Friday, March 4, 2011

Promoting the use of Open Technology inside of IBM

IBM is strongly in favour of Open Standards, I think that this is partly due to the fact that IBM had a near-death experience in the 1980s caused by an over-reliance on proprietary technology, but it is also due to the fact that almost all of IBM's customers also buy IT equipment and services from other vendors and so it is vitally important to be able to interoperate freely.

It would make little sense for IBM to be preaching the importance of openness in IT to customers unless they were also practising openness and freedom in their own IT infrastructure. As I explained in my presentation to OSSBarCamp  last year, IBM employees have a choice of different operating systems to use on their work desktop machine. Since many people simply stick with the default operating system on their assigned PC (usually Microsoft Windows), a number of Linux fans in the company run a number of events to try to help build awareness of the choices available.

Last year we ran an event called Open Client Awareness Week where employees at a variety of different IBM locations throughout the globe ran a stand where they gave out DVDs with live bootable images of the IBM Open Client layer running on top of a variety of different flavours of Linux. The people operating the stand were all using Linux for their daily work and so they were able to advise interested employees about which distribution might suit them best and the advantages/dis-advantages of making the switch from Windows. They were also able help propose solutions to problems that people had encountered while making the switch.

I helped organise the stand held on the Mulhuddart campus where I am based. I must say that I was amazed with the level of interest we received. Almost all people passing by the stand had heard of the Linux Open Client. A number of people mentioned that they were considering trying out Linux on their laptop, but they were worried that they would not know whom to ask for help if they ran into problems - these people were reassured to know that there were employees on the same site as them who had experience of Linux and were willing to help newcomers adjust.

This year, instead of repeating the same format, we organised an event called Open Technology Awareness Month. The differences were:
  • Instead of simply concentrating on promoting Linux, we broadened the scope to also include promoting the use of the Firefox browser and the Lotus Symphony document editors. The hope was that employees who were reluctant to replace their entire Windows operating system, might still try  these open tools.
  • The length of the event was increased from a week to a month. This did not mean that each site ran a stand for the entire month, but it meant that each site could pick the dates within the month that best suited them to run the stand.
In order to make things as easy as possible for the local teams, the corporate team provided each local team with a package of goodies to give out. Each pack contained 25 of each of the following (but since there are a lot of people working on the Mulhuddart campus, we asked for 3 packs i.e. 75 of each):
  • Posters that we could stick up around the site advertising when and where our stand would be located.
  • DVDs with a live boot of 32-bit Ubuntu Linux fully configured with the IBM layer i.e. all of the applications commonly needed by IBM employees to do their work.  These DVDs had a fancy label so they looked very professional.
  • DVDs with a live boot of 64-bit Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the IBM layer.
  • CDs with a copy of the latest version of Lotus Symphony editors for a variety of
  • Decals for people to stick on their laptops with a variety of open technology related logos e.g. Ubuntu, Firefox, "Linux Inside" etc.
  • Information leaflets giving people information about the DVD/CDs that we were giving out as well as general information about open technologies.
As you would expect the free goodies were very popular. However, some were more popular than others which is probably an indication of the relative popularity of various technologies.
  • As with last year, the Ubuntu DVDs were by far the most popular. By the end of the first day were were running low on supplies and I had to ask the release lab if they could make up an extra batch of 40 DVDs so that we didn't run out.
  • The Red Hat DVDs were also popular because if the fact that they contained a 64 bit OS. On the second day the Red Hat  DVDs started to become almost level in popularity. This may have been due to the fact that at that stage we were giving out Ubuntu DVDs with a plain label, while the Red Hat DVDs still had the fancy label. For the third and final day of the stand we had to get the release lab to produce an additional 30 of each variant of the live boot (this meant we gave out a total of 145 Ubuntu and 105 Red Hat DVDs)
  • While Lotus Symphony was not quite as popular, we eventually managed to give away all 75 which was in contrast with last year when we only managed to give out 4 copies of Lotus Symphony over 3 days (although we were strongly encouraging people to take the Lotus Symphony CD and only allowing them to take one of the live boot DVDs if they convinced us that they really were going to make use of it).
  • The decals were also reasonably popular. We gave away almost all of the Ubuntu decals and about half of each of the other decals.
  • We found it very hard to get people to take one of the leaflets. The most popular leaflet was the one explaining how to install from the Ubuntu live boot DVD, but we only gave away 10 of this leaflet. Unfortunately the rest of them ended up in the recycling bin.
In summary, I was pleasantly surprised at how popular the stand was and to see that almost all of the visitors to the stand already knew quite a bit about the IBM Open Client. Most of the questions we got were quite detailed relating to support of specific hardware rather than basic questions about differences between Linux and Windows.

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