Troubleshooters.Com Presents

Troubleshooting Professional Magazine

Volume 5 Issue 7, July 2001
Grassroots Linux
Copyright (C) 2001 by Steve Litt. All rights reserved. Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for perpetual use to Troubleshooting Professional Magazine. All rights reserved to the copyright holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise (certain free software source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided "As-Is". User assumes all risk and responsibility for any outcome.

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Steve Litt is the author of Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist and
Rapid Learning: Secret Weapon of the Successful Technologist.

We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. -- Benjamin Franklin
  Jeremy Allison does a little last minute preparation in the JaxLUG booth before his presentation at Jacksonville ITEC. Click picture to see full sized image.


Editors Desk

By Steve Litt
Are you one of the few who saw Linus' 8/25/1991 post to the Minix list and tried out his code? Did you take sides in the 1992 Torvalds/Tanenbaum "Linux is Obsolete" flame war? Or perhaps you were a yggdrasil pioneer, or an early Slackware guy. If so, what changes you must have seen. You remember the days when everyone knew everyone else, and you could talk to anyone as a peer. If you attended the early LinuxExpo or ALS shows, you remember small shows where you could chat with the movers and shakers in the Linux world. I'm jealous.

I came to Linux in October 1998, and therefore was several months too late to be in on Grassroots Linux. Most agree that LinuxExpo in spring of 1998 and maybe even ALS in October 1998 were the last of the golden age shows. The days before crass commercialism, purloined show domain names, and no-show shows. But my first show was LinuxExpo in 1999. It was wonderful, but those who had been to earlier LinuxExpo's said it just wasn't the same. It was too commercial. ALS in October of 2000 was big and commercial (but also excellent). Being a reporter, I got to talk to some of the big guys, but there were literally thousands trying to talk with those same guys.

1999 and 2000 were the heady days of Linux ascension, with new Linux companies starting weekly. IPO's became more important than API's, Judge Jackson said he would carve up Microsoft, and the trade mags daily sang the praises of Linux at  Microsoft's expense. The Grassroots Linux movement -- the movement that made Linux so successful -- was forgotten in the rush to be in the right company, with the right product, the right signon bonus, the right stock options, and the right message.

LinuxExpo failed to happen in 2000. ALS 2000 was renamed Annual Linux Showcase, soon to become a travelling show. If you lived in the Midwest or southeast, you were out of luck. Linux was big business.

To the uninitiated it might have appeared that the Linux community had turned their backs on the grassroots movement that brought it to greatness.

But we're smarter than that.

2001 brought a bad economy, failed IPO's, dot-bombs, and the knowledge that most were not going to make a million in Linux. Judge Jackson suffered a lapse of judgement resulting in the 6/28/2001 vacating of his divestiture order, and a new executive branch, with a higher tolerance for monopolies, was voted into office. Corel turned on a dime and made a deal with Microsoft, eliminating themselves as a Linux entity. Among big commercial outfits, only IBM stuck by Linux. The trades and newspapers, thoroughly embarrassed by their total embrace of last year's technology driven "new economy", competed to be the first to say Linux is and always will be a niche player.

But sharpen your eyes and look beyond big press, and you'll see the retreating tide of big business and big press has revealed a healthy grassroots Linux movement. The same grassroots that put Linux on the map in the first place. A grassroots press publishing "how I switched to Linux" articles. A grassroots LUG movement that produced three successful Central and North Florida Linux exhibits in two months, allowing Central and North Floridians to mingle with Robin "Roblimo" Miller, Jon "maddog" Hall, and Jeremy Allison. A grassroots LUG movement scheduling another show for Central Florida in October.

You know who doesn't believe big press about the "death of Linux"? Microsoft. Microsoft has better things to do than worry about a niche player. They know something the big press doesn't. That's why Allchin, Mundie, and even Ballmer went whining to congress (via press interviews and the like) saying the GPL is a "destroyer of intellectual property". For the first time in Microsoft's life, they face an opponent they can't kill. It's pretty scary to have an immortal opponent.

What makes Linux immortal? Not a gigacorporation. Not big press. Not Judge Jackson. Not even Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, Jon "maddog" Hall or Eric Raymond. Linux is immortal because it's supported by a grassroots movement whose adherents will continue using and improving Linux regardless of monetary matters, press, market share, or what's "hip". Adherents who sneak Linux in as webservers and file and print servers.

Do you feel badly about missing the golden age of grassroots Linux? Take heart -- it's back.

Steve Litt is the main author of Samba Unleashed. He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

LEAP-CF Linuxizes Central Florida at CTS Orlando

Copyright (c) 2001 by Phil Barnett. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
By Phil Barnett
In February, 2001, I received a phone call from Barbie Souza, Event Director, The 8th annual Orlando Computer and Technology Showcase, She started the conversation by reminding me that we had talked at the show a year earlier and I had asked her to contact me this year when the show was getting ready to come to Orlando.

Because we are non-profit, she offered us a 10 x 10 booth space at no charge. The only catch was that she could not get us the electricity free, so there would be a $61.48 charge for the electricity.

I asked her to send us the literature and after receiving it, I took it to the next Executive Board meeting of LEAP-CF. Everyone agreed that it was an important opportunity, so we voted to attend the event. The event occurred May 15 and 16, from 10am to 4pm.

We had printed 1000 trifold brochures for a previous event, and we still had about 600 of them left. We decided amongst our LUG members who would attend and on which days. We would have 3 to 6 people staffing the booth for both days.

The week before the show, I got a call from Barbie telling me we could have another 10 x 10 booth space adjacent to ours if we wanted it. I accepted and scrambled for something to cover the tables with. Earlier, we had decided to just have our trifold and some machines running, and our thrust would be to advocate Linux by talking it up and promoting our LUG. But having another two tables to fill meant I would have to act fast. I called LinuxCare, who had sent us some fun stuff for our LUG members to see if they could supply us with anything to put out on the tables. They responded with a definite yes and air freighted a box of goodies.  Literature on Linux Support, LinuxCare Rescue v1.6 business card disks and some really neat black Tam's (beret's) with the LinuxCare X logo on them. Next, I called Open magazine to see if they could help. They also said yes and air freighted me two boxes of Open magazines and a box of other assorted stuff, like pens and free subscription forms.

In the booth,  we had 6 computers set up on a small hub that I had brought, and we had all kinds of Linux software running. We had laptops, desktops, and an iMac. One of the laptops was running ethereal to show the traffic on our lan.

I had volunteered to do two Linux topic seminars, one on each day.  Both seminars were very well attended. On the first day, my seminar on Linux in a Business Environment was a full house with people standing in the aisle. People were taking notes like crazy, so I felt it was a great success. The second day, my seminar was on Linux in a Security Environment. This was also very well attended. People were most definitely taking notes at this one, since I was revealing the relatively secret world of Linux peeking and poking around a heterogenous network. Each topic was followed by a Q/A session and both times, we used up our alloted time and had to drag people out of the seminar area to our booth for longer followups. Also, we put both of these presentations on our LUG website so people could refer to them and use them in their own LUG presentations.

What we found out most of all is that technologists are getting really hungry for and receptive of Linux. We were exceptionally well received by the crowd. During the course of the two days, we gave out 300 business cards, 600 brochures and about 50 LinuxCare Recovery disks. We distributed two big boxes of Open Magazine, all the LinuxCare brochures and whitepapers. Everything we had brought to promote Linux was cleaned out. We found it was extremely easy to connect with the people approaching our booth.  This was really fun and we all met a lot of very nice people.

During the event, we promoted the fact that we had a meeting with an important topic in a couple of days; Bryan Coyle would be talking about his Honeynet Project entry and about computer forensics. The meeting came and we had a full room. This was the first time it had looked like we were about to outgrow our meeting space, and we could directly attribute it to the Computer and Technology Showcase.

We had also talked up our monthly installfests, and sure enough, when our next installfest came up, the room was absolutely jam packed. Once again, we could directly attribute the gains to our time spent at the Computer and Technology Showcase.

And, our mailing list, which is the heart and soul of our LUG has had a very nice increase in subscribers, so that was yet another win for our LUG.

