Casual users, software developers, hardware manufacturers and open-source all-arounders met in the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel for the ninth Southern California Linux Expo, or SCALE 9x.
SCALE was first held in 2002, lasted one day and only contained 14 speakers and 20 booths, according to Orv Beach, chair of SCALE’s public relations committee. This year, the event lasted three days, hosted 65 speakers and contained 95 booths on the expo floor from organizations such as Aberdeen, Facebook and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Speeches ranged from discussions on hackerspaces to beginner’s guides on Linux podcasting, with various tracks for system administrators, developers, beginners and general users.
“SCALE is arguably the largest open source show in North America or in the Western hemisphere,” Beach said.
According to Dennis Rex, a member of SCALE 9x’s public relations committee, the expo began as a small gathering of Linux users that became a massive event.
“SCALE started as a collection of Linux users groups, but has grown to include commercial support,” Rex said.
Linux is a family of operating systems that is based off of the Linux kernel. It is a free and open-source software that runs on personal computers, Internet servers and many other forms of electronics worldwide.
The expo, however, is not only for Linux users.
“Any open source project, regardless of operating system, is welcome here,” Beach said. “Don’t let the name fool you.”
What’s This Open Source Stuff Anyway?
When a product is open source, its “blueprints” are available to the public to freely reproduce and edit. Open source software, for example, has its source code available for individuals or groups to modify and distribute.
While Linux is free and open source, it does not mean that the quality of the product is poorer than paid software. According to Beach, Linux provides powerful features for both large companies and casual users.
“At this point, Linux being free is tertiary,” Beach said. “This is high-quality, enterprise-class software, but easy enough for the end user to install.”
Open Source is Serious Business
According to Rex, the prevalence of businesses at SCALE is a sign of how useful open source has been for them.
“Businesses are represented, which is good,” Rex said. “It speaks to the power of open source as a business tool.”
Many companies use open source, such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and IBM. According to Rex, IBM has been with SCALE since it first began.
“Many companies are afraid of open source, they see it as a threat,” Rex said. “IBM is an example of a company that embraced it. They are a platinum sponsor and have been at SCALE since the beginning.”
This Linux Stuff Sounds Complicated and Overly Technical. I’m No Nerd!
Linux-based systems, while providing tech-savvy users and software developers with extensive technical features, have distributions that are catered toward casual or nontechnical users. According to Beach, Linux operating systems have been streamlined to the point that they are easier to install than Microsoft Windows.
“Linux is highly technical, but the user interface has been streamlined,” Beach said. “It is much easier to install than Windows, with vastly simplified program installation.”
Due to the capabilities and cost-effectiveness of Linux systems, they are used by a wide variety of users, ranging from professional software developers to students in developing nations. During a speech by Amber Graner, associate web editor for Linux New Media, she referred to Ubuntu — a Linux distribution — being distributed at a farmer’s market as “organic software.”
UCSB at SCALE 9x
One Laptop per Child, a nonprofit group that seeks to provide children with rugged laptops for educational use, was present at SCALE 9x. UCSB students from collaboration between the computer science and education departments hosted a booth at the event, allowing attendees to use the damage-resistant, child-intuitive XO laptops which run a Linux distribution called Sugar that is designed for young learners.
According to Hannah Anderson, president of the UCSB chapter of OLPC, the group is working to get laptops into local schools in Santa Barbara in order to improve the student’s exposure to technology.
“We’re having meetings with these teachers to see how they can use [the XO computers] in their [classroom], how we can help them integrate them so it’s not overwhelming.”
The laptops are designed to be used in areas with poor access to Internet and are built to be especially sturdy to protect them from the wear-and-tear that comes standard with children. A hand-cranked charger can be used to power the devices.
Caryl Bigenho, a support volunteer for OLPC Sugar Labs, gave a speech on how people could volunteer to help with the project.
The Future: SCALEing Up
According to Beach, the expo has grown by an average rate of 5 to 15 percent every year and does not seem to be letting up. This year, 1,800 badges were printed — a 20 percent increase from SCALE 8x.
SCALE 9x was held this year at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel due to outgrowing its previous venue, and may have to find a larger venue for next year as well. As the community grows, SCALE will have to do the same.