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Interview with Chris DiBona:
How does it feel to be a Linux evangelist?

By Fernando Ribeiro Corrêa
Originally published at OLinux

First of all, check his web site Now delight yourself as Olinux did, while getting to know the personality of Chris DiBona, the President of Silicon Valley Linux Users Group, Chief Linux Evangelist at VALinux and Grant Chair at Linux International.

Olinux: Tell about your career: college, jobs, personal life (age, birth place, hobbies)

Olinux:When did you started working with Linux? What was your initial motivation and how do you see it nowadays?

DiBona: I first discovered linux when I was a computer science student at George Mason university. I had to write a client server application under linux that used IPC. I start development in the schools Sun lab and found that , when I could get a station, they were very slow.

I installed linux on my machine at home (a 486-25) and went to town. Linux was responsive and beautiful and I was able to complete the homework very quickly and have a good time doing it. I also learned a ton about my computer by doing this.

This was in late 1994, I think. Nowadays, I use Linux for everything from email (I get 500+ emails a day), surfing, and to a lessor degree , video games. I still program under linux for fun, too. I see it as a complete system, now. I have a machine on the net now that hosts my personal site ( and a number of sites for my friends, all running linux of course.

Olinux: How does it feel to be a Linux Evangelist and live professionally for the cause?

DiBona: It undoubtably the coolest job I've ever had. I also get to work with some of the coolest people in computing, both here at VA and in the Linux world at large. I consider myself very lucky.

Olinux: What are the main personal achievements on your career? cite some highlights? did you get any awards as an individual or representing a company?

DiBona: Great career acheivments would include my adminisstration of VA's community outreach program during our public offering. I felt it went really well and am proud for my part in it. AT VA I've had the chance to work with the different departments and help staff them with talented smart people. Other than that, I recieved an award from Linux Journal for my role as co-editor of the book "Open Sources" and I was able to help the EFF with the CDVD cases in California and New York. Also, I've really enjoyed my work with Linux International.

Olinux: How was created? Who was the group and what were the ideas that guided start? How do you explain the fast growth of Show us some brief facts/work/people that contributed to this extreme progress?

DiBona: SVLUG started 12 years agao as a unix on pc group, concentrating on SCO and XENIX and the rest. It was started by a fellow named Dan Kioka, who was the president of the group. Dan ran the group for 10 years when Ben Spade took over as the president and I as the Vice President about three years agao. When Ben took over, Ian Kluft found us space at Cisco to meet and the larger venue, combined with teh growth of linux and the speakers we had access to in the valley all contributed to the growth of the group. About 1 year ago I took over the presidency from Ben and it's been pretty easy going ever since. The biggest challenge on rnning such a large group is mostly the venue, Cisco has been very good about this though.

Olinux: What are your responsibilities at VALinux and How did you become Linux International webmaster and what were you main accomplishments as webmasters?

DiBona: I bacame the LI webmaster and then the grant chair mostly because I was willing to do the work. There are a lot of jobs in the linux community that can be done by anyone provided they are willing to put the time in. John Mark Walker is now the webmaster for LI and I get to concentrate on making the grant system at LI work better now that LI is incorporating and such.

Olinux: How is organized? Try to give us an idea of how works? How is the coordinated and managed (servers, directories, contribution, staff payment)? How many people are involved? What are the main problems? Does has a central office somewhere or a HQ?

DiBona: SVLUG is all volunteer, the servers were donted by VA back before I even worked for them. There is no treasury, and no membership fees. Our group's insurance comes from our parent group the Silicon Valley Computer Society. As far as coordination goes, it's jsut a mailing list that we all subscribe to and we all basically work together to get teh meeting happeneing. The installfests are run by Brian , I'm responsible for facilities, Sam handles speakers, Michael and Marc handle the machine and mailing lists and we have a team of web people (Amy, Lisa and Heather) who handle site updates. Main problems is that everyone is very busy with our day jobs, which can lead to some frustrating times, but the meetings still come off, so I'm happy.

Olinux: How many people have subscribed its mail discussion list? how does users help SVSLUG? And how user are motivate to help? all the staff is compounded by volunteers?

DiBona: There are about a thousand on the announce list and 200+ on the discussion list. About 250 people come to each meeting.

Olinux: In your opinion, what ae the most notable results either of SVLUG or work promoting Linux platform?

DiBona: Putting a friendly face on linux is the important job of LUGs and LI in genereal. It a great thing to be able to tell anyone who emails me or calls me regarding Linux to refer them to a local person who just wants to help out. That's one of the things that really elevates Linux.

Olinux: What are the companies that sponsor or maintain What is VALinux's role on the site?

DiBona: The full list of sponsors and their roles can be found here: sponsors. Quite a who's who! Anyhow, VA's role is donating my time, bandwidth and a machine and a ton of t-shirts now and then. Any usergroup on the planet should contact me and we'll get boxes of stuff for you to give away at your meetings.

Olinux: What are the programs (database & scripts languages) use for development? How difficult is to manage this database?

DiBona: Mailman for the mailing list, apache and perl for the web site. It's pretty easy to handle.

Olinux: How many daily page views and what is the number and type of servers used to keep online?

DiBona: Gosh, I'm not sure really about the page views, runs on one pIII 500mhz system with 128mb of ram. The old machine, a 486 was slashdotted three times with no problems. The current machine has an uptime of 210 days!

Olinux: In your opinion, what improvements and support are needed to make Linux a wide world platform for end users?

DiBona: More video-games :-) Well, I'd say further development of the desktop metaphors like gnome and KDE and then we'll get the desktop the way we own the internet server market.

Olinux: IDC has showed that despite the tendency of Linux to become the next dominant OS by 2004, still the expected revenues generated are regarded extremely low. does it means that Linux won't ever play a major whole as a commercial and profitable option for companies?

DiBona: Well, VA just completed a 50.7 million dollar quarter and we're not going to stop. I can't comments for the red hats and such of the world, but we intend to do very well. Linux will continue to grow, and the linux industry will contine to grow with it.

Olinux: What are your forecasts about Linux growth? Do you have any breaking news about linux mass deployment in china or any other country?

DiBona: Nope, Linux is and will continue to be everywhere. More so with everyday. Like John "maddog" Hall says: "Linux is inevitable".

Copyright © 2000, Fernando Ribeiro Corrêa
Published in Issue 58 of Linux Gazette, October 2000

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