ILUG Shows Off

Linux User Groups all over the world are becoming large and more active. Here's the story of the Israeli Linux Users' Group.

Working and playing with Linux is fun, but it's more fun to do it with others. It was for this reason that I was thrilled to hear that a group of people calling themselves a “Linux User's Group” was going to meet the following Friday morning. Until then, I had heard stories about the amazing cooperation in development and support between Linux users, but it was distant. All I knew was that my home 386 could run Unix, and for the moment that was enough.

The meeting turned out to consist of about 20 people in a room that the Hebrew University's Computer Sciences Institute donated to the cause (well, with a bit of influence from a group member). The idea had been born when Harvey J. Stein (abel@netvision.net.il) posted a message on a local newsgroup wondering if there were any other Linux users out there. At the meeting, we discussed general issues about Linux, and some specific ideas such as Hebrew support for Linux and more meetings in the future. Being a newbie, I was silent throughout the meeting.

The Israeli Linux Users' Group (ILUG) has changed since then. In our third meeting, which took place a year ago, there were over 50 people. It might be misleading to think of us as people who get together once in a while to talk about Linux; almost all communication is conducted via our mailing list—which, in fact, existed before the first physical meeting. Our list currently has over 160 members, and is usually intensive, especially around group events. We discuss issues such as giving help for newbies, installation tips, how to get that SCSI adapter working and installing Hebrew fonts under X.

We have had five physical meetings to date. Most were organized into two parts—in the first part, members would lecture about cool things in Linux, and in the second part we would discuss Linux “current events”, including shows, meetings, ideas—just about anything.

So far, we have exhibited at two shows--Computax95 and Computax96 (despite the name, this annual event fortunately has nothing to do with taxes). The Computax event is mainly aimed at the general crowd, and does not specialize in any specific field. This meant we had to concentrate more on Doom, DosEMU, X and the idea of a free OS, rather than firewalls, kernels, and the rest of the more “advanced” technical Linux topics.

Our bold group learned of the show about two weeks before its opening date. This called for a rush meeting (plasma-gate.weizmann.ac.il/Linux/meeting-2.html), which rated a very high attendance. After several talks that night , the group enthusiastically attacked the problems of being in the show. The main barriers were financial and organizational. People graciously donated money, equipment and time. Of course, the people who staffed the show were group members who enthusiastically offered their time and effort in shifts over the three days.

Computax95 turned out to be a success. We received a corner booth in the multimedia building, but we had Doom and several large speakers to fire back with. At least we weren't in the same building as Microsoft's altar to itself. The big words “Free Unix Operating System” attracted many users, and while most were normal everyday people (that is, MS Windows users), we got the attention of several key industry people walking by.

We had a few problems—due to the lack of time, we were unable to get any CDs, so it turned out we had nothing to sell. That surprised people a bit, and I think we might have covered booth expenses had we sold, but we were content at handing out flyers, slapping “Linux Inside” stickers on people and generally infecting them with the fever. Soon after the show many users joined our list, and brought the hardships of newbies with them—questions asked before reading proper documentation. But it was definitely worth it.

Computax96 was a success as well. Although we still didn't manage to get organized in time, we did have the experience of Computax95 to help us along. This time we turned to Digital for support, and got it. About half of the cost of exhibiting was donated by Digital, and they also donated two Alphas and several Pentiums. In return, the booth was designed by them, which naturally displayed the big Digital logo and advertisements for the Alpha. The other half of the money came, as usual, from group members (about $1000). While we after much effort succeeded in running Linux on the Alphas, the machines were supplied with 24-bitplane TGA cards, and the TGA X server supports only 8-bitplane cards. However, they were the first Alphastation 255s ever to run Linux.

A member, Ira Abramov (ira@scso.com) offered to order CDs from abroad, and after some looking around, we found one we liked—CD Slackware 3.0.0 from Cheapbytes (www.cheapbytes.com). The CDs arrived in time, and were popular—about 90 were sold. However, due to an overestimate of sales, quite a few CDs were left over, and Ira lost money. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to order other CD packages, such as Infomagic's.

We had a multitude of problems when organizing both shows, but they were essentially successful. Linux-ILUG is not an organization in the legal sense of the term. This meant that no businesses were willing to agree to a special deal such as taking back any goods not sold in the show. As we funded most of the show from our own meager pockets, this meant that many Linux-related items could not be sold (books, high-priced CD distributions, etc).

Overall, our activities have been fruitful. Linux is widely known and used in Israel, and not just in educational institutes—Linux is penetrating the commercial sector as well. I think it is very important for each sector to have a LUG in order to keep up the Linux spirit. We get more and more recruits all the time, and provide valuable support (and sometimes even manpower) for those who need it. I think I can safely boast that our group is continually fulfilling its goals, and that a bright future is unfolding with Linux Users' Groups.

Shay Rojansky (roji@cs.huji.ac.il) is a 17-year-old high school student and Computer Science student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He works in his high school as a system administrator (mainly Linux) and in the CS institute at the Hebrew University as a lab assistant.

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