First Canadian National Linux InstallFest

by Dean Staff

Saturday, September 26, 1998 was a big day for the Linux community in Canada—the First Canadian National Linux InstallFest was held.

The InstallFest was organized on a national level by CLUE (Canadian Linux Users' Exchange) to provide experienced help to those interested in installing Linux on their computers. CLUE is an organization that supports the development of local Linux User Groups and also co-ordinates events, corporate sponsorships and publicity at a national level. CLUE hopes that by enhancing association and communication amongst Linux developers, users, suppliers and the general public, it can increase the use and appreciation of Linux within Canada.

Highlights

A dozen different events were held by Linux User Groups across Canada, from Halifax to Victoria, all taking place on the same day.

The Montréal event, at its peak, had as many as 100 people in the room at once and by all accounts had 200 to 250 people stop by. They did 40 installs, only 20 of which were from preregistrations. They even got the crew of the local TV show Branch to stop by for an interview, due to air in November. Also worthy of mention is that they had guru Jacques Gelinas, author of the LinuxConf software, answering questions.

Two InstallFests were held in the Toronto area: one at Seneca College and the other at the University of Toronto Bookstore. The Seneca College event had a late start due to a power outage, but more than made up for it later as the unofficial count of installs was about 100. They even rolled out their Beowulf class Linux cluster for the masses to look at and see how a few “small” Linux boxes can be turned into a “supercomputer”.

The Manitoba UNIX Users Group (MUUG) held their InstallFest at the University of Manitoba as a two-day event beginning on Friday. As this was their first InstallFest, they deliberately kept it small and aimed it mostly at the faculty and students of the U of M. About 140 people attended, with more than half purchasing a Linux CD, and MUUG did 19 successful installs. Attendance was greater than expected, probably due to the national news coverage the event received. At least one person came in who said he heard about the InstallFest from a segment on CTV News-1, a national news network.

The MUUG web site made mention of one more interesting story from the event. One attendee brought in a system which became known as “Franken-puter”! It appeared to be two separate cases tossed together with all sorts of spare parts the owner scrounged up, connected with a piece of coax Ethernet cable. He spent as much time swapping parts and reconfiguring on the fly as he did installing Linux. He apparently showed up at the start of the event on Friday and didn't finish until midafternoon on Saturday. Even after all that, he still hung around afterwards to help others with their installs.

The Ottawa InstallFest was hosted by the Ottawa Carleton Linux Users Group (OCLUG). While almost all the other events were held in a more academic setting of local colleges and universities, OCLUG had their event sponsored by NovoClub, a local retail store. NovoClub is located in a shopping mall and managed to get an empty storefront for OCLUG to use. They also arranged for display kiosks by several companies to be set up in the mall. There were training companies, a local ISP and most notably Corel Computer displaying their NetWinder. Of course, NovoClub offered specials on their very large selection of Linux products. The whole event was more like a mini-tradeshow than a typical InstallFest.

The unofficial count at the installation storefront was 250 people. This count included those who came to have Linux installed on their machines, members of the press and “just curious” folk who stopped to ask questions while wandering around in the mall.

OCLUG chose not to have people preregister; they decided to just let anyone come and register the day of the event. It was supposed to start at 10 AM and go until 5 PM. However, a line had formed by 9 AM when the mall opened and OCLUG soon ended up with a backlog of machines waiting for Linux installation. At 3 PM, they were two hours behind and had to start turning people away. By the time it was over, they had installed Linux on 50 to 60 machines and still had ten they could not finish.

Not all events were as popular as the ones listed above. The New Brunswick Linux Users Group had only ten people attend, with four successful installs. They were a bit disappointed with the low turnout. However, it was also homecoming week at Mount Alison University in town and a football game was in full swing at the same time as the InstallFest. They are in the process of designing a tutorial for their new users and anyone else who is interested. The Fredericton InstallFest was a little larger, with thirty attendees and ten installations.

Overview

The general consensus is that as a public relations event, the InstallFest was an overwhelming success. It got a lot of people asking questions about Linux, some of whom took the plunge and installed Linux for the first time. However, it was not completely successful as a technical event. By no means is this a reflection on either those who organized the individual events or the volunteers who helped with the installations—they all did a stellar job—just that no one was prepared for the magnitude of the response.

Most LUGs asked people to register prior to the event. This allowed a chance for the groups to get as many volunteers as they thought they would need. Some groups, such as the Vancouver Linux Users Group, were swamped with preregistration and had to halt registration prior to the event because they could not accommodate everyone. Even with preregistration, the day of the event was hectic. The report from Seneca College in Toronto was that their event lasted until 9 PM, and they were still unable to complete all the installs. Other events had similar reports, and despite the best-laid plans, demand overwhelmed the number of installers.

Some installs were unsuccessful, due to either time constraints or hardware compatibility issues that were not easily overcome. That said, the ratio of unsuccessful to successful installs was minimal. Overall, it was one or two to fifty. I've seen more failures than that on MS Windows installations.

Where do we go from here?

One interesting side effect of the OCLUG InstallFest was that preliminary discussions were started between Zenith Learning Technologies and Corel Computer to set up a corporate Linux training program. Also, Oliver Bendzsa of Corel Computer reported that he was as busy at the InstallFest as he was at Canada Comdex, a 3-day trade show in Toronto that drew some 50,000 people.

Dave Neill, a founding member of OCLUG, said that while grassroots events like the InstallFest are a great way to promote Linux, it is now time to start approaching local computer resellers and showing them there is a demand for systems with Linux pre-installed. I work for Inly Systems, the largest independent computer reseller in the Ottawa area, and while we are now expanding the variety of Linux products we carry, we still do not offer Linux pre-installed on our machines. With at least three technicians on staff who have experience with Linux and/or UNIX installations, we could do this if people began asking for it. However, we are an exception; most resellers don't have technicians with Linux experience.

One issue that must be resolved is how and where companies can have their technicians trained. This is where training companies such as Zenith Learning Technologies come in. The fact that Zenith was at the OCLUG InstallFest shows that they realize the potential for Linux training. With such companies as Corel, Oracle, Intel and Netscape investing time and money in Linux, it won't be long before other training companies jump on the bandwagon.

Today Canada, Tomorrow the World!

Plans are already in the works for a Global Linux InstallFest next year. If you want to know more or would like to get your LUG involved, please check out the CLUE web site at http://www.linux.ca/ and contact Matthew Rice. An event of this magnitude will need lots of help organizing, so don't be shy—watch out Bill, the Penguin is on the move!

For more information on the individual InstallFest events, please visit the CLUE web site for a list of links to all the participating user groups.

Dean Staff (dstaff@echelon.ca) is a computer technician for Inly Systems and a member of OCLUG. When not at work, Dean enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters and playing with his aquarium.
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