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Beautiful LinuxFest, In Ohio Again I See

Penguins Sighted in Midwest

  • September 1, 2005
  • By Brian Proffitt

If LinuxWorld Expo has become the place for the suits, and OSCON has become a developer's haven, then where does the average Linux user get to go?

In the Midwest, one event that seems to be answering this need is the Ohio LinuxFest--an event that promises to meet the technical and social needs of the Linux user.

The Ohio LinuxFest, scheduled for Saturday, October 1, is now in its third year of operation. Its very venue, the Greater Columbus Convention Center, reflects just how much it has grown from its 2003 origins in a few rooms at Ohio State University.

According to one of the event organizers, the Ohio LinuxFest was initially planned to be a social and technical gathering for Ohio-based Linux User Groups (LUGs). Greg Boehnlein described the initial event as fulfilling a need to get LUGs to reach out beyond their local focus and "getting together as one big group."

And that first event clearly fulfilled its mandate. 100 attendees showed up for the free event and it was an instant hit. One year later, the success was felt very strongly, when the 700 pre-registrants made it very clear that the OSU venue was not going to be big enough. Unfortunately for the show organizers, this was realized only two weeks before the event. What followed next was one of those tales that has become minor lore in the Linux community.

Event organizers, Boehnlein explained, were able to locate an available venue at the Columbus Hyatt, but with almost no budget, there was no way to pay for the three ballrooms LinuxFest needed. Contacted by LinuxFest organizers for help, Linux International's Jon "maddog" Hall graciously told the group to charge the cost of the rooms on his credit card and pay him back when they could. Boehnlein and the other organizers were impressed that maddog would take what amounted to a $2000 risk on the event.

"Maddog told us," Boehnlein described, "that 'to have gone through all of that work and to have it fail would be a crime against humanity.'"

Maddog's participation did not end there, as the community luminary would continue to work with the show and give advice on how to keep it growing. Maddog was also instrumental in helping to raise this year's operating budget of $15,000 from corporate sponsorships, quite a difference from the first show in 2003.

Though there is corporate involvement on the sponsorship level, Boehnlein and his fellow organizers have repeatedly emphasized the user-level approach to this conference. The one-day show, scheduled to run from 8 a.m. to midnight, is crammed with 18 speakers in three different tracks: Userspace, Tech, and Community. Topics include Digital Forensics, Law Enforcement and Linux; Linux Terminal Server Project; Building an Open Source Company, the Right Way; and KDE: Every Day Use and Hidden Gems (the latter featuring noted KDE developer Aaron Seigo).

Given the expanded space, the show organizers have also left room for a small exhibition area, featuring about 18-20 exhibitors.

Along with the growth in attendance, speakers, and budget, the show's basic mission has changed slightly as well over the past three years. In the beginning, Boehnlein explained, "the focus was on 'let's get the Linux users together.' Now the focus is 'let's get the Linux users together and have highly technical talks and also get the non-Linux users in here and educate them.'"

The show organizers have stipulated three main goals, according to Boehnlein. The show must provide a place for technical education, the barrier to the show must be low, and there should be a place for participants to interweave and discuss their issues.

The low barrier approach translates into the cost of attending the show: absolutely nothing. Boehnlein emphasized the free admission to the show, something that has been in place since day one. He added that this year, attendees would be welcome to make a free-will donation if they so chose.

What began as a meeting for Buckeye Linux users has now turned into a much larger-scale event. Last year, visitors from 13 states and provinces showed up, and organizers expect more of the same this year.

Boehnlein was quick to praise his fellow organizers, particularly Mike Meffie and Beth Lynn Eicher among others. He also gave praise to the Cincinnati LUG organization that volunteered to handle the event's finances, given that LUG's 501(c) non-profit status.

"This is absolutely mindboggling to us. We never set out to do something on such a large scale," Boehnlein said.

For more information on this success of a show, visit the event Web site.

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