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Editor's Note: A Matter of SCALE

Feb 03, 2006, 23:30 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

One of the things that I see over and over again in the Linux community is the success of various projects that people start up just because they want to. The projects start small, and grow to be more successful than their founders could have imagined.

Of course, many endeavors can lay claim to this type of origin, even commercial enterprises. But what always thrills me is the was the free software community just up and does this kind of thing, just for the sake of wanting to do it. No monetary goals, no political ambition... just doing it.

If this comes across as cynical, that is not my intention. I really carry a sense of wonder and joy about some aspects of open source--this is one of them.

One such project is the Southern California Linux Expo, or SCALE, which is about to happen next weekend, Feb. 11 and 12, at the Radisson Hotel at LAX in Los Angeles. This show, now in its fourth year in its current incarnation, started out as one Linux Users Group's annual LUGfest and grew from there. Since I am going to venture forth from my underground command post and visit the show next weekend, I decided to catch up with some of the show organizers and see what was what.

SCALE emerged out of a much smaller event that was hosted by the Simi Conejo LUG many years ago that we referred to as a LUG Fest," according to Gareth Greenaway, Community Relations and Facilities Chair. "We managed to hold the event for four years and then during the planning of the fifth someone told us that some people at the USCLUG were looking to hold a conference."

At that point, Greenaway indicated, the two LUGs decided to merge their resources and implement SCALE. Conference attendance started around 400 attendees and has grown to over a thousand, which is a sure mark of the event's success.

Another mark is the caliber of SCALE's conference track. Speakers such as Aaron Seigo, Chris DiBona, John Terpstra, and former Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn are among the session leaders for the two-day event. (Quinn is scheduled to keynote at the pre-conference OpenDocument Format in Government Workshop, to be held on Friday Feb. 10 from 1-5 at the same venue.) Four conference tracks are featured at this year's event—an upgrade from the first three-track one-day SCALE.

Every show has a target audience, and for SCALE it's the non-profit organizations interested in developing and using open source technology. At LinuxWorld events, these organizations are relegated to the .org Pavillion. At SCALE, they are front and center, and they're not just coming to the conference to show off their work; they're there to learn as well.

"The mission statement of SCALE has always been education; first and foremost the intent to provide opportunities for learning," explained Orv Beach, Public Relations Chair. "Hence the focus on the non-profit organizations, as much as possible."

So what kind of education is getting delivered? Desktop? Administration? Development?

"The non-profits tend to focus on end-user applications (the desktop)," Beach replied. "Well, that's not completely accurate; we have groups like ZOPE and LAMPSIG--they're oriented more towards the back-end processes."

"Right," Greenaway added, "There are special user groups that focus on specific open source projects, versus the LUGs that focus on most things open source."

Who's taking advantage of all of this education? According to organizers, the attendees coming to SCALE make up a pretty broad and diverse group.

"We get the heavy, hard core developers who want to come talk to the kernel developers that we might have speaking, also we get business types such as IT directors and MIS managers who want to find out about open source and Linux to see how it can fit into their current setup," Greenaway indicated. "We also see a lot of people who have recently heard of Linux and come to see what it's all about."

In fact, the presence of so many new Linux users prompted the show to add a "newbie" track last year, a feature that generated a lot of positive response. Two of the sessions were the most heavily-attended seminars in the event. I figured that they were desktop-oriented sessions, but I was off.

"Actually, one was on basic wireless; the other was on setting up Samba," Beach said. "That makes sense, since a newcomer to Linux would be using it in a mixed environment."

It was hard for the organizers to pin down the best highlights for this year's show. Certainly the OpenDocument Workshop is something they want to see succeed, but "there are a lot of really cool talks and exhibits at SCALE this year," Greenaway explained. "It's really tough to point to one and say that it will be the highlight."

"What is really cool about SCALE is the energy on the Expo floor--people are there because they enjoy this stuff. It's not all business.," Beach added.

Putting this kind of endeavor together and watching it grow is definitely a point of pride with SCALE organizers.

"Personally, what really excites me is standing back on the first day of the show and just seeing everything come together," Greenaway stated.

"Looking around seeing local people interact with major developers of projects or chatting with IBM about new servers they're putting out or perhaps this year asking Google why Google Earth isn't working on Linux yet," he added with a smile.

I plan to have a talk with Google's Chris DiBona myself. I heard from a reliable source about their Moon Teleporter, and I'm hoping to catch a lift up to San Francisco after SCALE, where I'll attend the Open Source Business Conference. From grassroots to suits, all in one whirlwind week. Teleportation would come in very handy.