Larry Cafiero is sitting in his cluttered office in the Santa Cruz Mountains looking nothing like a revolutionary.
Friendly bearded face. Casual blue jeans. Comfy work shirt with the little penguin logo.
Yeah, penguin logo. See, Cafiero is a Linux guy. Maybe you know one â€” or a Linux woman. Maybe you know that to love Linux is to live Linux â€” that you don’t just use free and open-source software, you embrace it and evangelize it. Some more than others.
For his part, Cafiero is leading a revolution in the redwood-ringed town of Felton. He’s been inspired by others around the country and with them he’s dubbed the effort “Lindependence 2008,” a scheme hatched to turn Felton into an all-Linux enclave.
“There was this Nikon ad a couple of years ago where they gave digital cameras to this small town in South Carolina,” Cafiero, 50, says, “and it was like, well, what if we gave Linux to a small town?”
And so Cafiero met with the town business association and the chamber of commerce. He sent letters to the town’s residents. He tacked up posters and handed out fliers at the weekly farmers’ market along Highway 9: Come to the church hall. Learn about free and open-source software. Change your life. OK, your operating system, anyway.
And they came. On three days in July they came from Felton. They came from Scotts Valley. They came from Watsonville and Oakland and who knows from where else?
“This is kind of like the Woodstock phenomenon,” Cafiero says. Except there was no mud or naked people. “It sort of went area-wide. The idea of it just converting the town kind of went out the window.”
Woodstock. It’s an apt image because the Linux community â€” a catch phrase for backers of the many Linux-based operating systems and the open-source applications that run on them â€” has a certain hippy-dippy feel to it. Instead of free love, it’s about free software. The programs are designed and tweaked by volunteers who want to make the software better. And once they’re finished, they give them away to all who want them.
Linux is not just a technology. It’s a belief system. It’s about sharing and helping one another through vast user groups. It’s about increasing access to computers among the poor. (The software is free and generally can run on older, as in surplus, computers.) It’s about sticking it to the man â€” particularly the man in Redmond responsible for Microsoft’s operating systems, which command 90 percent of the market.
“Where do you find a movement that doesn’t have greed behind it?” says Bob Lewis, 68, a Lindependence foot soldier from Felton who stopped by Cafiero’s office as we talked.
And let’s face it, in the cold, calculating world of technology, we could use a few movements that are powered by something other than money. The idea seems to be resonating in Felton and beyond.
Cafiero became a believer in 2006 when he was running as the Green Party candidate for state insurance commissioner. He was moaning about having to shell out hundreds of dollars to buy Photoshop to prepare his campaign brochures. A party official told him about GIMP, a free application that runs on Linux machines and would pretty much do the same thing. Now he’s decided to spread the word.
On two weekend days and one weeknight in July, dozens of the curious became converts in the Felton Presbyterian Church hall. Cafiero, who splits his time between copy editing at the Santa Cruz Sentinel and providing tech support for businesses running open-source software, says the Lindependence forces handed out about 300 CD-ROMs loaded with free programs.
Jason Gervich, of Soquel, had struggled trying to make the switch to Linux on his own. But after picking up some tips and tech support at one of the Felton events, he says he’s up and running.
“The philosophy behind it is very important to me,” says Gervich, 61. “The idea of people working together, a world community, to build products that are useful to people.”
A Linux users group has formed in Felton. Cafiero says he’s working on a handbook to help other towns put on similar events. Beaverton, Ore., will hold a Lindependence rally next month.
Yes, the early success pleases Cafiero.
“Why is it so important?” Cafiero asks. “It’s the idea that it’s an aspect of freedom. You have the freedom to use what you want to use on your computer. And even the choice not to use it.”
Spoken like a true revolutionary.
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