Last of all, I've had a personal goal to connect with a more diverse population cross section. Through no particular effort, we had previously attracted mostly white males. This show was a fantastic opportunity to reach out to other heritages and backgrounds and I'm proud to say, IT WORKED! We've had a much better cross section of our local population since this event. I'm so happy to announce that we have more women and more diverse ethnicity attending our events and mailing lists. This is a huge win for us.

Just yesterday, I received a note from Barbie inviting us back next year. This event was nothing but a win for us. If your LUG gets a chance to attend an event such as this, take it! With so many excellent results and so few problems and drawbacks, I can't see how doing these shows could be anything but a win for Linux and your LUG.

Phil Barnett
Linux Enthusiasts and Professionals, Inc.

Phil Barnett is president of LEAP-CF and. You can reach him at

Suncoast LUG Brings "maddog" and Roblimo to CTS in Clearwater

By Steve Litt
Less than 1 month after LEAP's CTS victory, Tampa-based SLUG hit one out of the park at CTS Clearwater, Florida. Like little David, SLUG (Suncoast Linux User Group) laid low Goliath in the form of Microsoft.

CTS stands for Computer and Technology Showcase. It's a 2 day computer show travelling from city to city. CTS has discovered that a Linux booth draws big crowds and creates excitement, so they often offer a booth to the local LUG. That's what happened in October of 2000, when the SLUG booth outdrew the much larger Microsoft facilities severalfold. So of course SLUG was invited back for the June 1 and 2, 2001 CTS in Clearwater.
  Jon "maddog" Hall (left) and Robin "Roblimo" Miller chat with attendees at the CTS show in Clearwater. Click picture to see full sized image.

I hopped in my car, drove 2 hours, walked in, and began chatting with several SLUGgers, Slashdot's Robin "Roblimo" Miller and his wife, as well as Tina Gasperson of NewsForge. It looked like at any one time there were 10-12 SLUG members manning the 20 x 40 booth, surrounded by notebook computers showing off various distros. These 12 people were quite busy answering questions from a constant flow of interested people. Thousands of distro CD's were given away. Everyone was having fun.

Robin Miller gave a presentation on desktop Linux in the Linux auditorium. Robin's not just a fantastic writer and journalist -- he's a killer speaker. Assuming the role of a "dumb guy", he proceeded to show how using Linux on the desktop isn't rocket science. Watching his presentation, I felt foolish that it had taken over a year for me to switch to Linux on the desktop. It was a small audience, so there was plenty of time to talk with Robin after the presentation.

Right after that, Jon "maddog" Hall spoke in the big auditorium upstairs. In his characteristic clear style, he laid out the future of Linux, both as an OS and as an economic entity. He made the excellent point that you can use Linux make money the same way you use Windows to make money -- training, attached to hardware, as an OS for running a proprietary app, service and support, and custom programming. I'd estimate the audience at 100 -- not small, but as small a venue as the average person will ever see maddog.

After lunch I interviewed Bill Preece, who had initially invited our LUG (LEAP-CF) to come to Clearwater. Present were Bill Preece, Diana Ienko, Norbert Cartagena, and SLUG president Paul Foster. Bill explained that SLUG got their first invitation to CTS in October, 2000, as a result of the demonstrations at the Tampa Bay Computer Society (TBCS), which participates in CTS. TBCS put in a good word, and SLUG was given a 10 by 10 booth (they had to pay for electricity). They emailed vendors to get free giveaways (SWAG), and gave away 2200 copies of various distros. They emailed nearby LUGs asking for participation and speakers, and managed to land Slashdot's Robin Miller as a speaker. During the October 2000 CTS, the SLUG booth drew 135 visitors per hour, outdrawing Microsoft's much larger exhibit space by more than a factor of three. Naturally, the CTS promoter asked them back.

So here we were in at a booth 8 times the size of the October CTS. Robin Miller was here again, and new for 2001, Linux International's Jon "maddog" Hall. You might wonder how Bill Preece managed to get maddog to speak at a regional computer show. According to Bill, he simply asked (via email), and was lucky enough that maddog had no previous commitments for that date. In yet another coup, Bill brought in IBM's Ralph Cooley, who manages a Linux initiative within IBM. Maybe big press no longer takes Linux seriously, but it's obvious IBM, Slashdot and Linux International do.

Bill Preece took a few minutes to discuss SLUG (Suncoast Linux User Group). SLUG has five meeting locations: Brandon, New Port Richey, Tampa, Sarasota, and Dunedin. Each meeting location could be thought of as its own LUG, but they all are equally SLUG members, and the leader of each has a seat on SLUG's executive committee. The various geographic meeting locations have attendances varying from 20 to 60 attendees. SLUG is not incorporated, but they do have bylaws. The SLUG Executive committee consists of SLUG's officers, plus the leaders of the geographic meeting locations. SLUG charges no dues, but instead maintains its cash flow by in-meeting raffles of donated freebies.

Microsoft wasn't there on the first day, but they were scheduled to appear (with some sort of big XP rollout) the second. I asked Bill "What if Microsoft sucks all attendance up to the third floor?".

Bill replied "We have no fear of Microsoft".

I didn't go the second day, so from this point forward I must report second hand, based on a phone conversation with Bill Preece.

SLUG's Famous Second Day

Huge crowd at SLUG booth   The crowd at the SLUG booth on Thursday morning. It got more crowded as the day went on. Click picture to see full sized image.

Editor's Note: The following description of the second day's activities is based on information given me by SLUGs Bill Preece. I wasn't there, so I can't vouch for it. If Microsoft, or anyone else, wants to tell their side of the story, I'll be glad to publish it.

Bill Preece tells an amazing story. According to Bill, as he and Jon "maddog" Hall entered the building, they noticed Microsoft employees handing out Microsoft brochures just outside the entrance, near the Microsoft blowup balloon.  Bill figured if it's OK for Microsoft, it must be OK for SLUG, but just to be sure he asked the show promoter for and received permission to hand out Linux literature. By the time he began handing out the literature, the Microsofties were gone. Then maddog comes out and begins handing out distros.

The distro distribution lasted a few minutes, after which a Microsoft guy comes out and tells the SLUG guys they can't hand things out. The SLUGgers reply that it's OK with the promoter. The Microsoftie gets irate, and maddog asks whether the Microsoftie would like to speak with the promoter. The promoter comes out and asks the SLUGgers to move about 20 feet away -- the show equivalent of a slap on the wrist. The SLUGgers move 20 feet away and continue their activities.

So let's recap the activities so far. Microsoft calls the authorities on SLUG to prevent SLUG from doing the same thing Microsoft was doing.

A while later, an even more irate Microsoft guy comes out and says SLUG can't hand out free stuff, saying it's illegal. A SLUGger argues, and the Microsoft guy throws a fit, and adds some SLUG pictures of the Microsoft props to his list of grievances. Mr. Microsoft goes in and comes out a few minutes later with the building manager in tow. The building manager orders SLUG to "take it inside", because the SLUG activities were "upsetting" Microsoft. The SLUGgers go back inside.

It's Illegal!

No wonder Allchin, Mundie and Ballmer fear Linux. When it comes to Linux, Microsoft can't catch a lucky break. Apparently word had gotten out about the SLUG/Microsoft confrontation, because a half hour after SLUG was asked to go inside, their booth was deluged with what Preece estimates to be 200 people per hour. The crowd included Microsofties and Technet guys. Three technet guys hung around most of the day.

Around last 2.5 hours of the show,  Microsoft people handed out brochures in front of the Linux booth and also outside where they had objected to the SLUG activities :-) Not a problem -- Microsoft was shut out of this game, and everyone knew it. It was a Linux victory through and through.

The Grassroots Shutout

Mighty Microsoft has slaughtered Digital Research, Microrim, WordPerfect Corporation, Lotus Development Corporation, Corel, and Netscape Corporation. They have repeatedly defeated IBM, and blunted Sun's Java offense. But they crumbled at the hands of grassroots Linux. It might be deemed unfair that Linux's heavy hitters (Robin Miller, Jon "maddog" Hall) were pitted against Microsoft's pawns. Indeed, the shutout might have been the other way around had Microsoft sent Gates and Ballmer.

