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A FLISOL critic

Once again, I was invited by several different groups to be present at FLISOL, a quite interesting phenomenon: FLISOL (Latin-american Free Software Installation Festival) is s very large-scale, very loosely coordinated thing put together for five years already in over 200 cities in basically every Latin American country. Go to the FLISOL page, it is quite interesting to try to understand it!

Now, I don’t like FLISOL. I managed to avoid it in 2005 and 2006; in 2007, I was present at a FLISOL, although I didn’t know beforehand it was the reason for the conference I was invited to. In 2008 and 2009 I took part for reasons I should not go into right now. This year, again, I will not be part of any of its activities (regardless of rumors to the contrary – I was invited to be present at a panel on ACTA, but I have not followed the topic enough to be aware of anything besides the very basic aspects, I have no authority to speak about it; I told the organizers I would like to be there as part of the audience, but not present the topic. And I am quite work-stressed, so I doubt I’ll make it). Why am I against FLISOL?

FLISOL itself, as I said, is a positive and interesting phenomenon, and I have enjoyed the conference cycles which often happen together with it. What I am against is installfests – In my opinion, in the stage we are at today, instead of promoting Free Software, an install-fest just works against it.

Free Software –Linux-based distributions at least– is widely known already, as a concept, even though most people dare not come anywhere close to it. Few people outside our already consolidated groups recognize programs such as the Mozilla and OpenOffice suites as being also Free Software, and valuable, quality alternatives for their everyday needs in the environments they currently use.

If we need to show how to install and understand the GNU/Linux ecosystem to people who have not got close, it is not IMHO to end users. Installing a GNU/Linux system is easy enough for anybody interested in doing it, or at least, for him to request a one-on-one help session, handholding and understanding the basic ideas. We need, in any case, for the computer corner shop technicians to be somewhat acquinted, at least with the basics, at least with one popular distribution (and with the fact that there are many, and that they are different).

People who have not had the curiosity and courage to try to install Linux by themselves do not need to be evangelized (a verb that should be out of our vocabularies by now, as that phase in our movement should be over by now) – End users have simple needs: Things should work, and be as surprise-free as possible. They don’t want to depend on a specific time-starved person (or even on a small group of people, all of which have a sanctity delirium/aura). When they go to technical support, they expect the problem to be solved – Not even understanding what was wrong. End users are willing to pay a small fee to anybody to help them solve their problems.

The key word is anybody. If we (myself, or me and my 10 friends who were there at the gathering, or any sufficiently defined small group) are the only support point for the OS, it is no good. Online support forums are not good either, in my experience, as the end user will prefer just lugging the computer to the nearest technician and get it fixed. Even if fixed means just installing one more readily-available package (not to mention, of course, when an update breaks something).

I have witnessed, after an install fest, people walk very happy with their new system as a new toy. After a week or two, they cannot install the latest virus^Wscreen saver, or a legitimate program they need for their work. As it does not work, they take the computer to the technician… Who will end up formatting his system and installing something more usual.

On the other hand, some people prefer installing a dual-boot system – That guarantees the user will feel he is carrying some kind of moral superiority on his computer, and will often remember he has something Not Evil. This will often happen, of course, at boot time – When they see GRUB at boot time, and rush to select Windows before That Strange Thing starts up.

Anyway… Go ahead, install Free Software, enjoy the day. The conference cycles are usually interesting, and are the best part of it all — I’m not saying you should stop doing it. But I’d urge you to take the focus away from the mass-installs, which become often just lost work (even detrimental to furthering Free Software). Try to see things as a non-technically-interested user would. Try to design ways to get corner shop technicians interested. Maybe that can be useful in the long run.


Anonymous 2010-04-23 05:49:44

Why should the corner shop

Why should the corner shop technician be interested in supporting a Linux distribution which they have to give away for free (because “Linux is free, right?”) when they can sell Windows/MS Office/etc.?

After all, they have to make a living from it.

bigjocker 2010-04-23 06:42:06

You are being unfair

I think you are being unfair. FLISOL started as a big installfest, that’s true. But that was when installing linux was not easy. Right now it has evolved to a more conference style event: some people go to install free software, some go to hear lectures, some go to see movies. I thing that instead of discouraging people, we should promote more events like this.

Calling FLISOL a big installfest is plain wrong. Last year I gave a lecture on how to develop games using only Free Software tools, and installed those tools in a lot of the assistant’s computers. It’s not only about Linux, it’s about Free Software.

Heck, I even gave away OpenSolaris DVDs last year just for the fun of it.

gwolf 2010-04-26 07:32:14

Depends on how they operate where you live…

At least in Mexico (and other Latin American countries, where I have had the chance to verify this), smaller computer shops are basically the place where a technician solves your problems. They often sell mostly hardware, although will have some software available (but I’ve usually seen boxes of antiviral products, games and so on – It is quite rare to see them selling operating systems, office suites or similar).

