Linux in the Hackerspace

I wish I could say I’ve spent the past few months while I wasn’t posting living it up in the Mexican Riviera. Sitting on the beach while cute girls brought me exotic refreshments until the sun sets over the Carribean Sea every day. OK, I did do that for one week. Not months, though. And it was completely awesome.

I’ve been working with some other amazing folks here in Richmond to help transition ownership and (pseudo) management of the hack.rva (, the Richmond Hackerspace. The two people who started the space have both moved to other cities for work. So instead of letting it folk, 4 of us stood up and took over the reins.

As someone who isn’t a natural “hacker”, I’ve found it interesting to see what the people who have decided to make their own things use as an operating system to get the job done. Happily, Linux is king, far and away. But it’s not nearly in the way my “Enterprise” mind envisioned when I was going in. A few of my observations.

  • Upstream is the norm, even when it isn’t required. I forgot that most of the people who make up Hackerspaces and similar communities are hobbyists. They may or may not work in IT for a career. So they use what is available and right in front of them. Hello Ubuntu and Fedora.
  • There is a lot of room for a Linux distribution to come in and help these communities if one ever decided to make it a priority. From helping to build architecture and project-specific spins of a distribution (Raspberry Pi anyone?!), to just showing enthusiastic hobbyists what is out there ready to be consumed. This is a hugely under served market that is no longer underground.

I immediately think to Fedora (my affiliation, but the ideas are the same for any community-based distro), and how its community could help the hackers and makers. The thoughts I came up with were pretty simple.

  • Be there in ISO – Hackers and makers are conditioned to use whatever is in front of them to make some pretty awesome contraptions.  If it’s a Fedora install disk or thumbdrive, then they’re going to use Fedora (provided it gets the job done).
  • Be there in PERSON – Many hackers and makers don’t use Linux all day, every day. They’re hobbyists. That is where the hacking part of the equation can cause frustration and slow down their creative process. Being represented within these spaces and showing a few best practices would go a long way. Helping to broaden their horizon and show them what technologies are out there that they don’t know about would go even further. In my own hackerspace, I will be building out a pretty comprehensive Cobbler server to help speed up installs for people’s  test bed systems. A small thing, but doing away with DVDs and thumbdrives… priceless.
  • Concentrate on “alternative” architectures. Work out a deal with Beagleboard or someone similar to include a Fedora install disk or thumbdrive in the box. ARM, crazily, may well be the way to the future. Again, if it’s in front of them and they know it’s easy, that distribution is going to win. guaranteed.

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