Volunteers have a great tradition in computing. (Photo by Scott Merrill for Ohio LinuxFest.)
As far back as the 1950s, hobbyists and volunteers had computer magazines devoted to their interest, from Popular Science to Datamation. These were mainly engineers looking to solve problems faster, and faster.
By the 1970s groups like the Homebrew Computer Club and Boston Computer Society were helping to drive the PC revolution. Magazines like Byte featured top-notch writers like Jerry Pournelle. Hobbyist-oriented trade shows like the West Coast Computer Faire prospered.
Then, with the 1981 launch of the IBM PC it all went corporate.
Now those old days are coming back, thanks to Linux. Analysts may downplay the importance of events like the Ohio LinuxFest, which has its fourth run September 30 in Columbus. They would be making a mistake.
The Ohio event is one of at least three regional Linux events, all volunteer-organized, on the annual calendar. The Southern California Linux Expo is in February, at the Westin LA Airport, and the LinuxFest Northwest is in April, in Bellingham, Washington. They're hoping for a throng of 1,000 in Columbus.
One of the volunteers on the Ohio event planning team is Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier, who formerly wrote right here and is now editorial director of Linux.Com. Joe has been a self-confessed "Linux geek" since 1999, and he's one of my heroes.
As a computer journalist, I'm often in the position of a sportswriter, covering people who do things I can't do myself. These are the people who really make things happen. Their demands, their desires, and their time have driven computing forward since the very beginning. They are the true founts of innovation.
Businesses devoted to making money, either from open source or closed source, don't always admit that it's the volunteers that drive the train, but they do. And the amount of excitement within the Linux volunteer community today should give anyone who believes in closed source pause.
It's all on display at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in just a few weeks. It may not be the place to pick up girls, but it is where you're most likely to see the future.