Linux at the UW Computer Fair

This year, our booth was one of the most popular booths.

On March 15 and 16, 1995, the University of Washington had its twenty-first annual Computer Fair in Seattle. In 1973 it was called the Terminal Fair because, after all, people couldn't afford computers back then. Now this has grown to an event with around 16,000 attendees ranging from students to Boeing and Microsoft engineers.

SSC, publishers of Linux Journal, has had a booth at the fair for the past four years. In 1991 and 1992, SSC's booth with Unix products was not very popular among attendees compared to the other booths with mostly Windows and MS-DOS products. In 1993, we saw increased interest in our booth. Last year, in the Spring of 1994, we gave away several hundred free copies of Issue 1 of Linux Journal, we talked to hundreds of interested people about Linux.

This year, our booth was one of the most popular booths. One SSC employee (biased, we admit) claimed that only one booth at the show was more popular than SSC's booth, and that was the Starbucks Espresso booth. (For those not familiar with Seattle's reputation, it prides itself on the number of quality espresso stands and is called “latte-land” by some. Allegedly, Seattle consumes more coffee than any other city in the world, save Milan, Italy.)

This year, we gave out 4000 copies of Linux Journal and had hundreds of people enter their business cards in our drawing for an Essential Linux Pack. The winner of the Pack was Don Herold of North Bend, Washington.

Common questions asked while in the booth were:

  • How big a machine do I need to run Linux? Most people were surprised to find out machines much smaller than what are needed to run MS-Windows will support Linux just fine.

  • Will Linux run my DOS or (MS-Windows) programs? Most people were happy with a “yes” to the first question and seemed to settle for “maybe sometime soon” for the second part.

  • What does Linux cost? “Nothing” was a surprising answer for many. Handing them an SSC catalog that includes various CD distributions, as well as instructions on where and how to get Linux off the Internet, seemed to get people thinking that Linux for free is a reality.

  • Does Linux run on a Mac? Not a really popular question but when we explained to people that Mac programs can run on Linux (with the addition of Executor) these people seemed very surprised.

In addition to the booth, Phil Hughes, publisher of Linux Journal, spoke to a packed auditorium of 500 people. Phil's talk followed an IBM presentation on OS/2 Warp which, while well-attended, was not a full house.

Phil abandoned the more traditional marketing-oriented talk and, instead, presented a Question and Answer talk where he supplied the questions. When asked the reason for this type of talk he responded, “Most people interested in Linux don't need a sales pitch. They just want to know what it is and if it will do what they need done. If it does, it will sell itself.” The large crowd at the Linux Journal booth following the talk indicated that Phil was right.

On Monday, March 20, the Seattle Linux Group met at SSC's offices. Prompted by the publicity at the UW Computer Fair, 58 people attended, up from the more typical 15-25 people. One person at the meeting told the group that he had not really been thinking about Linux but after talking to us at the Fair, he purchased a CD and installed it over the weekend. He was very pleased with the results.

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