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Red Hat Tour Seeks Feedback From Community

Red Hat, Hoosiers, and Food

November 7, 2002

The little boy in the restaurant high-chair looked at the approaching crowd of men with wide-eyed wonder, tinged with just a little bit of two-year old fear. He had probably never seen so much facial hair in all his life.

As I walked past him, I leaned over and whispered in his ear "don't worry, son, they're just geeks! Make no sudden moves." And, with a wink to his parents, I moved on with the parade of "technically advanced" men and women.

We were all here, some 75 strong, to meet and greet the latest arm of the Red Hat marketing department: the five-man crew of the bright-red RV of the Red Hat Road Tour 2002, which had pulled up to this restaurant on a cold, drizzly Indianapolis day for the sole purpose of meeting with us, Linux users of Indiana.

Many of the people there were members of the Central Indiana Linux Users Group (CINLUG), but not all--several participants were coming from businesses, universities, even churches to hear what Red Hat's representatives had to say. We were all there to hear the Gospel According to Red Hat.

Imagine our surprise to find out that they wanted to hear from us.

What one would have expected to be a Red Hat presentation instead turned out to be a very spontaneous and casual discussion amongst experienced Linux users (with a few newbies tossed in for fun) about what was good, bad, and ugly about Red Hat and all things Linux.

Of course, there were a few bumps at the start. Very quickly the Red Hat crew learned of two Indiana laws: the first being that it always rains on Election Day. The second (and actual law): you can't buy alcohol in Indiana on Election Day until after the polls close at 6 p.m. So, beers were out, to be replaced by smoothies and soft drinks.

The next bump was the turnout: three times as many people showed up than expected, so the actual eating did not begin until a whole other section of the restaurant was cleared out.

Undaunted, the gathering continued.

Eventually, four members of the crew--Jeremy Hogan, James McDermott, Dave Lawrence, and Jonathan Opp--took positions at each of the long tables and held court, answering questions and asking them in turn. (The fifth member of the crew, the driver Cookie, held court in the bar smoking a cigar, explaining to the not-very-busy bartender what Linux was all about.)

I ended up sitting next to McDermott, a Client Engineer who by his own admission looks like a biker dude. It doesn't faze his fellow diners, since he looks like most of the under-30 men from the southern part of the state. McDermott, who can put away an astonishing amount of food, seemed a man very happy to be where he was right at that moment as he answered questions between bites.

The goal of the tour, he explained, was not so much as getting the word out about about Red Hat, but trying to get in touch with a vital part of Red Hat's customer base: the everyday user.

Considering that Red Hat routinely does business with Fortune 500 companies and Wall Street investment firms, this sort of statement came as a little bit of a surprise.

Ideally, McDermott continued, "we're looking for specific input on [Red Hat] 8.0." From the desktop to the configuration tools to the apps, he wanted to hear what users around the country had to say about how the desktop-oriented release performed.

Thus far on the tour, he lamented, "we've been getting generally good comments." But what he really wants, McDermott explained, are specifics. Nitty-gritty ideas, suggestions, and critiques that the team can take back and apply to the next development cycle of Red Hat.

Things in the enterprise field, McDermott explained, were pretty well known. "We are trying to keep in touch with the community."

McDermott mostly seemed to get his wish, as people at his table bandied about topics as diverse as LVM, Apache on Solaris vs. Red Hat, hyperthreading Xeon processors, to what makes people in the RV physically ill.

Not every session has been as informal as this one. The RV crew has attended LUG meetings and made presentations, met dedicated followers in a K-Mart parking lot, and attended a town hall meeting to advocate the use of Linux in a Virginia school system. Different groups have been approaching the team for help and knowledge in a variety of ways and the team has adapted well. In Indiana, we just like to sit around, eat, and shoot the--er, breeze, so the crowd got what they needed from the team's visit. After talking to team leader Hogan, it was clear that the team got what they needed from us.

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