Systems 2004 -- Report
After a two year hiatus, Debian (along other Free Software projects like Skolelinux, KDE, OpenOffice.org and the various BSDs) had a booth again at the Systems expo in Munich, thanks to the C&L publishing house who sponsored the Free Projects Area. The booth was operated by the Munich Debian crowd, namely Michael Banck, Jens Schmalzing, Robert Lemmen, Erich Schubert, Michael Ablassmeier, Richard Atterer, Achim Bohnet and Simon Richter. The booth itself was pretty small, only one half of a round table, about one square meter in total, but at least there was some wall space around where we could place one Ayo poster, along with another one right above the table. Unfortunately, our booth was located quite in the background and was not very easily visible from the main conference corridor, so over the days we added some stuff like a sign with a big, A4 sized 'debian' on it and an A0 poster version of the Debian flyer next to the one from Ayo (those Ayo posters are very nice, but they lack a bit in contrast, so they are hard to identify as Debian from far away). As promotion material for passing visitors, we handed out Debian flyers and LinuxTag DVDs (the latter for a voluntary donation, when we felt people would only throw it away eventually anyway) and we sold the above mentioned Ayo posters (quite some people requested T-Shirts as well, though). All the merchandise/marketing material was kindly provided/shipped by Credativ.
Despite NetBSD being around as well, the Debian booth had the coolest piece of hardware, namely a Mac SE/30, running Debian stable on a Linux-2.2 kernel. Jens Schmalzing got it installed and running over time, so we were finally able to showcase it. As a general-purpose demonstration/information machine, we gladly accepted a Shuttle XPC box with a pretty big LCD which Shuttle donated to all the free projects. Additionally, Michael Banck's ThinkPad was around most of the time. While the Mac was of course running text mode (debroster most of the time), the other boxes ran the Debian GNOME desktop. For some time, we also demonstrated Debian GNU/Hurd running the Xfce desktop on both the Shuttle and the ThinkPad.
Jens Schmalzing and Michael Banck went to the expo area on Sunday and started building up the booth. However, the Shuttle boxes had not arrived yet, so this was pretty much limited to setting up the SE/30 and depositing the information material in the storage area behind the booth. Systems started for real on Monday and Michael was pretty busy setting up our booth a bit more at the beginning. Some time later, Robert Lemmen arrived and we started to shift our attention to the visitors. Attendance was pretty low. Monday morning though, so we started to worry Robert came along for naught. He then invented our guerrilla marketing campaign, moving our presence to the edge of the Free Projects Area, next to the conference corridor. He put a chunk of flyers and two empty DVD covers on the prospect case, stood next to it and started talking to passing expo visitors. This proved very successful, and we were quite busy for the rest of the day (or rather, week). Luckily, Erich Schubert arrived at around noon and had time to install Debian on the Shuttle which were delivered by then. Once somebody wanted to know something specific or people found out about our booth by theirselves, one of us moved back to the booth. It turned out that if at least one visitor was standing at the booth, more people got interested and stopped by as well.
The rest of the week went pretty smooth, we managed to have at least two guys for almost all the time. There was a quite higher attendance and interest than we projected, so we were usually pretty busy answering one guy's answers while other visitors patiently waited for their turn. The posters sold very well and a lot of people donated some money in exchange for a DVD as well, so collected a good amount of money for Debian. Besides that, it was much fun to man the booth, albeit exhausting. Of course, by far the most frequently asked question was: 'When will Sarge be released?', followed by a small amount of 'what about amd64?' and 'wow, it exists?!?' questions when people saw Debian GNU/Hurd running. The rest of the questions were a variety of more specific ones. It was interesting to note that although Systems is a general-purpose computer expo (and looking around, almost all displayed computers ran Windows), except for very few visitors everybody knew about Linux and considerably more than half of the passing crowd knew about Debian at least from hearsay. Also, a lot of people (probably having read the announcement on the events mailing list or Debian Weekly News) were die-hard Debian users/admins who just came by to say 'good work' or talk about how they use/love/hack Debian. Also, Andreas Barth, Rene Engelhard and Norbert Tretkowski visited us briefly at the booth.
On Tuesday and Thursday, the Debian crowd got together after Systems in the Augustinerkeller right in the heart of Munich. It was quite crowded (eleven people in total) and the mood was really good on Tuesday, the first people arrived at around 7 PM and Achim and Michael finally left the pub at 11:30 PM after some beers. On Thursday, Jens Schmalzing, Siggi Langauf and Michael Banck were around together with the KDE and Skolelinux guys.
Overall, the Systems was both much for fun and exhausting than we expected, and we hope we will get some new Debian users soon(and maybe even some new Debian GNU/Hurd users, who knows). Thanks to all the people helping with the booth, most notable the non-Debian Developers Robert Lemmen, Achim Bohnet and Michael Ablassmeier. And again a big thanks to C&L for donating the booth in the first place, as well as Credativ for the merchandise and Shuttle for lending their hardware. It seems that for next year, Systems might considerably enlarge the Free Software area, so hopefully we will be able to present us even better then and other projects like GNOME or the Mozilla and Apache foundations will be around as well.