The Foundations of a Community: Western PA Linux User Group – Part One

WPLUG is the Western Pennsylvania Linux Users Group, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. The official founding of the group is dated to September 26, 1997 at 11:37:08 EDT. I was not there as I was still a frustrated yet loyal Microsoft Windows user. Instead, a California University of Pennsylvania student named Jeremy Densil and a professional IT couple Alex and Jennifer Landefeld agreed on the name and where the meeting will be over email at the for-mentioned moment. The three of them formed the first board. None of them knew what a Linux User Group meeting was supposed to be like. I’ve been told that the first few meetings were in coffee shops. It was just a bunch of friends chatting it up about all things geeky. To their surprise, it was getting crowded at the coffee shop, so they move on to meeting rooms in libraries. Jennifer worked at Carnegie Mellon who booked a room during a quiet Saturday about a year after that fateful email.

The time was ripe for Linux and free software in the late 1990’s. Netscape formed in February 1998 to fight the Microsoft in the browse war. Oracle, the proprietary database, supported Linux as a platform in October 1998. Sun Microsystems released Star Office in November 1998, the previous name of the Microsoft-crushing Oracle Open Office suite. Red Hat went public in August 1999 and quickly acquired Cygnus, the makers of the Cygwin – a bash shell with GNU tools for Windows. Meanwhile Apache gained and maintained at least 50% market share in the web server market, an achievement which Microsoft has never been able to do.

Indeed it was history in the making and the world was starting to pay attention. O’Reilly Media published Eric S. Raymond’s “Cathedral and  the Bazaar.” PBS filmed a documentary called “Code Rush” about Netscape’s race to open its browser code.  HP sponsored a theatre documentary Revolution OS captured the relationship between free software, open source, the Linux kernel, and the American business sector during the dot-com boom.

With all of the excitement going on, Western PA Linux Users Group was experiencing growing pains. I started showing up in the Fall of 1999 after buying my first Linux desktop. Jeremy had moved to the West Coast and Jennifer and Alex were soon to follow. This is what technology people did during the boom: California gold rush 2.0! Jonathan Billings, a Carnegie Mellon employee at the time, volunteered to reserve the room so all was good.

Also, in 1999, there was a considerable amount of Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt concerning if legacy codes would bankrupt world economies and cripple technology-dependent infrastructure. Being a technology leader, the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon made the prudent decision to improve off-business hours security. This meant that free passage into the building was not possible for those attending WPLUG meetings in late 1999. It was labor intensive since we to escort late comers into the room. Still, we made it work from 1999-2007.

Meanwhile Microsoft at the turn of the Millennium, they were starting to get scared. Here Microsoft states NT is a threat to Linux in 1998. Then in 1999 Bill Gates claims the impact is “fairly limited” from Linux. Why all of the double-talk out of Microsoft? Answer: US vs Microsoft.

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One Response to The Foundations of a Community: Western PA Linux User Group – Part One

  1. Pingback: Techrights » Links 31/7/2010: Western PA Linux User Group, Android, and OLPC Goodwill

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