Tag Archives: LUG

SFD experience 2008 in Kiel

This year I organized the Software Freedom Day in Kiel with a handful of other folks. This means I did 90% of the preparations and got a hand for the last two days of five others. I was thinking that we all plan and do things together but I found out that this was not what people wanted, really. Everybody likes to talk, but only few people like to take responsibility. But many people like to help, if they can. So I think the bad decision at the beginning was to think that others would take responsibility from early on. But some expected either a better planning or just wanted to give a hand. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that – only that on our first meeting where I asked about expectations and montivations nobody was coming out what he or she was up to – and so we just moved forward.

The result was that I did not work on some stuff like making sure we got the room 100% in the early stage and also I was not the one who planned the printing of flyers and posters. Besides some ideas nobody else could bring in talkers with topics who would assure us they will come. So this resulted in uncertainty of room, speakers and promotion. As you can easily see these are the basics of every event like that. I take responsibility for letting this happen. Sure one could say everybody could have thinked about those things – but I was the one who asked people to join doing this in Kiel, answering a question of somebody from Rendsburg. As an anarchist I do not like to lead or mak decisions for other people – but I tend to think that you ahve to come up with some kind of blueprint of an event. If you have three people that are also friends or fellow students of informatics maybe it might be possible to develop the basic ideas together. But if some people live outside and others have only few time for preparation the problem you end up is that you think you cant make decisions and delay them if the people are not present – but then time moves forward and you have to get more things done in less time. This is ok to some extend – but it can become critical.

Event planning needs a safety margin so if unforeseeable things happen you still can accomplish your goal to make the event happen. In our case we were able to make a successful event, but without much promotion – like we did not een had the chance for the school to maybe advertise the event on their homepage, parental letter , etc. – the only promotion went in announcing in the XING social network – in an address list from 2007 Kieler Linuxtage – upcoming.org and direct invitations letters to 22 schools and word of mouth. And we then had 20 attendees. All talks went well, the people who cam got a lot of information and answers to their questions and so in a small sense it was successful. OTOH we could have done much more.

So what would or will I do better next year. Firstly I already found that the location is critical. Its the first thing besides the date that needs to be fixed. Next year I would like to find a school who would like to participate actively in the event. And in that sense that they advertise the event as their own event, also. I think a school is a very good place, because here young people learn about computers and the infrastructure is already present. It would be nice if the SFD would fit into some activities that either already exist or start with or after the SFD. It then would be nice to have early contact with representatives of the school especially the teachers who would be interested in doing this.

When it comes to promotion I like to have a better oversight in the options and the costs, before the planning phase. I also think having at least one sponsor would be beneficial to cover the basic expenses – like if we print posters one can put the sponsor on it and so he also gets an advertisement by sponsoring the costs.

About speakers. I think its nice to have speakers from the own hometown. but I also like to have some expert for questions of schools next time. Also I would like to have a room with computers where we can load live cds and maybe also work on them. BTW: Th installable Live-CD is a bit dangerous for schools – as this allows a user to overwrite the installed system.

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SFD and 25 years GNU @ KDE & GNOME

GNU software exists since 25 years. Also there was the 4th Software Freedom Day at Sept. 20th. And what did we see at www.gnome.org and www.kde.org ? Not a word! This is very unfortunate. Its not that there aren’t people who say that this should or could have been mentioned – I think what it shows is a deeper disconnection between users and developers in the open source community. The event on http://www.gnome.org are 100% developer related. Maybe GUADEC want primarily if you look at the name “GNOME USERS and developers conference” – but in fact it is developer oriented. And what is “25 years” of GNU – or “Software Freedom Day” – these are celebration events – something everybody could join. There is not a development talk focus in any sense. But both big desktops seemed to think that this isnt imporant enough to mention at all. it shows exactly that and not more. It shows that new releases and developer talks seem to be more important than communicating with the users or celebrate what has been accomplished.

BTW. same is true for fedoraproject.org or  redhat.com. And thats exactly what Ubuntu seems to distinguish to other distros. Ok the are also sponsor, but SUN was, too. Other distros seem to let Ubuntu alone define what Linux and Linux community are. So … should we all use Ubuntu then? I am also an OpenBSD user because I think many things are more mature there – but when it comes to Linux I can only often shake my head about the ignorance to users of many free software projects like distriobutions or free desktops.

Come on guys, tis not that hard – like: You all deliver GNU software – why not have one word all 25 years about that fact? And there is only ONE free software day every year – why shoudl this be Ubuntus day only?

As long as other distros dont support community efforts like Canonical does, I only support Ubuntu – simple as that. I do not say Ubuntu is technically better – in fact I think that theoretically Fedora is nmore advanced in many ways – but their community is still broken and they do not tseem to be willing to learn from Ubuntu. They way to go is encourage community efforts and support it.  Novell makes 930 million dolalar, Red Hat makes 400 million revenue, Canonical Ltd. just 10 million. Nonetheless Canonical likes to sponsor free Linux CDs while Red Hat and Novell seem to think that is too expensive. And all along Ubuntu roles up the market from the bottom up. You dont see Fedora or OpenSuSE on the ground. You dont get CDs in the hand – at Fedora they even do not want you to promote it unless you are an official ambassador.

To summarize: If you are a Linux community activist you either burn your own CDs and tell your own stories – or you stick with Ubuntu who support a grassroots Linux movement – although they are for sure not less capitalistic than Novell or Red Hat. At OpenBSD this choice is not really there. There is no OpenBSD company – so they finance development mainly through presales of upcoming releases, Tshirts and donations AFAIK? I think this is absolutely Ok – but still this means that there wont be much free CDs of OpenBSD out there – marketing is not their philosophy.

Personally I like to do a little Linux promotion – and as I dont like burning my own CDs and spending my money I welcome the Ubuntu CDs – as I said I dont necessarily want to promote Ubuntu – but I do, because they give me the tools. And of people like Ubuntu they might choose to switch to any other distro if they like. Ubuntu is for breaking the ice – if they stick with Ubuntu its ok – if not – same. I just care about promoting usage of free software – and so I think Ubuntu also does work for other distros. So here Ubuntu also means “for no costs”.

If Canonical can do it the others could, too – but they feel too powerful to see the need to. I hope they will regret, because they have more money and could do even more. Lets assume the SFD would be sponsored by all major distributions and so teams would get 4 different CD types – or even could select what they want. More CDs can mean a lot more users, really. I always tell people to pass it own if they think they do not need it.

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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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