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Monday, 24 December 2007 20:01 Taking FOSS to the masses

Jacinta Richardson is one woman who admits to definitely being a geek. But that hasn't got in the way of her being the organiser of the only non-geek event of the 2008 Australian national Linux conference - Open Day.

Asked how she came to be involved, she says that chief organiser Donna Benjamin "asked me really nicely." Jacinta has been involved in other conferences, notably the Open Source Developers' Conference which is held in Queensland each year. She helped organise it for the first three years of its existence.

A Perl trainer and consultant, Jacinta is one-half of the company Perl Training Australia. Born in Alice Springs, she moved to Bendigo when she was 10 and later to Melbourne.

Her first exposure to the Linux conference was in Sydney in 2007. She ventured thither after having been involved in a number of Linux user groups, or LUGs, mostly doing advocacy. "If I care about something, I want to make it happen in the right way," she explains when asked why she is interested in FOSS - which she obviously sees as the right kind of software.

Open Day is focused on non-programmers. Jacinta says it's a way to expand the conference to the general public. Five days of talks and meetings for geeks precede Open Day - despite all the commercialisation associated with Linux these days, the Australian conference has retained its technical roots. Sponsors have realised that this is what makes it a success and have, wisely, not tried to change things in any way.

The money for organising Open Day comes out of the conference budget. Community projects get free stands to show off their wares. Conference sponsors get stands if they so wish but the emphasis is not so much on the commercial as the social.

Among the stands this year will be one devoted to MythTV (software that allows one to create a personal video recorder on a Linux box), Computerbank (which installs Linux on recycled PCs and sends them to countries like East Timor), ASUS (which will be showing off their EePC, a little notebook that runs Xandros), and OpenMoko (an integrated open source mobile communications platform).

A Linux gaming stand, which will be run by Tim "Mithro" Ansell, is expected to be one of the main pulling points of Open Day. Ansell is also organising the Gaming MiniConf.

The Open Day programme is still under development (to use an IT term) and the cut-off date for finalising things will be mid-January. The only criterion for an activity to be part of the programme is that it must be accessible to non-geeks.

Jacinta regrets that she was unable to inform schools about Open Day before the academic year ended. "I'm personally feeling rather guilty right now," she says. "I could not get the message to schools but at least the universities will be well represented."

There has been some publicity for Open Day in the shape of advertisements through the Victorian Information Technology Teachers Association, "a non-profit organisation supporting information and communication technology teachers at primary schools, secondary colleges and universities and other tertiary education institutions in Victoria".

At the 2007 conference where Open Day made its debut, the area was crowded and it was difficult to move around. There was less chance to play and more room for stands, making it difficult for people to get to areas of interest, says Jacinta, adding that she hopes to avoid such problems this year.

She has not set the bar very high for attendance at Open Day. "If we have less than 100 people, I'd consider it a dismal failure," she says. "But if it's anything from 300 to 400, then I would be very happy."

Those who attend Open Day will be given a free lunch and the first 100 attendees will get a conference bag. Jacinta is also thinking of giving out a questionnaire in order to obtain feedback to improve next year's event; if the questionnaires are handed out, there will be a small prize as an incentive for people to take part.

"Personally, I would like to see recruitment companies sponsoring the conference and coming along to Open Day," says Jacinta, simply because there is such a wealth of IT talent floating around during that one week.

Open Day will be held at the University of Melbourne union building on February 2.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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