But that's exactly the point. Gates and Ballmer are too busy putting fingers in the dikes, and can't take the time to come out to a regional show in Clearwater, Florida. Grassroots Linux, on the other hand, continues to field its best. After all, we don't need 9 figure salaries to do our best work. Therefore, Microsoft will continue to lose some of the smaller regional shows. And as they do, we'll convert their customers, and move on to larger shows.

This is the power of Grassroots Linux.

Steve Litt is the creator of the Universal Troubleshooting Process Course. He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

JaxLUG Presents Jeremy Allison at ITEC

By Steve Litt
Jacksonville Florida's LUG, JaxLUG, was given a booth at the ITEC show in Jacksonville June 13 and 14. ITEC stands for Information Technology Expositions & Conferences. According to show producer's website, "ITEC is the largest series of Business-to-Business Information Technology events in North America. With 48 events in 2001, ITEC offers global solutions to a regional marketplace". The Jacksonville ITEC presenting sponsors were Gateway and Intel.
  Jeremy Allison does a little last minute preparation before his presentation at Jacksonville ITEC. Click picture to see full sized image.
The JaxLUG booth is jammed again   The JaxLUG booth at ITEC is jammed! I count 16 people inside the booth. Personal space -- What's that? Click picture to see full sized image.
  Here's a full sized partial closeup of the preceding picture. That's Jeremy in back wearing a dark coat.

JaxLUG is the only LUG in the northern Florida city of Jacksonville. JaxLUG has over 100 members as indicated by their mailing list, and 20-30 participants at typical meetings. JaxLUG is not incorporated nor does it have bylaws. Rather than having a president and vice president, JaxLUG has a CEO (Patrick Martin) and CTO (Art Wildman). Informally, Art Wildman acts as an ambassador for JaxLUG, having numerous contacts in LUG's all over the state. Art was the guy who emailed all the LUGs and got us to come in, help with the booth, and speak in the auditorium.

If you go on the JaxLUG website you'll see references to Daniel Stringfield. Daniel founded JaxLUG somewhere around 1995 (there weren't many LUGs back then). In 2001 Daniel moved south to Orlando and joined LEAP, but he still gives JaxLUG quite a bit of help.

Art is the only JaxGuy I knew before the show (other than now-fellow LEAPster Daniel), but they all made me feel at home. JaxLUGgers are both friendly and smart.

Art Wildman emailed many of the northern and central Florida LUGs about the event, encouraging them to come, and letting them know Jeremy would be speaking on at ITEC. But then on Monday Jeremy had some scheduling issues so that he could attend ITEC only on Thursday. Art put out the call -- we need speakers.
  JaxLUG's Kevin Castle shows off the latest Geek attire. Click on picture for full sized image.
  JaxLUG's Art Wildman. Click picture for full sized image.

Steve Litt and Phil Barnett from Central Florida's LEAP-CF, Bryan Smith from Orlando's ELUG, and Linux-WLAN Project founder and maintainer Mark Mathews rushed in to fill the void. In fact, the Linux auditorium offered great Linux presentations almost full time, as shown in the following presentation record:
Linux Auditorium Speakers at Jacksonville ITEC
vvv  Wednesday Morning  vvv
Keith Burres:  JaxLUG Introduction to Open Source
Scott Carter:  JaxLUG Business Applications Using Linux
Steve Litt:  LEAP-CF Migrating Your Business to the Linux Desktop
Phil Barnett:  LEAP-CF Linux in a Business Environment
vvv  Wednesday Afternoon  vvv
Bryan Smith:  ELUG Linux Journaling File Systems
Mark Mathews: WLAN-Project Linux and Wireless LAN
vvv  Thursday Morning vvv
Jeremy Allison: VA and Samba Exact title unknown, but a very technical Samba presentation
Steve Litt:  LEAP Migrating Your Business to the Linux Desktop
vvv  Thursday Afternoon  vvv
Jeremy Allison: VA and Samba Exact title unknown, but a very technical Samba presentation
Art Wildman and Kevin Castle: JaxLUG Overview of Linux Server Technologies & Webmin

  LEAPster Phil Barnett keeps the audience on their toes. Click on picture for full sized image.
  LEAPster Steve Litt banters with the audience. Click on picture for full sized image.

The JaxLUG booth was one of the top draws, or perhaps the top draw. Microsoft wasn't there, perhaps because lately such shows haven't been as good to Microsoft as they would have hoped. JaxLUG got 100 people to sign up to be emailed about JaxLUG's next installfest.

This article skims the surface of JaxLUG's success because this month's Linux Log goes on to describe just how successful JaxLUG was. And the article after this one describes how a training outfit literally worked side by side with JaxLUG. Read on...

Steve Litt is the author of Rapid Learning: Secret Weapon of the Successful Technologist. He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Productivity Point International, North East Florida

By Steve Litt
Thursday's lunch hour found JaxLUG's Austin Denyer and myself happily designing a project when a lady sat at our table. She introduced herself as Margie Mitchell, Marketing Manager of Productivity Point International (PPI for short). Naturally, we told her to visit the JaxLUG booth and she said she had, and in fact her booth was right next to ours. Then she dropped the bombshell -- she had requested to be put next to JaxLUG. Intrigued, I set up an interview for that afternoon.

At the interview, Margie Mitchell was joined by Business Development Manager Mario Vittone. And what a story they had to tell.

Before telling you that story, you should know a little about PPI. They are actually PPI, Northeast Florida. PPI is a national training outfit, with franchises throughout the United States. PPI Northeast Florida (for the remainder of this article referred to simply as PPI) supplies training in Microsoft, Cisco, Linux, Unix and web development. They plan on adding Oracle to that list, and also expanding their existing Linux training to encompass the full range of Linux skills. They're already Caldera certified.

The obvious opening question was why Margie had requested to be placed next to the Linux user group. Her reply made time stand still: "Look at your booth, it's like a magnet!".

How right she was!. It was late on the second day, and the JaxLUG booth was still swarming when most other booths hadn't seen a curious face in a half hour.

Look at your booth. It's like a magnet!
Margie Mitchell of PPI, 6/14/2001

The next question was "Why Linux?". Why had PPI chosen a different path than the multitude of booths sporting huge MCSE signs offering Microsoft-only training?

[Editors note: PPI also offers MCSE training]

Margie exclaimed "Linux is hot right now. We see the demand every day!". Mario added that he's starting to see Linux crop up in job ad descriptions, and added "Linux is the last culture in IT where computers are treated like a science.".

PPI doesn't see Linux overtaking Microsoft, but they're already making money training Linux, and see a large market for Linux training. Mario mentioned the great market potential posed by career changers.

At that I wondered aloud whether corporations might also pay for Linux training. Even though Linux isn't yet completely corporationally correct, it's an excellent way to directly study computers, operating systems, and networks without an obfuscatory GUI layer getting in the way. In fact, I learned more networking in my first month of Linux than in the preceding 10 years of working Novell and Windows systems, and the previous 2 years of programming UNIX apps. So if you're a corporation in northeast Florida, and you want your people trained in practical networking essentials and especially UNIX, consider giving them PPI Linux training.

PPI has approached JaxLUG offering to host JaxLUG meetings. JaxLUG gets an excellent meeting space, as well as a little bit of free training. PPI gets access to some of the best UNIX/Linux knowhow in Jacksonville, plus PPI receives a sneak peak at which areas of Linux training will be in demand.

PPI makes money with Linux, and has formed a mutually beneficial relationship with JaxLUG and the Linux community. If you want to take Linux classes, consider PPI. But more intriguingly, if need to take Windows classes, consider PPI for those too. Because you want Windows training from people understanding Windows in terms of computer science, not people teaching me a sequence of points and clicks that will change with the next version.

Steve Litt is the author of Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist. He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

A Warm Thank You to CTS and ITEC

By Steve Litt
Every Linux user, Linux advocate and Linux business owes CTS and ITEC a very warm thank you. The Southeast USA would have been Linux showless without them. They offered our LUGs free booths and even use of auditoriums for our speakers. LEAP, SLUG and JaxLUG all gained significant membership as a result of CTS and ITEC shows. There were even better benefits which I'll discuss later.

