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Walden Internet Villages of Houston: where Linux is a way of life

Author Alan LeFort is marketing director, network
administrator and satisfied resident of Walden of
Westchase

by Alan LeFort

Walden of Westchase is
different from other apartment complexes in that it is a completely
new model of apartment living–an exciting preview of the totally
wired community of the future. At Walden, we are endeavoring to
create a community of unusual and interesting people who can take
advantage of our high-speed LAN and Internet connection and
extraordinary office-home environment. With persons from many walks
of life including graphic arts and CAD design, software and
hardware design in electronics and computers, geophysicists and
geologists, medical specialists, Internet and mail-order marketing,
executives and sales persons, and many others, we are optimistic
that our community will become a vibrant, alive and very special
place to be.

We want to foster an open environment where all types of people
can come together and develop to their fullest–from the savvy to
the curious. We intend to sponsor and support user and help
groups–and to encourage residents to develop applications,
options, and services that can either benefit or develop other
residents’ capabilities, or become interesting and innovative
businesses in their own right.

We are putting open-source technology to work at Walden in many
ways. The most immediate and obvious way is that our entire network
utilizes and depends on open-source software. We use Samba for file sharing, Linux for our Quake
server, Qmail for our mail
accounts, bind 8 for our DNS, Apache for our web server and Perl for scripting them. We will soon be
using Squid for our Internet caching system and
Linux or FreeBSD for our WAN
routing (DS3 links).

On a higher level, we are actively encouraging residents to
experiment with alternative operating systems. We have discussed
setting up Linux in our monthly user group meetings for several
purposes, including as a web server, file server and as a
development workstation. We currently have a 40 gigabyte file
server full of software (shareware, freeware and open-source) which
our residents can access and utilize at their leisure. We hope to
soon have a current version of every Linux distribution and its
contrib section on our server.

We have taken our commitment to Linux one step further by
actively supporting the Houston Linux Users Group. Walden is now
the official headquarters of the Houston Linux users Group. We are
providing them free of charge with a spacious apartment for an
office and a 2000 square foot facility to be used as the Houston
Linux Users Resource Lab (HLURL). We also are providing them with
our 10 megabit connection to the Internet so that they can fully
coordinate and develop their on-line and Internet related
activities.

HLUG will in turn be using our facilities with the aid of our
residents to host user group meetings and installfests. Several of
our residents are involved (myself included) with HLUG in devloping
a user-friendly distribution for Linux which is preconfiured with
KDE, Staroffice, PPP scripts, and other useful applications, so
that Windows users can get up and running on Linux with minimal
frustration. Adventurous Windows users will be able to drop off
their computers at Walden/HLUG and we will install everything on
their machines within hours free of charge and hassle to them.

Other projects we have considered implementing in conjunction
with HLUG are:

  1. training classes on Linux/UNIX/Internet
  2. Workshops on Linux-based Web development
  3. a CD software lending library
  4. a documentation and computer related library
  5. BEOWOLF cluster with donated equipment for learning
    purposes
  6. a research lab with several systems running different operating
    systems on different architectures (not specific to Linux but of
    great benefit to our residents looking to enhance their marketable
    skills)

    At present, our focus is on building our community. Linux is but
    one aspect, albeit a very important one, of our concept. Building a
    community is very difficult because you need to generate interest
    and momentum. We believe that our unique environment, the high
    speed bandwidth, our facililties and, most importantly, our
    permanent and volunteer staff, provide our residents with an
    environment that mirrors, and perhaps surpasses, the best academic
    and research campus environments.

    We have preliminary plans to bring three more properties on-line
    in 1999 and two more in the year 2000, each with T3 connections to
    each other and a shared T3 to the Internet. We also plan upgrades
    to our local LANs in our complexes with 10/100 switches and
    multi-gigabit backbones. We hope to be able to launch these new
    properties during the first quarter of 1999.