Linux geeks getting real, with pizza

It's like MTV's The Real World, but with computer geeks.

The idea -- which Linux operating system vendor Red Hat is turning into reality -- is certainly original. Send six of the winners of a computer-programmer contest out to a beach house for a week, all expenses paid, and broadcast what happens onto the Internet for all to see.

"They're going to be surrounded by other geeks interested in their same hobby, and they'll have a nice T1 line in there, and plenty of pizza," said Red Hat spokesperson Melissa London. "It seems like a good recipe for interesting stuff." Geek World, as the contest is called, is patterned after The Real World, the MTV show that puts young, self-involved show-biz types together in a house and watches the sparks fly.

But these temporary stars will be devotees of Linux, the alternative operating system that has gathered a significant following within the software development community by allowing anyone to add to or improve its source code. Needless to say, these are not necessarily folks who get out much. In fact, Red Hat says it came up with the idea so its developers could at least watch somebody else have fun while they endlessly hammer out code in the office. "A guy who works long hours here went outside during the day to get lunch, and saw the sun," said London. "He said, 'I went outside and the moon was on fire.'"

All kidding aside, the event could be a useful publicity stunt for Red Hat. To win, users will have to find a graphic of a gnome footprint on Red Hat's Web site, five of the 10 days from April 26 to May 5. The company will randomly select six of the winners to be feted at Linux Expo on Saturday, May 22, followed by a week at a beach house in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. That's just a couple of miles from Red Hat headquarters in Durham. "We thought we'd send them out to the beach, since we're so near it and we never get to go there," London said.

There could be some complications, however. For one thing, some in the Linux community speculated that users, in their eagerness to find the gnome footprints, could easily crash Red Hat's servers. "I've got a script that will find the graphic for me, using pattern-matching. Why do it by brute force when you can just write something to do it for you?" said Linux programmer Mark Pruett, who says he'll try for the prize. "With all these hackers inundating their servers ... I suspect they'll be swamped."

And then, of course, there's the possibility that once these Linux-heads get together, they'll end up paying more attention to the fancy computer gear and the fast T1 Internet connection than they do to sun, sand and surf. "We'll draw the shades," Pruett predicted. "You don't want that glare on the monitor, it can be a real distraction. If we're lucky, it'll be overcast and we'll be able to get some work done."

Take me to the Linux Lounge