Even for a non-Linuxite these shows were a cut above the average trade show. The exhibitors were friendly, and quite a few of the exhibits hosted genuinely interesting products packaged in an interesting way. Many of the exhibitors had gone the extra mile to match the message to the the expected audience. Lunchtime provided ample opportunities to meet new friends and keep the old.

My first day's lunch at ITEC Jacksonville was spent with Joe Mariotti of Personal Computer Rentals in Jacksonville. After a long and wide ranging discussion I asked him about video projectors and lumens, so he invited me to his booth, where we determined that 800 lumens is ample for my needs (I make large print, high contrast slides). Good news -- I don't need to spend a fortune. Joe will definitely get a call when the time comes to buy a projector..

Lunch on the second day was spent with JaxLUG's Austin Denyers and PPI's Margie Mitchell --a discussion that will be covered in more detail in this month's Linux Log article.

And the exhibitors were great. At ITEC the guys from Gateway computer were friendly and always ready to answer questions. CTS had many friendly and interesting exhibitors.

Both CTS and ITEC featured a lot more friendly question answering than the tradeshow-typical "can I scan your badge" high pressure salesmanship. And last but not least, they gave their attendees yet another item of interest by having the Linux groups field a booth and several speakers. Everyone's curious about Linux these days.

One good turn deserves another, so any time ITEC or  CTS informs me that one of their shows has a Linux booth, in any city throughout the world, Troubleshooters.Com will publicize that show.

Now let's get down to the basic question: Does a single booth at a few general computer tradeshows compensate for our regions loss of LinuxExpo and ALS?


Sure, we got only a few hundred Linux advocates, not the thousands or tens of thousands pulled by the big Linux shows. But there's quality to consider. Anyone interested could have talked to maddog or Robin Miller. Even Jeremy, whose schedule was brutal, was accessible during several intervals.

But the CTS/ITEC phenomenon goes deeper. It allowed, indeed forced, LUGs in our region to cooperate, meet each other, plan together, succeed together. ITEC and CTS promoted the very factor that's made Linux the heavy hitter it is today...

Grassroots Linux.

Steve Litt is the documenter of the Universal Troubleshooting Process.  He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Rolling Your Own Linux Event

The following copyright applies only to the article titled "Rolling Your Own Linux Event" by Steve Litt, originally published in the July 2001 Troubleshooting Professional Magazine at, and does not apply to other articles in that magazine.

Copyright (c) 2001 by Steve Litt. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, version  Draft v1.0, 8 June 1999 (available at (wordwrapped for readability at The latest version is presently available at

No options are elected, so this document may be modified and/or commercially distributed, subject to the terms and conditions of the Open Publication License.

By Steve Litt
Creating a Linux event isn't easy. But it isn't rocket science either, especially if you can "piggy back" your Linux event on an existing exposition or show. This article contains a proposed method of doing just that, and is divided into three sets of tasks:
  1. Before the show
  2. During the show
  3. After the show
This article combines the great ideas from the LEAP, SLUG and JaxLUG and also profits from their mistakes. I also tried to learn from their mistakes. And I added some ideas of my own.


  1. Attach to an Ongoing Local Computer Show
  2. Get Volunteers
  3. Get Adhesive LUG Labels
  4. Call for Speakers
  5. Get Freebies
  6. Procure Demo Machines
  7. Publicize
  8. Plan for Show Day

Attach to an Ongoing Local Computer Show

By far the easiest and cheapest way to display a regional presence is to attach yourself to a generalized computer show, in the form of a booth. As mentioned throughout this issue of Troubleshooting Professional, show promoters are well aware of the drawing power of Linux, so they often give away the booth to a Linux group willing to pay for the electricity and put on a good display. At CTS Orlando, CTS Clearwater and ITEC Jacksonville the promoter also offered an auditorium for the Linux group's speakers.

To attach yourself to a show, the promoter must have heard of you, and you must appear credible to the promoter. Perhaps the easiest way is SLUG's method. They gave presentations at the local Computer User Group, who already had a booth at CTS. The local CUG made the introductions, and SLUG got their booth.

Another way is to just ask. Don't assume you'll be turned down, especially if you can prove your LUG's Linux credentials. You might want to invite the promoter or his or her representatives to a LUG meeting.

Depending on where you are, there may be multiple shows you can participate. Contact them all. List the benefits of having a LUG presence. The top three benefits are traffic, traffic and traffic. At CTS Orlando and Clearwater and ITEC Jacksonville, the LUG booths drew exceptional traffic, and brought many additional attendees to the show. Refer the promoter to online descriptions of such shows (for instance, this issue of Troubleshooting Professional would make a great reference).

Last but not least, have someone in charge of relations with the show promoter. The promoter is a business person. Some geeks interface well with business people, and some don't.

Get Volunteers

Get volunteers very early in the process. Putting on a show, even piggybacking on an existing show, is much too much work for one or two individuals. You need a small committee to pull it off. You need volunteers. Here's a likely list: The show promoter liaison works hand in hand with the show promoter to make sure everything works out to the promoter's satisfaction and to the LUG's.

The speaker liaison contacts and recruits speakers: Locally, regionally and worldwide. The speaker liaison then makes sure the speakers' needs are cared for. You want a reputation for taking care of your speakers. The speaker liaison also creates the presentation schedule, and then keeps it updated when last minute scheduling changes occur. If the speaker liaison is himself a good speaker, he is an excellent choice as a master of ceremonies in the Linux auditorium.

The freebie supplier liaison contacts Linux companies and persuasively asks for needed freebies, including (hopefully) modern distros, T shirts, penguins, computer tiles, mousepads and even pens. The freebie supplier liaison has the difficult job of letting suppliers know that brochures are not of interest to the booths visitors, but of course if the supplier gives a substantial supply of distros you'll be glad to pass out their brochures.

The booth planner is charged with procuring tables, tablecloths, table skirts (the cloth or paper that obscures the stuff under the table), the carpet, the computers, and other booth necessities. Table skirts can be expensive, so a friend of a JaxLUGger bough the proper material at a fabric shop and sewed the table skirts. The results were great. Because most of these things are obtained by request (OK, begging), the booth planner must have the utmost support of the LUG's membership and top administration.

To a large extent, the publicity person determines the success of the event. The event must be publicized long in advance to generate credibility with potential speakers. Additionally, potential attendees need plenty of advanced notice to schedule their trip to your event. DON'T ASSUME ALL ATTENDEES WILL COME FROM YOUR LUG OR EVEN YOUR CITY! As JaxLUG proved so convincingly, you can draw regionally. And as far as I know, JaxLUG gave only a week's notice. If there was one flaw in the strategies of LEAP, SLUG and JaxLUG, it was too little advanced publicity.

The publicity person should also do his utmost to get the media to send reporters. The reason for the heavy publication of SLUG's victory at Clearwater CTS was that SLUG had the foresight to invite NewsForge's Tina Gasperson. Tina is an accomplished journalist who can get the story, tell it persuasively, and get it published almost instantly in heavily read venues. Try to have someone like Tina Gasperson onsite at your event.

When the event starts, the publicity person's work is nowhere near finished. He needs to commission photos and articles, and submit them to the media as the show is ending, acting as a liaison to the media. The publicity garnered after the show determines the likelihood of being invited back, or even getting a larger booth, next year.

The booth volunteers populate the booth, handing out freebies, answering questions, and greeting anyone remotely interested with "are there any questions I can answer for you?". There's no such thing as too many booth volunteers. The more there are, the more popular your booth looks, and the more traffic you get. Not only that, a surplus of booth volunteers allows other booth volunteers to use the rest room, have lunch, and look at the offerings of other booths.

Last but not least is the team leader, who coordinates the activities of all the other volunteers so that everything runs smoothly. LEAP's Phil Barnett, SLUG's Bill Preece, and JaxLUG's Art Wildman are great examples. The team leader typically is also the person who finds the volunteers in the first place.

