linux and open source community. I think too many people or lets say geek think that this is irrelevant. They think what matters is the latest kernel or some other stuff – and this can indeed be freaking cool. But what is all this with some nice folks you can talk with? Our current problem is still that there is a huge gap between some experts and some folks that join Linux just now and not much in between. So its hard work to close this knowledge gap. We cant help everybody – the way to go is to organize events, bring some people together and then let them exchange knowledge. ne can help by giving talks or asking questions, moderate a bit, but I think lesser is better. I think people who attend an event should know best what they know and what they need to know (“known unkowns” & “uknown unknowns” ;-) ) – so when you structure a meeting too much people wont be able to ask the questions they have in mind or others wont be able to tell all they know. Some strcutureis important and ok, especially one should make clear that people shouldnt do stuff that is offtopic. Joining a meetings should be 100% not 50%. And also people should listen to each other. Something I think many have lost the  ability to.

Ok, thats about the community part. The community can take part in the next Kieler Linuxtage and  I would expect that more of them would come or the event will get richer with new ideas if we are allowed.

The other idea I was following was the “KiLux Business” initiative. The idea is that Linux professionals but also potential or existing Linux customers get together to cooperate or talk about what is important or how to do Linux marketing. Right now there is not much cooperation. The computer market is structured by the bug guns in the computer business while the small companies all try to do their thing while heavily competing with each other to the still few Linux and open source customers. So in affect they mostly steal each others customers. Thats understandable but also stupid. Too few are willing to cooperate and to really attack the Microsoft dominated world. I have no doubts that with a bit more organisation we could locally be able to get a much bigger piece of cake, because we could convince more potential customers to trust on Linux and similar stuff. But as people only follow their own interest they might gain more in the short run for ONLY themselves – but in the long run we all loose – especially when we start talkng bad about our competitors. I think we should instead try to help all of us  to be more successful in selling Linux and open source. So for instance I am helping people to get the best local contact for OpenOffice.org, so the customer that is interested in switching to OO.org gets the best results. One more customer for open source – one common goal! I know this might sound stupid because I dont get any money out of this deal – but I think in our KiLux Business network it is also cool to take a provision in some cicrcumstances especially once things are going better in our direction. But right now I think its more important to aquire more users that all of us could work on than if I or we would think that everybody should try his best – or we wish him/her well but do not help – and he/she looses a contract. Sure the help should have its limits – everybody can decide in where this limit is. More importantly in discussing open questions and issues we generate new common wisdom that will help us at the next occasion on which software we choose or what we suggest our customers. Like what distribution we  choose as a basis od our installations. I could also figure to be interesting when the dialog between customers and professionals will happen. If “we” professionals listen to a customer and together try to find good answers. This is a whole different dialog then some may prefer when talking to “their” clients. As you can expect there is alsways somebody who can point out some false statements. So KiLux Business has to try to be some neutral instance, a melting pot of ideas and interests.

One other thing is the polical agenda. Strategically free standards like OpenDocument are of vital interest for the future of FLOSS! Why is that? Because here we have some very strong arguments – and also if the governmental organisations choose to prefer free standards and  use software like OpenOffice.org this gets us a foot for all kind of applications. A typical workplace that consist of only a desktop and an office can easily choose to use Linux and OpenOffice.org – most if not all use cases can be handled with that combination. If we get to the point where free standards like ODF are the defacto standard we are at the point where we can roll up every other product. So lets say there is a basis of Linux desktop workplaces but still some Windows machines for specific applications. most likely we can either replace them with either other FLOSS applications or surround the Windows applications in a virtual environment which could be much easier to maintain. We already have some political parties in our upcoming local elections that have on their agenda to migrate to free standards. I hope that this idea will gain some dynamic and already have done some activities so that in my city and my province this might get on the political agenda and will be decided for the first time at some point this year. We still need to be prepared better on what Microsofts agents are doing, to who they talk and how they make sure that political decisions are made to serve their companies agenda.

Here you can see where the different spots are related to each other. Because if we say we want open standards… who can deliver? You cant migrate a whole province with just one person – and most likey also not with 5-10 people. So we need to get organized. This can even mean that we suggest some company we dont like because they prefer Windows. If they have the trust of an organization and are willing to help their customer migrate rather help them doing the migration than to spread some FUD. If you really can compete with them do it, but dont play with the potential customers, rather try to convince this company to pull on our side of the rope! So thats another side – if we want that people switch we have to not only convince potential customers but also our potential competitors. Companies like SUN, IBM and Novell backing Linux has helped us a great deal. I agree that these companies are often not friendly and small companies are often nicer and better to their customers and competitors – but if you try to exclude them the whole migration will take a lot longer. And still your chance to get a contract is larger when the customers use Linux as of they are locked-in some proprietary application. Our weapons are openness and a network of mutual trust. Those things will need years to grow, but we can already harvest some fruits.

Its important  not to stop where we are right now but to constantly push things forward and move on, because companies like Microsoft learn, too – we must be quicker and smarter and work on all frontiers to gain ground. We sure have all different views and different agendas. But we should be able to agree on some terms and be able to work together in our all interest.

Regards from Germany

Thilo

KiLux

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