Besides hardware, what the technician makes money off, however, is from offering his services – Most often, cleaning a computer, reinstalling it…

A technician sells his hardware- and software-skills – Much more than the products themselves. Thus, they are great candidates to promote Linux installations. The users will go to them (and gladly pay!) for a solid install that fulfills their needs, is virus-safe and all that.

leogg 2010-04-24 03:45:12


I agree.

But what you mention here is not the problem of FLISOL itself. We, as community, don’t have the ability to do a decent follow-up on people that installed free software on this kind of events.

Yes, we installed GNU/Linux on 100 computers… nice! But how many of these computers remain free after one, two or three months? Not to mention FLISOL+1 year?

The problem is not FLISOL, the problem here is what we do with all these brand new users.

Who will them poke when things go wrong? Or when they cannot install their favorite app or download and listen to the brand new single of that hot boy band of the moment?

Maybe we need to sit down and plan accordingly, and think of FLISOL not just as ‘a huge installfest’ and more like an opportunity to test our abilities to mentor and support a large crowd of new users and, maybe, gain a few new contributors to our community?

BTW, the coordinator of the 2010 FLISOL event in Nicaragua was recruited at the FLISOL 2008 event…. and that’s what FLISOL is all about. :)

RIVE 2010-04-22 20:01:38

My two cents about FLISOL.

Gunnar, now i understand your concern about installing Squeeze in FLISOL, you are right in that point, the novice wants a fully operational computer so i will install Lenny in the event.

I know that maybe, this is just a waste of time, but in Torreón even college students know very little about free software, if FLISOL can teach them what they are missing, the hours that I give to this event totally will be my payback.

tatica 2010-04-23 06:22:47

Cada país tiene el FLISoL que necesita

Mi inglés es nada menos que patético y el FLISoL es un evento de habla hispana… pese a eso, intentaré hacer un resumen en inglés para que los interesados lo lean:

——– Español ———— En cierta parte comparto tu opinión, pero hay algo que olvidas… el FLISoL es un evento que se hace con una idea, más no con una regla, quizá estas opinando con un conocimiento limitado de lo que sucede en el resto de las 250 sedes donde se aloja el FLISoL.

Mi experiencia posiblemente sea menor que la tuya, solo he organizado FLISoL-Caracas por los últimos 3 años y este es mi primer año en la organización Nacional de Venezuela, pero la verdad, es que si solo nos sentamos a escribir post de críticas, nos quejamos y no hacemos más que “teclear”, seguiremos igual.

El FLISoL Caracas (y no porque yo esté en el equipo) quizá es un ejemplo claro de lo que un FLISoL deba ser. Un evento de unificación, difusión, instalación y crecimiento. Un FLISoL debe comenzar siendo un Installfest, continuar luego hacia una difusión de proyectos locales y continuar para convertirse en un lugar de reunión para programadores / desarroladores / documentadores / diseñadores / etc; que sean capaces de tener un día como excusa para sentarse en la misma mesa y hacer “algo”.

Tu punto es muy válido… quizá de 200 personas solo 20 instalen, de esas solo 7 se unan a la comunidad, y de esas solo 2 se conviertan en “algo”… pero una playa se hace de los granos de arena, por ende, el FLISoL es un evento válido, que debe existir y debe crecer.

——– English ———— I can share half of your opinion, but there is something you forget… FLISoL is an event based on an idea, but not in a rule, perhaps your opinion is done with a limited knowledge of what happens in the rest of the 250 cities where FLISoL is held.

My experience may be lower than yours, because I have only organized FLISoL-Caracas for the past three years and this is my first year at National Organization in Venezuela, but the truth is that if we sit down to write a post of criticism, we complain or we only “type”, everything will stay the same.

FLISoL Caracas (and not because I am on the team) perhaps is a clear example of what a FLISoL should be. An event of unification, distribution, installation and growth. A FLISoL should be an Installfest to begin with, continue then to spread local projects and after that, become into a meeting place for programmers / developers / doc / designers / whatever, where they will be able to have a day to sit in the same table and do “something.”

Your point is valid… perhaps of 200 people only 20 will install, only seven of those will join the community, and only two become into “something”… but a beach is made of grains of sand, FLISoL is a valid event, must exist and grow.

Tshirtman 2010-04-22 08:04:00


While I understand your concerns about some work being lost, and the fact that users interested in linux should be able to install it alone, I can tell you that the ubuntu-party in France is gathering thousands (yes) of people every six months just in Paris (there are other less successful out of Paris), and while the installfest (which was the main thing at the begining) is now only one thing out of a lot of events (conf, demonstrations, public lessons for newbes or advanced users…), it is still a big part of it and a lot of users come there to get a working system, sometime because while they are competent enough to get a working, they feel not confident enough to make the step, or they had a too complex use case or unsuported hardware for them to handle it.

So I think most of our work is useful. Because a lot of users get back to us from one to another party and they still use and like the system, even if they stay basic users.