Getting volunteers isn't easy. Most shows are on weekdays, and most LUGsters work 55 hours per week. Start by announcing volunteer opportunities at meetings and on your LUG's list. But that's just the start. You may be able to get volunteers from other LUGs, especially as booth volunteers. Art Wildman of JaxLUG raised such recruitment to an artform.

How do you sell a LUGster, with too little time, on the idea of volunteering? What's his motivation?

Everyone's different, but I'd imagine going down in history might be an excellent motivation. I'm certain for years to come folks will speak of what they saw at SLUG's Clearwater victory over Microsoft. And although the LEAP and JaxLUG offerings didn't generate the same level of publicity, it's likely next year they will. And those who were at this year's events will have really been on the ground floor of history. I remember how impressive it was sitting next to two ALS guys at the last Atlanta ALS, when they told me it started out as a simple installfest, and they were there.

Depending on the event, another motivation might be the ability to chat with the top personalities in Linux. At SLUG two other guys and I chatted with maddog for about 10 minutes. You can chat with maddog at a megashow, but I doubt it will be 10 minutes. At JaxLUG we all got to chat with Jeremy Allison, even though Jeremy was on an incredibly tight schedule.

For idealistic LUGsters the motivation might be that they'll be furthering the goals of open source. I think the last three months have reaffirmed the unique value of Grassroots Linux efforts.

Last but not least, volunteerism is the road to the "in crowd". When someone volunteers, he works hand in hand with the central people in his LUG and others, and just maybe with nationally recognized Linux figures. For the person who takes Linux seriously in their career, this is a must.

Get Adhesive LUG Labels

You can get a roll of sticky labels (like return address labels) for less than $10.00. Have the name of your LUG and your LUG website's URL on the label. These labels will be affixed to every freebie given out, so that every freebie becomes a brochure or business card. When someone asks for contact info, give em a freebie.

The labels can be affixed either before the event or during the event, but be sure every freebie given out has your LUG label.

Call for Speakers

Once there's a speaker liaison, it's essential to quickly recruit speakers. There's a chicken and egg relationship between speakers and attendees. Great speakers draw attendees, and great speakers are most likely to speak where there's a credible likelihood of a sizeable audience. Speakers are often scheduled months in advance, so it's vital to begin your recruiting efforts as soon as possible.

Local and regional hotshots are best recruited through the mailing lists of local and regional LUGs. The email should tell the 6 W's -- Who, what, where, when, why and how. Let the prospective speakers know what types of talks will be helpful but remember, the more selective you get, the less offers you'll get.

I asked Bill Preece how he managed to bring Jon "maddog" Hall to CTS Clearwater. His answer -- "I asked". He sent the email, maddog wasn't booked those days, maddog saw the value in an appearance, and he went.

With big name speakers from out of town you'll usually need to pay for their airfare, and on long flights some speakers require first class seats. Anyone who's been on a coast to coast flight wedged in between two large people understands the motivation. So start saving those dues or raffle ticket money.

Get Freebies

Good freebies are the lifeblood of a great show, the best of breed freebies are distros, and the king of distros are the modern ones. That being said, almost anything but gratuitously advertisorial brochures serve to attract visitors. Tshirts are premium, as are cute little rubber penguins. Computer tiles (those little 1 inch square things that stick in the recessed square in a computer case) attract visitors. Mousepads are valued. Anything wearable will go quickly. And of course, distros, distros, distros.

As soon as possible, the freebie liaison should write all the distro makers asking for CD's. How many? It seems like you can give away several thousand distros during the show, so I'd recommend asking for 1000. Ask Red Hat, Mandrake, Caldera, Progeny, and SuSe. SuSe has a record of sending numerous distros, but unfortunately those distros are marked as "trial version" or something like that, which of course doesn't give Open Source people a warm and fuzzy feeling. Don't forget LinuxCentral and CheapBytes. You might be able to get distros very cheap from them, or even free for older versions. A six month old distro is still a valuable resource for your booth visitors.

If you have enough volunteers, it might be a good idea to affix the LUG labels to the freebies before the show.

Procure demo machines

Your visitors will be very curious about Linux, so they need to see and touch your demo machines. Demo machines are best procured from the membership. SLUG's booth was very impressive, with several laptops running different Linux distros. But your membership might not be able to cough up 6 laptops, so you might need to make due with desktops. Place the CPU under the table, with only the monitor, keyboard and mouse exposed. If the computer is old and slow, place a paper label on the monitor showing the CPU speed and RAM so the visitors understand that it's not Linux that's slow -- it's the computer.

Ideally, each distro should run a different distro. At LEAP we've found out that visitors are impressed by demo installations. Repeatedly do a small "take over the disk" install on a fairly fast computer, and ideally narrate the install steps.

Have something kewl running on each box. Games, video, a movie, songs (don't violate copyright) are examples. If possible, have a refrigerator sized rack. For some reason that really impresses people. Have the rack play music.

And do what LEAP did -- run ethereal to show the traffic on your lan. That will impress the geeky network types to no end.


Publicize early and often. You want lots of attendees. A large number of Linux attributed attendees pretty much guarantees you an invitation to next year's show, and makes it likely that your event will get good press. When publicizing, round up the usual suspects -- Slashdot, Newsforge, Linux Weekly News and the like. You'll want to announce it and ask for volunteers as soon as you have a few speakers to brag about. Then publicize again a few days before the event.

Your LUG website is a vital publicity component. It should list the 6 W's (who what where when why how). Be sure to include driving directions, and very clear instructions on how to register and get a free attendee pass. Often the show's website isn't too clear on this. Be sure to include driving directions for both in and out of towners.

Perhaps your best publicity comes from announcements on LUG mailing lists throughout your region. The publicity person should cultivate contacts in the LUGs in the region so the announcements go smoothly into the lists. I'd recommend the following schedule for such emails:

Don't forget your own LUG's list.

Plan for Show Day

Show day will be a REAL challenge. A crucial volunteer won't be able to make it. Scheduling changes will rear their ugly heads. Something will have been forgotten. Murphy is always the first guy to show up at a show.

Your best defense against Murphy is planning. Not only does it smooth over glitches, but the existence of a published plan reduces the intimidation factor, gains you more volunteers, and reduces the number of volunteers who have to cancel out.

The booth planner should draw a diagram of the booth so everyone knows where to put things. Use software like dia to draw the diagram. I'd recommend using an open booth, where the tables are at the back, with both exhibitors and attendees in front of the table. JaxLUG did this, and it worked out wonderfully. IMHO you don't want a table separating you from your booth visitors, and if you're giving a demo, you want to be watching the same screen as the attendee.

Reaffirm volunteer times and who does what. Who needs to show up for setup? Who will be there for teardown? Who is the master of ceremonies for the Linux Auditorium? The booth setup must happen fast and requires the coordination of many. Plan it the way you would the game winning football play. Choreograph it the way you would a dance troop. Make sure to get the order right. The carpets go down first, then the tables (in the right places), then the tablecloths and skirts, and then the machines and freebies. Plan a reliable way for the carpets, tables, table cloths and skirts to get there first, so you don't end up having to work around machines and freebies.

Determine how you'll keep up with changing speakers, presentation times and titles. There's no way you'll be able to absolutely stick to a schedule, so be sure you can change whatever sign or marquis you display at the Linux Auditorium.

Reaffirm the rules. Do you tweak M$'s nose like SLUG did, or play it more conservatively? How aggressive should you be in drawing visitors into your booth? What is the desired level of decorum?

Plan the teardown, which must be done quickly (or else you'll be slowing the paid-by-the-hour workmen tearing down the whole hall). Pick the teardown team, and make sure they know to tear down in reverse order of how they set up. I'd recommend teardown begin 1/2 hour before the end of the show. First remove the computers and freebies, then the tablecloths and skirts, then fold the tables and bring them out to the truck, and finally roll up the carpet and take it to the truck. Make sure everyone knows their teardown task, and what order to do it. Those not involved in the teardown should probably not be in the booth during teardown.


