For the last couple of days I was at FOSE 2008, the biggest IT conference and expo for federal government. I went to help out at the Tux.org booth to promote free and open source software (and, of course, Fedora). I wanted to especially thank Nicholas Brenckle, who headed up the group, got everything coordinated, got me a badge, greeted me warmly when I showed up, and was generally on top of everything.
FOSE is an interesting kind of show. Because it’s located right in the heart of DC at the Washington Convention Center, federal IT people don’t have to pay any money (other than for a Metro subway or cab ride) to travel there, so it’s always very heavily attended. This goes especially for the expo, which generally gives away free tickets to anyone who suscribes to any of dozens of different federal government IT news magazines. This also means that many of the people there aren’t there to really do business, but to see cool gadgets, watch demos of new technology, and pick up free stuff. Their bosses generally don’t let them travel or have a say in the technology that goes into place in their agencies, so big companies exhibiting aren’t expecting to make big sales.
This puts free and open source advocacy groups like ours at a HUGE advantage because we are there to give away as much free stuff as possible. We hook them with free as in beer, and then bend their ears about free as in speech.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of big exhibitors there, and of course it’s dominated by hardware vendors. Lenovo, Dell, HP, IBM, Fujitsu, Toshiba… all present and accounted for. There were also tons of vendors with everything from server racks to air and power handlers to cable ties to IT office furniture. Google did have a prime-position booth, though, showing off their search engines and other online services, and there were some jobhunting organizations there too, like Dice.com.
The first day, I met a bunch of the Tux.org folks, including Tim Ferro, who, when I introduced myself as the new Fedora Project Leader, replied, “Really? Well, you’re my new best friend — I LOVE Fedora!”
Nick, Nick’s SO (I’m sorry I’ve forgotten the name!), Tim, and I went over to the Dell booth, where the kind people from Dell had a beuatiful big-screen laptop waiting for us to use for the entire length of the exposition. “Do whatever you like to the hard disk,” they said. (Thanks Dell!) Tim and I proceeded to load Fedora 8 on it, and a nice selection of fun applications to show off on virtual desktops.
[UPDATE: Nick’s SO’s name is Dana. Thanks for reminding me, Nick!]
We only had one table at our booth, so display space was at a premium. However, the booth itself had plenty of floor space, and the location next to us on one side was unpopulated, so we had room to spread out there to talk to people (and keep folks from doing “drive-by grabbing” of schwag without at least taking the time to hear a little about FOSS).
The awesome folks at Linux Journal had sent hundreds of copies of their April 2008 issue for us to give away, into which we inserted fliers for Tux.org and its member LUGs around the Washington metropolitan area. Max and Greg had sent us what I believe were the last several hundred copies of Fedora 8, both DVDs and Live CDs. We also had a huge variety of stickers from Linux Journal, the Free Software Foundation, and others, plus some great hanging posters for Tux.org.
Notably, a couple of the folks in Tux.org had brought XO laptops to show off at our table as well. The table was a little cramped, but by midday, we realized that we were actually ONE OF THE BIGGEST DRAWS AT THE WHOLE EXPO. No joke. Even the big shots had a hard time keeping up. I didn’t have my camera with me to shoot the relative wastelands that were the booths for some of the big names, but here’s someone just up the aisle from us (name obscured to protect the lonely):
Here’s what our booth looked like for most of the two days I was there (the people on the left aren’t moving by, they’re waiting to talk to other Tux.org folks on the left side of the booth, and see the wares we’re holding):
I talked to a number of people about how Fedora was a great way to develop innovative solutions using the latest Linux technology, and moreover how they could get involved. Some of the interesting people I met:
Bennett Kobb, communications manager at the Public Technology Institute, which promotes best practices and innovation in technology at the local government level. Benn related their success at moving Web services from IIS to Apache, and his happiness at finding Fedora after trying many other Linux distributions and finding them lacking in professional polish and usability. John Babich who was at FOSE with me yesterday, did a short mock interview with Benn that we hope to post shortly!
A sergeant with the Alexandria Police Department wanting to use Linux to do digital media forensics. As luck would have it, I spent oh, about a decade doing that in my past life, so that was a fun conversation! ?
- A DHS employee interested in getting more free and open source software in the parochial school system where his children attend. As a parent paying the dreaded “technology fees” so many schools are charging these days, he wants to make sure that he’s not paying costs for software when there are so many great FOSS alternatives available (he mentioned OpenOffice.org as an example).
I was continually amazed at how many hundreds of people came by looking for Linux by name, and talking about how they’ve heard of how open source can save them from the hell of malware abuse they endure as Windows users. This is always a great shim for me to talk to them about contributing back — “Did you know, it’s not just that you can use this software so easily, you can also contribute back in some way, even if you’re not a hardcore geek!” Another frequent pitch I made to people was that FOSS represents a return to the purity and simplicity of neighbor helping neighbor — you help me raise my barn, and I’ll help you till some acreage. Representing a LUG advocacy organization is a great platform for that message, where you’re not just sending people off with a free disc of software and a handshake, but also a promise to help them if they need it in the future, and a place where they can meet other neighbors with similar needs.
All in all, a great way to spend a couple days, although my feet and my voice are both happy to be resting in my home office again! Thanks again to Tux.org for the welcoming camaraderie, to Dell for the loaner laptop, to John Babich for coming by on his brief time off here in the States, and to the many people who came by and talked about Fedora and FOSS. Let’s do it again next year!