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Ohio LinuxFest Logs Another Big Year

Learning the Lessons of Open Source

  • October 5, 2006
  • By Ian Hodge

What do you call it when 1,000 beer drinkers get together for a feast? A Beerfest.

What do you call it when 1,000 Linux user and fans line up for a feast? A Linuxfest.

And this is what happened last Saturday at the Columbus Convention Center for the annual Ohio Linuxfest. It was an event that everyone seemed happy with. There were the usual vendor tables and a number of very valuable workshops.

The problem, of course, is that it is difficult to clone yourself so you can attend all of the workshop sessions. Some of the ones I did not get to included a Jay Pipes presentation on getting best performance out of MySQL; or the practical talk by Sgt. Michael Harrington on how the Michigan police force use Linux and open source in law enforcement. I would love to have heard John Buswell talking about "Open Source Zero Day: Attack Protection," but I have yet to learn how to be in several places at once.

It was great to hear the keynote speaker, a man without an accent. (It is said that in Australia no one has an accent, while in the USA everyone has one.) But Jeff Waugh, from the Sydney Linux Users Group, and now in partnerships with his wife in Waugh and Partners in that city, gave an important address on the concept of open source and Freedom.

Waugh has a history with the Ubuntu and Gnome projects, the latter attempting to provide the user-friendly interface that will make us all drop Microsoft Windows because now the desktop will be better, more reliable.

Open source and freedom is an interesting link, according to Waugh. We don't usually think of computer operating systems somehow tied to our understanding of freedom. But for those of us with frustrations that come from being locked in to a single supplier, the ability to have genuine choice in the computer marketplace is a real step toward more choice. And that means the freedom to buy someone else's product.

The other keynote was the address by Chris DiBona from Google. Here is a major business player wrapped up in the world of Linux and open source. He gave some important reasons for Google's use of open source. Among them were:

  • They can maintain their independence from external companies. With open source they can do what they want to do in-house, applying their creativity to whatever project comes to mind.
  • With open source they have adaptability and flexibility. They get to choose what the do, when they do, and how they do it. They can bury themselves deeper into an application and enhance their services in a way they judge is best for Google.
  • open source allows them to do things out of the ordinary.
  • It appeals to the Google ethic.

Google, of course, has the resources to do some exciting projects in open source. Their student program is just one of these. In this program, students from around the world can apply to Google with their pet project. Google's special staff for this program will review and accept or reject a submitted proposal. If it is accepted, the student receives $500. The student works with his appointed mentor at Google, and mid-term the project is reevaluated. It may be dropped at this point if key goals are not materializing. If it continues, the student receives $2,000 to continue the project. At the end, the student is paid another $2,000.

Google is thus encouraging creativity in the open source community with great opportunities for those who can conceive and deliver meaningful projects to help Google's activities.

The workshop sessions were well attended, as was Rick Bowen's presentation "20 things you didn't know you could do with your Apache Web Server." Among the things you probably didn't know were:

  • File compression that will compress text files to improve performance.
  • Caching that can be controlled on a file-by-file basis
  • Spell checking
  • WebDav alternative to FTP
  • A proxy balancer, that will send a user to the same server
  • Graceful stop. This allows downloads to complete before the Apache Server will shut down.
  • Another features handles language control, so the use of .en or .jp or .fr extensions are seamless.

Not all these features are in every version. But if they are what you need, just fine the version that has what you need in it. Some of the features you may not even want. Spell checking can be great, but it will affect performance of the server.

Another valuable workshop was given by Steve Swaney, of Fort Systems Ltd. The company distributes MailScanner, one of the most reliable spam filters available for those serious about spam and virus control.

Swaney told attendees that currently 80% of electronic mail is spam, and about one in every 150 messages contains a virus.

Created in England, MailScanner has a sophisticated, multiple method of checking for spam. It checks a DNS blacklist; it then passes e-mail through 950 or more heuristic rules. Not content, it then applies Bayesian probability phrases, then takes advantage of other services such as Razor and Pyzor. It can capture every known virus passing through e-mail servers, and is successful at stopping 98% of all spam.

With over 60,000 installs in the world, there's a good chance the reason you don't get more spam and viruses is because of MailScanner.

Kim Brand, from FileEngine in Indianapolis, gave an interesting account of how he has been successful placing Linux in small, private schools in his region. He gave the business advantages of the schools doing this, and the challenge for others to expand Linux installations in this area of the marketplace.

This is just some of the feast attendees enjoyed at the Ohio LinuxFest. There was, however, one disappointing aspect to the day for this reporter: the lack of application vendors who were visible at the conference. For Linux and open source to get out into the marketplace, there needs to be more application software.

A strong open source alternative to Quickbooks would be a good start. Not just an open source accounting package, but one that can compete feature-for-feature with Quickbooks and provide the easy user-interface that makes Quickbooks such a well-loved application in the marketplace. Every business needs accounting software. Having an open source accounting equivalent would go a long way to expanding the open source market.

Otherwise, this was a great conference with something of value in all the sessions. Next time there's a Linux conference in your area, support it. It is well worth the day's investment.

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