Linux Against Poverty: the mother of all install fests!

Submitted by Lynn Bender on Sun, 02/01/2009 - 12:00am

GeekAustin meets The HeliOS Project. The story of an event:

About a year ago, Michelle asked me how she could obtain computers for the Burmese refugees she was helping (story and story). She didn't have a lot of money to throw at it, and no ready sponsors, so the whole thing would have to be done on the cheap. Quite a few friends offered to donate computers. However, most of the machines ran older versions of Windows, and even though most of the machines probably wouldn't have the CPU and RAM to run the current version, buying Windows licenses to update 50 computers was out of the question. Besides, if you're going to give a free computer to a person, why not give them a free operating system as well -- especially if they have no money.

As a solution, I decided that we would hold a massive Linux install fest. I'd take advantage of the GeekAustin network, take donations for computers, take over a club for the day, get a room full of my Linux loving buddies, and install Linux on all the machines. No doubt we'd get enough machines for the refugees, and anything left over, we'd donate to folks who needed computers. Michelle came up with a catchy name for the event -- Linux Against Poverty.

Although we mentioned it to a few friends, both Michelle and I were already committed to other projects. Frankly, there were also a lot of operational details that would have to be worked out. This would be a little more complicated than a GeekAustin party. The project was put on the back burner.

Enter The HeliOS Project

A few months back, I heard the kerfuffle about the AISD school teacher who chastised a student for passing out Linux CDs (Omar's coverage). The CDs had come from a local fellow and Linux advocate -- Ken Starks. While discussing the story with him, I learned that Ken founded and leads an organization, The HeliOS Project, which takes old computers, installs Linux on them, and donates them to disadvantaged children in Central Texas. In 2007, they built and placed 228 computers, and in 2008, bumped that number up over 325. Ken also told me that, unfortunately, for every one computer they place, they have requests for three. (Omar's coverage)

This got me thinking about the install fest again. Austin has an abundance of Linux advocates who'd take a day of to install Linux on a stack of machines, and every company I visit seems to have a stack of older Dells, decommissioned and waiting to be hauled off. With a lot of folks pitching in, we could help Ken and the HeliOS Project get these machines to the kids who can use them.

Linux Against Poverty is on!

The event is Saturday, August 1st, so you won't have to take the day off. The event will be held at GeekAustin favorite downtown hangout, Union Park. Because the event is on a Sunday afternoon, there will be plenty of places to park; and because Union Park is absolutely huge, HeliOS can set up a regular assembly line.

Because they been setting up machines for several years now, and have it down to an art, The HeliOS Project will be managing the operational details of the install fest. Because we have the big Austin tech phonebook and megaphone, GeekAustin will be helping to get the word out and coordinating sponsors.

Every company and individual that donates computers, and every person who helps with the install fest, will get a mention on the Linux Against Poverty site as well as on GeekAustin. Better yet, you get the good feeling of knowing that you've helped your fellow Austinites in a big way.

This is one where everyone wins.

Linux Against Poverty
1PM, Saturday, August 1, 2009
Location and Further details forthcoming.

For sponsorship opportunities and press info:
Lynn Bender (

For computer donations and volunteer opportunities at Linux Against Poverty:
Ken Stark, The HeliOS Project (