Open-source software, recycled gear = PCs for needy schools

Installfest for Schools in California's Bay Area couples recycled desktops with Linux community volunteers to donate PCs to schools

One person's trash is another's treasure, and this weekend open source vendors and community members plan to join forces with a Northern Californian recycling organization to transform hundreds of desktop and laptops into PCs loaded with Ubuntu, Firefox, OpenOffice and more to be donated to needy area schools.

Untangle, an open source application software maker, joined forces with the Alameda County Computer Resource Center, or ACCRC, to first take in and then turn around hundreds of computers loaded with software for local schools. Dubbed Installfest for Schools, the event involves volunteers from the Bay Area Linux community coming together to install open source applications on recycled computers provided by the ACCRC in four California locations: San Francisco, Berkeley, San Mateo and Marin County.

While the Linux community hosts many generic 'installfests,' this is the first event in which the software experts will be coupled with the hardware recyclers at ACCRC. James Burgett, as executive director of the ACCRC, isn't certain what to expect but knows the more hands involved the more charitable donations his organization can make.

"The state declared old computer equipment toxic waste so as long as we are finding a reasonable use for the recycled desktops, we are preventing toxic waste," Burgett explains. "We are also giving them to underprivileged schools, homes, homeless shelters, youth hostels -- any organization in need for the most part."

For his part, Burgett used to dumpster dive and troll garage sales to find old desktops and laptops to refurbish and sell in order to feed his drug habit. But for the past 14 years, the former homeless man has been using his high-tech skills for good by donating refurbished PCs to needy organizations. Burgett, who has been featured on CNN's Heroes series in the Defending the Planet category and worked as a firefighter in the past, founded ACCRC to evolve his gift for computers from something that supports his habit to something that helps others.

"My father wrote microcode and I learned young that computers can be relatively simple," Burgett says, but not always inexpensive, which is why he chooses to load donated machines with Linux. "We distribute Linux exclusively because we can't afford the licensing and other issues with Microsoft software and frankly we can do more with Linux."

That's where Untangle enters the picture. Andrew Fife, Untangle's marketing manager, is involved in many Linux user groups and communities in the San Mateo area where Untangle is based. He says he learned of Burgett and his charitable donations, but was surprised to hear the bottleneck the ACCRC encountered most frequently involved installing Linux software on the donated machines.

"[Burgett] has tons of hardware but he is challenged when it comes to expertise in installing Ubuntu because there are not a lot of Linux gurus on his staff," Fife says. "I am always reaching out to all these different Linux user groups anyway so it seemed like a good fit to marry Linux user group expertise with Installfest."

While Burgett says the ACCRC has donated some 16,000 computers over 14 years to an organization on every continent in the world, he couldn't forecast how many computers this weekend's event would draw in. But this time, his group won't get stopped by deploying Linux on each machine. No Starch Press intends to load a PDF copy of Ubuntu For Non Geeks on every computer and Mozilla is springing for pizza at the four drop-off locations.

"The Installfest is a terrific way to share the benefits of the Internet that many of us in the technology industry take for granted," said Paul Kim, vice president of marketing at Mozilla, in a statement. "Protecting the environment and providing schools with quality free and open source software is an important effort."

For more information on Installfest for School, check out the details here. For more information on the ACCRC's recycling programs, visit the organization's Web site.

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