If your pre-show preparations were done well, the show shouldn't be rocket science.
  1. Coordinate with and Rebrief Volunteers
  2. Set Up the Booth
  3. Make Sure Everything Goes Perfectly for the Speakers
  4. Have Fun With the Visitors
  5. Shmooz with the Press
  6. Stay in Touch with the Show Promoters
  7. Tear down the booth

Coordinate with and Rebrief Volunteers

Hopefully everyone already knows their part in the game plan, but sometimes Murphy steps in. Rebrief and re-plan accordingly.

Set Up the Booth

The booth needs to go up fast. Hopefully everyone knows what they're going to do, and what order to do it.

Make Sure Everything Goes Perfectly for the Speakers

As a frequent speaker let me tell you that before a talk I've got better things to worry about than my AV equipment, or filling the auditorium.

Make sure the speaker liaison smooths the path for the speakers. Help them with the AV. Make sure they have a computer suitable for giving their presentation (a browser, StarOffice and KPresenter). If they have their own notebook, help them hook it up. Test the microphone ahead of time.

The speaker liaison should take care of announcing the presentation. He should then call for attention and stop the chatter, after which he should announce the speaker. That way the speaker begins with a packed hall of quiet people ready to hear his talk.

Take care of your speakers, and they'll give you much better presentation.

Have Fun with the Visitors

Visitors should be greeted, but not hard-sold. The method I used at JaxLUG was that I waited for either eye contact or a prolonged (more than 1 second) stare at something in our booth. I then walked up and asked "are there any questions I can answer for you?". I then shut up and listened. A minority said "no", at which time I moved on. Many more hesitated, then asked questions about Linux. I answered what I could and called other booth volunteers to answer what I couldn't. Instead of asking a question, many visitors tell their own Linux story, usually leading to a large discussion.

Let the visitors know the freebies are free. No need to scan badges. No need to sign up for anything. Those freebies are for them. Naturally, don't let a visitor grab 10 copies of a distro, but anything reasonable is fine. Have a couple copies of your favorite distro in hand so you can hand them to a visitor who shows interest.

Try to attract visitors to and into your booth. People have a herd mentality. Nobody visits an empty booth, but everyone wants to visit the full one. As I said earlier, have the booth completely open, with the tables at the back and sides, but never the front. If a person has a question, invite them over to a machine to answer the question. That way they're in the booth.

When the booth is particularly full, have someone take a picture.

Shmooz with the Press

The press (especially the Grassroots Linux Press) is our best friend. Keep them informed of everything. Make their lives easier. Grant them interviews with your most eloquent spokesmen. Any press people at your show should be treated like royalty.

Stay in Touch with the Show Promoters

You're at the show at the discretion of the promoter. It's absolutely imperative that you fulfill the promoter's goals. Draw tons of traffic, but never at the expense of your neighbors. Ask the promoter for feedback on how much you're helping the show, and what you can do to help it more. The promoter might have info on your booth's stats -- try to find out those figures.

Tear down quickly and efficiently in the last half hour of the show

Faster than rats deserting a sinking ship. That's how the show's workmen tear down after the show. One minute the show is a beautifully carpeted place, and the next it's a concrete warehouse. These workmen are paid by the hour, so you never want to be the one to slow them down. The last half hour, pack up the freebies and computers and take them out. Then the last 10 minutes remove the tablecloths and skirts, fold the tables and take them out to the trucks, then roll up your carpet and carry it out.

Make sure you have PLENTY of volunteers on hand for the last half hour to get all this done.


What is the sound of a tree falling in a forest where there's nobody to hear? The greatest LUG victory is meaningless unless the world knows about it. Post-show publicity is a must.
  1. Write an Article Describing the Victory
  2. Distribute the Article
  3. Plan for Next Year
  4. Celebrate

Write an Article Describing the Victory

The publicity person or someone appointed by him should write an article on the show. That article must be done within  a day of the show's completion. It's best done during the show. Let the person write the article on one of the demo computers. Not only will the article be done contemporaneously, but it will raise the curiosity level of the booth's passers by. Naturally, the article must be backed up to floppy, because there's little control over a demo machine.

Distribute the Article

The article should go on your LUG website an hour before the end of the show. That night the publicity person and any on the publicity committee should write the Linux news organizations describing the article and asking for links. Slashdot, Linux Weekly News (and their Linux Daily News), NewsForge and the like. Also write all the regional LUG mailing lists with the link to the article. This is especially effective if there are pictures containing some of their members.

Plan for Next Year

Within a couple days of the end of the show (even better, at the show), talk with the show promoter. How did he like it? How does he want it changed next year? Try to get a commitment for a booth next year.

Within a couple weeks talk with your LUG for ideas on how to do it even better next year. Absolutely, positively write down all ideas so that next year you'll have a head start.


You just went down in history. Maybe you pulled off a supercoup like SLUG, or maybe it was just a solid victory like LEAP and JaxLUG. Whatever it was, your team did a great job and now it's time to celebrate.


Putting on a Linux exhibition at a computer show is hard work, but it's not rocket science. Plan solidly before the event, execute solidly during the event, and publicize and reiterate solidly after the event, and your LUG will join the list of hotshot LUGs doing regional outreach.
Steve Litt is the documenter of the Universal Troubleshooting Process.  He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Grassroots Linux Press

By Steve Litt
Pundits in the IT trades, financial and mainstream media now conspicuously disavow all benefit of Linux. This is obviously a knee-jerk reaction stemming from last year, when they conspicuously fawned over any "Linux business model", no matter how bizarre. Now all we read in the IT, financial and mainstream media is Microsoft: Microsoft will take over the world with .Net -- no, they'll need to change their licensing -- but really, people will go along wit any licensing provisions eventually.

And oh my, don't they take every opportunity to let you know that THEY aren't so stupid as to believe in the "Linux phenomenon". Never mind that last year they -- no, don't even go there.

So the Chicago Sun Times runs an interview with Steve Ballmer, who says "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.".

And where would we be without ZDNet, purveyors of such informed Linux portrayals as David Coursey's intellectual gem titled "Want Linux on your desktop? Nine reasons to forget about it". It's beyond the scope of this article to critique Coursey's nine reasons, but suffice it to say that a logical analysis reveals that well over half aren't reasons at all, but merely opportunities for Coursey to voice his opinions. Much of the remainder is FUD (Linux will fork, there's no money in Linux). Interestingly enough, Coursey later wrote an article on how Coursey's MS Office software threatened to go into a reduced, read only mode, if he didn't reregister the software. This happened when he was on an airplane flight :-)

Mainstream press now hangs onto every utterance of Jim Allchin (congress should look into this open source thing) and Craig Mundie (open-source could result in "product instability" and "inherent security risks"). They blew it a year ago by over-hyping Linux, and now they're bending over backwards to show they weren't really fooled. And in their absence, the Grassroots Linux Press gladly takes up the slack.

Three Articles on Windows to Linux Migrations

In a period of less than two months there were three distinct articles describing real case histories of businesses migrating to Linux, starting with the April 2001 Troubleshooting Professional Magazine (The Windows to Linux Conversion), followed in early May by part 1 of AboutLinux.Com's William Henning's "Moving to Linux" series and LinuxDevices.Com's Rick Lehrbaum's "Defenestrating Windows". All three described the fears, challenges and rewards of the transition, and all three serve as step by step guides for the hordes now deserting Windows.

The Hailstorm Content Grab

Andrew Orlowski is an investigative reporter writing in The Register, ZDNet's IT Week, and many other papers and even a TV station. Andrew is an investigative reporter Woodward and Bernstein could be proud of, going after computing big business' most flagrant abuses of rank and file users, including the proposed backup busting CPRM hard disk specification. I have no idea whether Andrew is part of the "Grassroots Linux" movement, but he's certainly driven by similar ideals.

On March 30, 2001 Andrew fired the shot heard round the world when he blew the whistle on Microsoft's PASSPORT terms of service, which claimed for Microsoft and its "strategic partners" the right to use content travelling through PASSPORT servers, in spite of any copyright or patent on the content.

