Installing Australia

Though I have used Linux for the last five years or so and Unix for a number of years before that, I had never been to an install fest. So it was with some interest that I prepared to attend Install Fest 2000 in Adelaide, South Australia. What would it be like? Would it really help people and attract users to Linux?

It all started in May when Richard Russell, a longtime member of LinuxSA, the Adelaide-based LUG, sent out an email (see Resources for a link) to the group's mailing list, suggesting an install fest in August or September. He went on to make the mistake of saying that he would be "happy to coordinate things."

A loose committee quickly developed and started organizing the event. It included LinuxSA members David Newall, Michael Davies, David Lloyd, Phill Hutton, and Robyn Manning, although "plenty of others contributed majorly on the day," Russell said.

Events then proceeded rather smoothly, and the date was set for July 15 rather than August or September. Advertising had to be organized, posters printed and plastered up around the city, and people had to be organized as installers. Obtaining insurance and sponsors for the event were big questions, but they were finally solved when Newell negotiated with AUUG (Australian Unix User's Group) to take the event under its wing. Thus, planners could more easily round up insurance and collect and distribute money in a way that the organizing committee could control. Not long after the Adelaide event was organized, LUGs in Perth and Sydney decided that they would also organize install fests for later in the year (see Resources for links to the LUGs' homepages and to a previous LinuxWorld article about an install fest hosted by members of SLUG.) On the night before the event and after he had been to the venue (the former site of a gallery) to organize some last-minute details, Russell reported that 102 people had registered for installs during the event. It looked as if the following day would be a moderate success.

At the install fest

Nothing prepared us for the day itself. The event was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. and the last installs were to be started by 4 p.m. I arrived at the venue at 9:30 to set up the stand for IIT Training, one of the sponsors of the event and the company that markets a Linux course I teach. Unfortunately, TNT Express Delivery had lost a carton of literature sent from Sydney for the event, so I ended up madly stapling loose sheets of paper to make do. While setting up my stand, I learned that by 9:15, ten people had already turned up for the event. That was to be a portent for the day.

By 11:00, 42 people had brought in their machines, and many more had arrived to look around and see how things were going. It was amazing to see the stream of people coming in, dragging equipment along on trolleys or carrying it in by hand. It must have also been clear to Russell that the event was a success. Figure 1 shows a beaming Russell at some time during the day.

By midday, it was clear that the event was an outstanding success; at one time during the day, there was standing room only. Russell estimates that 400 people attended and 150 people brought systems along. I can only say that I agree with the estimates, as I recall some people setting monitors on chairs to install Linux when we ran out of table space.

A view of the venue, only moderately full.

The volunteers assisting with installs were unable to keep up with the demand for help, and I was called on to lend a hand in a couple of cases. Unfortunately, due to the number of people attending and the lack of installers, some people went away without getting Linux installed on their systems. Those people were invited to the next LinuxSA meeting for a mini-install fest.

Systems of all kinds

Participants brought in systems of all kinds, including Intel-based machines of all ages and sizes, a smattering of PowerPC-based machines, at least one SPARC-based system, one Alpha system, and an SGI Indy (I don't think that the last two managed to get the installation done). At one stage, Leigh Hart from Internode (one of the sponsors) dragged his machine into the room. It was a 700 MHz Intel system in a very large case on wheels. Not long after Hart brought his system in, rumors raced through the hall that some guy had brought along a quad-Xeon system.

Several distributions were represented, with CDs from Red Hat (RH 6.1), Mandrake (Linux Mandrake 7.0), and TurboLinux (TL 6.0.2) in evidence. But there were also other distributions available. I had a copy of the Linux Mandrake 7.1 ISO image on my laptop, so we loaded that onto a server. A computer company that had one of the booths at the site busily burned copies of Mandrake 7.1. Also, people brought in Slackware and Debian, and there were lots of copies of FreeBSD available from BSDi.

To complete the statistics, Richard said that one person from Texas inquired about attending the event and that people flew in from rural areas of South Australia. I spoke to a person from Sydney and another from Alice Springs who was interested in running a similar fest at Ayres Rock. People of all ages showed up, with our youngest attendee being 6-week-old Bowen (see Resources for a photo), who did not put a finger to keyboard but did spend a lot of time with a couple of Tuxes. Overall, the show was an outstanding success, which bodes well for the success of upcoming Perth and Sydney events. I plan to attend the next install fest that I can.

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