LugRadio live

I was really quite excited about yesterday’s LugRadio Live event in Wolverhampton. LugRadio is a fortnightly “radio” show (i.e. downloadable recorded show) produced by the Wolverhampton Linux User Group led by Jono Bacon, a regular contributor to the UK Linux press. I always download them and listen to them, because for a Linux enthusiast like myself, it’s interesting to hear Linux hackers discuss developments in the Linux scene. This event was advertised as a counterweight to the corporate-dominated Linux Expos like the annual one in London. It also had exhibitors from a few companies and projects, and an O’Reilly book stall with a 30% discount.

The bit about the corporate Linux expos is a fair one - I did go to last year’s Expo in London, and it was indeed a show for major corporations like Novell, HP, Rackspace and other major players; there was the “.org Village” consisting of a few narrow aisles into which all the community projects were shoved. “Community projects” are basically everything on which the Linux desktop is based, like KDE for example! One can hardly say that KDE is less important to Linux than Hewlett-Packard. Apart from O’Reilly, the only real corporate stall here was from Linspire, and I had the brief opportunity to test out their somewhat controversial desktop Linux distribution. I was surprised that they have not changed Linux beyond recognition; their KDE is still very much KDE, and everything was very nippy on their Pentium M laptop. I’m not sure if that is because of the job they’ve done or just because my laptop (a 650Mhz Pentium III) is a bit behind the times.

The speakers included Mark Shuttleworth, the brains behind Ubuntu (on which I’m writing this entry), the CEO of Canonical and the so-called first African in space. (He’s a rich white South African, so I’m not sure if that’s such an achievement.) Ubuntu is a freely-distributed Linux package which, although the people at LugRadio rave over it, is mainly aimed at the African market; if that is so, I wonder why they based it on GNOME rather than the lighter alternative, XFce, given that Africans would have access to less up-to-date hardware where they have access to any. His speech was mostly centred around a slideshow of his space experience, but he also discussed the very vexed issue of software patents, which are unanimously unpopular in the open-source community. He suggested that in a few years time, big companies like Microsoft and Sun would be major opponents of such patents, because of companies which have been set up specifically to pursue litigation on patent issues.

Another speaker was Bill Thompson of the BBC, who talked about his role in covering the “Madrid Club” meeting which happened a few weeks after the 2003 Madrid bombing. He started off talking about how the Spanish reacted to the bombings not by looking for people to bomb but by looking for ways to change the situation - actually, I disagree with him on this point; Spanish involvement in Iraq (remember that Spain has a conscript army) was never popular, and the people blamed the government for bringing this disaster on the people. He discussed how the presence of open-source software (in this case, Mambo) enabled him to set up a content-management system for the discussion of the meetings in English and Spanish in a very short space of time. His main point was that the choice of open source is often practical rather than ideological.

There was also a “mass debate” in which Shuttleworth, Thompson and two other people formed the panel. I spent most of this time looking at the various exhibitions and talking to the people behind the Debian stall, and you couldn’t really hear what was going on unless you were right there (something about which one of the stall holders expressed some disappointment). I was planning to buy something from them, but they were only selling DVDs rather than CDs, which they didn’t have (their system comes on ten CDs), and my laptop doesn’t have a DVD drive. Debian are hot property right now because they have just released a stable system with reasonably up-to-date software for the first time in about three years and have got round to replacing their notoriously outdated installation software. Also present were Ubuntu, Red Hat, CentOS (a free version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux), Bytemark (a web hosting company), and Cheep Linux, which distributes cheap downloadable Linux packages on CDs for people who don’t want to download ten CDs over their internet link (it takes hours).

The actual LugRadio Live show was the most disappointing part of the whole evening. This is the first LugRadio show ever to feature ZERO LINUX CONTENT - there was a brief question-and-answer session (you might be able to hear me on there asking Jono Bacon if he intends to open-source the software he uses to run his website), but apart from that it seemed to consist of nearly an hour of mutual backslapping. Oh, and as a previous commentator mentioned, the show often includes “some language”, by which I mean F words. There was quite a few of those this evening, and the tone of the conversation was rather reminiscent of late-night boarding school dormitory conversation. I can’t say I never use four-letter words myself, but the tone of this show could put an awful lot of people off. The event was held in the Terrace Bar of the Molineux stadium (home of the Wolverhampton Wanderers football team), and perhaps this partly explains it (thankfully, nobody objected to me bringing in a couple of bottles of Purdey’s, which is a fruit juice drink, and to lots of food from the nearby Asda store being brought in as well).

I will continue to listen to LugRadio because it’s useful and informative and the people who participate know what they are talking about. It is also, at present, the only show of its kind. But they really do need to raise the tone a little to make it more inclusive; apart from the four-letter words which really do put people off (even though most geeks are men; there were less than ten women present yesterday, including the lady behind the O’Reilly stall and the bar staff), I have also heard them being rather dismissive about certain major technologies including Qt. Perhaps the community really needs something in between this rather laddish event and the big corporate expos.

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