Orlowski's article touched off a grassroots firestorm, and in early April Troubleshooters.Com changed its copyright notice to preclude viewing its content through any PASSPORT connected service (including HAILSTORM and .Net). Troubleshooters.Com was deluged with email asking for permission to use the same copyright language (permission wasn't necessary). An avalanche of websites prohibited transmission of their content through PASSPORT, HAILSTORM, .Net and HOTMAIL. I called the Wall Street Journal about the situation, and from their discussion with me a few days later I surmise that the Wall Street Journal had talked to Microsoft.

On late April 4, 2001, Microsoft removed the offending language from their English language terms of service, with an "aw shucks guys, it was just a mistake by our overzealous lawyers" type of explanation. Do you believe that? Ask yourself whether you think Microsoft would have declined to enforce their "all data is ours" provision had they not been presented with what amounts to a boycott.

The Grassroots Linux press had stood up to Microsoft, and Microsoft blinked first.

It's amusing to read the mainstream press's account of Microsoft's capitulation. The mainstream press credited the "privacy movement". The privacy movement didn't put their businesses on the line by prohibiting viewing by a technology used by 90% of the populace. What's the explanation? Perhaps the mainstream press has once again been embarrassed, this time by the success of the Grassroots Linux Press following the mainstream press's Linux reporting failures.

Steve Litt is the editor of Troubleshooters.Com and Troubleshooting Professional Magazine.  He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Life After Windows

By Steve Litt
Less than 24 hours before giving my presentation in Jacksonville, I decided it might be a good idea to create that presentation. I ran VimOutliner and got down to work.

For those of you not familiar with VimOutliner, it's a set of configuration files and scripts to optimize the Vim editor as an outline processor. If you're a writer, you know outlines are essential for any book over 50 pages, and are very helpful for project planning, todo lists, parts lists, and even computer program design. Vim is a clone of the VI editor that comes with every UNIX computer. Many major Linux distributions, including Mandrake Linux and Red Hat Linux, come with the Vim editor installed.

The top level of the outline took less than an hour. It looked something like this:
Why Convert?
        Who owns your data?
Linux "Problems"
        Slow mouse
        Some app menus unreachable from keyboard
        Some apps and hardware have no Linux replacement
        Funky cut and paste
        PPP is a horror to set up
        "Lack of Apps"
                Outliner replacement for MS Word
                WordProcessor replacement for MS Word
                Pixel editor replacement for Paintshop Pro 3
                Vector graphic replacement for Micrografx Windows Draw
                Email replacement for Eudora Lite
                Web editor replacement for Netscape Composer
                Backup replacement for PKZip/Adaptec utilities
Migration Process: Windows Side
        Ban proprietary upgrades and new purchases
        Feasibility study
                Web browsing
                Your normal business tasks
        Separation of data from program
        Make transition plan
        Install and configure new Linux machine
                Decide partitions
        Final Windows backup
        Data transfer (I used Samba)
                retain dates
                switch CRLF to LF
                Make extensions lowercase
                Other minor file name and location tweaks
        First Linux backup
        Get email running 
        Back up often during first few weeks
        Continue learning
Life After Windows: Linux Desktop Rewards
        Easy app procurement and installation
        Solid legal status for my software
        File completion
        High quality free compilers

Next came the details. The subsections of the "Why Convert?" section got subheadlines discussing whether they were compelling. Under "Linux "Problems"" I added the solution to each problem. Other adjustments were made until all the information was present in the right order. Finally, I rearranged the outline so the each top level headline represented a single slide in a slide show.

My slideshows are all in HTML format, authored in my htmlslides tool. So I wrote a script to convert my outline into htmlslides source, and then run htmlslides to create a slideshow. From there on, the outline was the sourcecode for the slideshow, and as problems were found in the slideshow, the fixes were made in the outline and then a recompile done. Five hours after starting the slideshow was ready. Note that the five hours included the time it took to write the otl2slideshow script.

In the Linux world anything's possible. Not having an outliner, I configured Vim as an outliner. The resulting outlines were simple tab indented text, so it was trivial to convert them into any necessary format -- in this case source for the existing htmlslides software.

These outlines are readable in any text editor, and easily manipulated in Perl, Python, C, Java or even Vim scripts. This is the ultimate in owning your data. If Vim disappeared tomorrow my data would be fully available. And of course Vim can't disappear -- it's Open Source code is pretty much guaranteed available, ready for enhancement by myself and anyone else who wants it.

Is VimOutliner as good an outliner as Microsoft Word? Close call. Unlike VimOutliner, Word has visual styles for each level and it has provisions for body text. But VimOutliner is MUCH faster because of its better keyboarding interface. Word has the unique (both in the Linux and Windows world) capability of presenting a document in both a document and an outline view, allowing round trip development of long documents like books.

VimOutliner's development is only one way (outline to document), but its simple text data structure makes it easily convertible to anything, as my experience with the presentation shows. And of course the big benefit of a simple text data structure is that you can access your data with or without Vim. Contrast that with MS Word, whose data is stored in a proprietary binary format requiring either Word, a Word aware app, or reverse engineering to access. And if the UCITA legislation passes, reverse engineering will be illegal. Word is a great outline processor, maybe better than VimOutliner. But my data is vital, so I went with the tool offering an open text data format.

But VimOutliner won't help you if you're not comfortable with the VI editor. Non-VI users needn't despair. Now there's the LEO outliner for Linux. Besides the basic outline features offered by VimOutliner, LEO has body text, cloning, and for you programmers, autogeneration of C and Python code. LEO's interface is also more intuitive than VimOutliner's. LEO's data is stored in simple to read and convert XML. I continue to use VimOutliner for its raw speed, but LEO looks great.

Better yet, LEO  is multiplatform. It's been stable on Windows for years, and it's available for the Mac. And it's Open Source, licensed via the Python license.

If you haven't yet used an outline processor, I recommend it highly. I couldn't have written the 1200 page "Samba Unleashed" without an outline processor. The outline employed to design "Samba Unleashed" was 2800+ lines long, giving the book a structure highly praised by readers and critics. You can see one such review, the Barnes & Nobles editor's review, at

And when you decide to use an outline processor, of course you'll want to use an outliner available in Linux.

How's life after Windows? I've got an outliner capable of creating anything I can imagine, so life is sweet.

Steve Litt is the creator of the Universal Troubleshooting Process Course. He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Linux Log: A Metaphor For Linux

By Steve Litt
I'm often asked about Linux. What makes it tick? How does it gain acceptance? What is the heart and soul of Linux?

Perhaps a metaphor would be handy. But first some background...

In the past 2 months LEAP-CF brought a whole new generation of Linux people into the fold at the Orlando CTS show, and SLUG played David to Microsoft's Goliath, vanquishing Microsoft at the Clearwater CTS. But the idea for this article came at the JaxLUG booth at Jacksonville's ITEC show.

JaxLUG is Jacksonville, Florida's LUG. It's not huge like Tampa's SLUG, nor is it incorporated like Orlando's LEAP-CF.

In fact, JaxLUG was founded in 1996 by then 17 year old Daniel Stringfield. A year earlier Stringfield got so bored with high school that he dropped out and got a job as a network administrator. The first JaxLUG meeting was held at his friend's house, and soon moved to Daniel's apartment. JaxLUG remained tiny until 1998 when they started meeting at Florida Community College at Jacksonville. They continued to grow, and in 2000 they fielded a very successful booth at ITEC.

Daniel moved to Orlando in 2001 (he's now a LEAPster). Patrick Martin, Art Wildman and several others stepped forward to run the LUG started by Daniel so long ago. Daniel still helps out via email.

In summary, JaxLUG isn't huge or rich. But when their turn came, the stepped up to the plate and knocked one out of the park.

ITEC 2001 came around. JaxLUG CTO Art Wildman, who also acts as their ambassador, sent out emails to other LUGs in the region, asking for help, speakers and attendees. That was what brought me to Jacksonville. And I wasn't alone.  LEAP's Phil Barnett, ELUG's Bryan Smith, and former LEAPster turned Space Coast residents Mark and Jo-Ellen Mathews showed up to speak. And through the efforts of JaxLUGger Keith Burres, Samba project co-author and maintainer Jeremy Allison flew in and spoke.

JaxLUG had a booth and there was a Linux auditorium. The first day the booth was manned by about 8 JaxLUGgers plus an army from out of town. It was like old home week, with all of us meeting and chatting in between passing out distros and answering questions. It was wonderful.

