Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Open Source Pavilion at the CUE.org Show

We've just returned home from the CUE.org (Computer Using Educators) show in Palm Springs, California--where Open Source "took the show by storm..." (an inside joke for those at the show, given the incredible wind storm on Thursday night and the snow storm Saturday!).

But certainly having 75 computers running Open Source software was a significant event, and our "Open Source Pavilion" was considered a great success by all involved, especially the show organizers. As part of a plan both to showcase Open Source software, and to simplify the show's evaluation process, the Open Source Pavilion was used as the exclusive evaluation area during the last part of the show, where attendees filled out an online evaluation and then received a show t-shirt in return. The show organizers had used words like "chaos" and "madness" to describe the frenzied hordes that would descend and do anything for a free t-shirt, but using the Open Source Pavilion turned out to provide a fast, streamlined, and calm experience for all involved.

The Open Source Pavilion was also host to eight presentations on Open Source software (see www.cue.org/conference/opensource), three of which (two on moodle, one on blogging and podcasting) attracted crowds so large that even bringing in more chairs could not accommodate all who wanted to attend. In a significant move, our Open Source sessions were listed in the general conference brochure along with all the other sessions, and our visibility was quite high, as we were mentioned by several of the regular speakers in their talks.

We ran 32 laptops with our EZWebPC software (a CD-based Linux operating system that just runs a web browser) in an "email garden" formation with access to a printer. The laptops, used IBM’s with no hard drives and generously provided by Computers & Education (http://www.crc.org/info/index.html), were frequently in heavy use and appreciated by many. We then ran 43 old desktop Dell Optiplexes in a lab\lecture setting, each converted to thin-client use and booting from our "NetBooter" device. These thin clients then connected with either of two Linux servers, one running Fedora Core, and the other running Ubuntu. It was quite something to have 75 stable, reliable computers set up and running in such quick fashion.

At our hosting tables in the Pavilion we had available free copies of the OpenCD and Ubuntu, and lots of reading material. Many participants had lots of questions, and some few said that they only came to the show to see our Pavilion. We've been asked to provide a similar (although not quite so expansive) area at the NECC 2006 show in San Diego in July, where our speakers will also be included in the general program bulletin. As well, CUE.org wanted to make sure we could come back next year. (Which will be a lot easier, now that we have all the ethernet cabling built!) All in all, a good showing!

Also: I was part of an interview on Open Source software in schools during the show, a webcast of which can be found at http://www.kidzonline.org/webcast/webcast.html?id=191

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