Not every booth perceived the show so happily. While in a bathroom stall, I overheard two vendors (let's call them Al and Bob) discussing the show. I don't remember the exact words, but it went something like this:

Al: "What do you think of the show?"
Bob: "Oh, about the same as last year?"
Al: "Yeah" <snicker>. Everyone's just there to collect the free stuff we give out"
Bob: "Yeah. The worst are the ones who grab it without asking and without stopping"
Al: "<whine> This is a trade show. You'd think the people would want to learn what's out there"

Thankfully, it was a great show and most of the vendors enjoyed it and profitted from it. The attitude expressed by Al and Bob was a minority opinion. But Al and Bob's bathroom chat makes a convenient metaphor for the weaknesses of the proprietary world.


Al and Bob need to get value for every freebie they give away. They need new customers to pay their time and plane fair. And what do you want to bet they don't get enough support from the home office. No wonder they resent those who take the very freebies they give away. No wonder they don't find the show pleasant.

Contrast them to the JaxLUG booth. We came from all over Florida (and in Jeremy's case a lot farther). Most of us paid our own way, and that was fine. Because we felt privileged to be there. It was a big homecoming party -- a reunion. We were witnessing history -- the re-ascension of Grassroots Linux. We passed out Linus distributions with abandon. Yes, some of those distros were paid for by JaxLUG or some of its members. But it was cool -- all for the cause. Our goal was to get those distros out to as many as possible -- not to scan badges. And just when life couldn't get any better, the world reknown Samba expert Jeremy Allison spoke in the Linux auditorium.

The JaxLUG booth was the happiest place in the hall! And it was the metaphor for the power of Grassroots Linux. We need no money to keep going. We show up wherever we can afford, and educate more people. We can't be starved out. We're committed, we're growing, and as we get to know each other, we're cooperating. Grassroots Linux is older than all the distributions, yet ever renewing and unstoppable. JaxLUG is a perfect metaphor for grassroots Linux.

Early Grassroots Linux

Linux was born as a grassroots movement the day Linus wrote his famous Minix list post. With a few evangelists and an army of grassroots Open Source programmers Linux grew to power as a grassroots movement.. Not needing profit as a motive, the Linux advocates recruited new Linux users, from amongst whom Linux developers were recruited. Linux went from a hacker's bootstrap compile to a serious operating system.

By 1997 a few pioneers had discovered you could make money with Linux. How well I remember knocking on a Culver City, California door looking for web design work, only to be shown a box you could plug into the net and you're an instant ISP. The proprietor explained the box ran Linux, suitably configured to be an ISP appliance. If memory serves me he sold the box plus the service for $4000. And of course, Walnut Creek and Red Hat had been making money, $25.00 at a time, selling Linux CD's. Those early pioneers all had two things in common -- they knew the business opportunities and limitations of Linux, and they knew how to budget to run in the black..

Then the big bucks crowd heard about Linux...

The Commercial Boom Years

I got into Linux during the final couple months of the first Grassroots era -- October of 1998. Even then, there was widespread talk of the Linux pioneers' commercial successes, and the guys with huge bankrolls wanted in on the action. The big money guys rushed in with wheelbarrows of cash, obscuring the grassroots crowd. For the first time, Linux shows sported not only grassroots diehards like Red Hat and Debian, but guys selling multi-thousand-dollar "productivity apps" and $300 editors. It was the go-go years 1999 and 2000, and it seemed like any scheme could make a barrel of money, and even if it couldn't, you could cash out before the bubble broke.

Linux became the darling of Wall Street, especially after Judge Jackson ordered Microsoft's divestiture. Every big company got in on the action. Linux jobs opened up. The Linux grassrooters cheered as the good guys won.

Pundits from the financial, IT trades and news publications leapfrogged each other trying to break the next Linux story.

By early 2000 Linux was on the lips of young and old, rich and poor, smart and not so smart, idealist and scalper. Linux had succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

But success has its problems.

The grassroots heros who had made it happen were often ignored and eclipsed. Suddenly Richard Stallman, the guy who singlehandedly changed the history of software with the GNU Manifesto and the GPL license, was considered anti-business and a "loose cannon". The big business crowd failed to realize that only the GNU GPL kept Linux from being an also-ran proprietary product.

The Linux shows got huge, and either gobbled each other up or moved away. Living in Florida, I went to the last LinuxExpo in Raleigh in May of 1999, and the last Atlanta based ALS (now renamed ANNUAL Linux Showcase) in October 2000. 2001 looked mighty bleak.

In the summer of 1999 O'Reilly hosted the first "O'Reilly Open Source Convention", priced to exclude the average grassroots Linux contributor, but well within the reach of expense account endowed MBA's looking for "the next big thing".

The huge Linux IPO's made a few instant millionaires, but Joe average contributor was left to buy his own stock at what turned out to be highly inflated prices.

The nation attempted to choose a president in November and December of 2000. The uncertainty, combined with the exhaustion of the 7 year old boom, began putting the breaks on the economy. The commercial boom years were ending...

The ReEmergence of Grassroots Linux

Grassroots Linux was very much alive, but had been obscured by the commercial boom. Now, with the tightening economy, investors began to demand profit. The new technology companies had to budget. Layoff followed layoff, bankruptcies soon followed. Dot Bomb became a common word. Linux vendors lost their best customers in the Internet implosion.

Judge Jackson talked out of school, got reversed on appeal, and all of a sudden it looked like Microsoft would not be stopped from predatory marketing. A newly emboldened Microsoft began the .Net strategy whose design could monopolize the remainder of the Internet, and if someone didn't stop them that just might happen.

And it was a foregone conclusion the newly selected president didn't place a high priority on antitrust. The government wouldn't be the ones to stop Microsoft.

Realizing their incredible naivete of a year ago, pundits from the financial, IT trades and news publications leapfrogged each other discussing the futility of Linux and the ascension of Microsoft.

A shellshocked Linux community quietly licked its wounds.


In fact, Grassroots Linux had never waned. It was simply obscured by the crazy commercialism of 1999 and 2000. With the departure of gratuitously commercial Linux, the grassroots guys saw opportunity. Now it was their Linux stories that made news. They continued to improve Linux, bringing the multi-CPU friendly Linux 2.4 kernel, several excellent journaling filesystems, and a slew of reliable, fast and user friendly desktop apps. It was they who migrated to the Linux desktop, then wrote detailed articles about the process and successful conclusion, giving lie to the mainstream media's Linux obituaries.

The grassroots guys continued sneaking Linux into the enterprise. At his Jacksonville presentation Jeremy Allison estimated that 30% of all servers in corporate Network Neighborhoods are really Samba servers, and told an amusing story of a NT admin who snuck in a Samba server, only to be found out because his was the only fileserver that stayed up.

The grassroots guys continued building massively parallel Linux supercomputers.

The grassroots guys created jobs.

Grassroots guy extraordinaire Jon "maddog" Hall proposed his "value added Open Source revenue model", leading the way to profit and cash flow through sales instead of through investment, for those who would listen.

It's the grassroots Linux guys that scare the daylights out of Ballmer, Allchin, Mundie and Gates. The grassroots guys are Microsoft's worst nightmare -- an immortal opponent who cannot be starved out or defeated on the battlefield. Like the Energizer Bunny, they just keep going, and going...

And the grassroots guys responded to the vacuum left by the departing Linux shows. After ALS it looked like we Floridians would have no shows to go to in 2001. Instead, LEAP-CF, SLUG and JaxLUG each partnered with a regional computer show to deliver a booth, great speakers, and distros. These were events where you could actually have a one-on-one talk with Linux celebrities. These were events that brought the benefits of Linux to many who had never before been approached.

And that brings me back to JaxLUG, who though small in numbers and without significant cash reserves, stepped up and gave a supurb showing for Linux. It wasn't easy, and they needed some help.

Art Wildman called, and we all came. And that, my friends, is the heart and soul of Linux.

Steve Litt is a member of Linux Enthusiasts and Professionals of Central Florida (LEAP-CF). He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

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