CeBIT 2003 -- Report

The Debian presentation at this year's CeBIT was sponsored by LinuxLand International this year as part of their own booth. Michael 'grisu' Bramer did all the planning and organization prior to the exhibition. Although many people offered help staffing the booth, we decided to do a one man show, since we only had a small presentation table with a single computer and internet access.

I arrived the day before opening, and got impressed very fast. Neither had I been at CeBIT nor in Hannover before, but I did like the international flair of the exhibition and the exhibition center.

The computer of the demonstration point had been brought by the people from LinuxLand, too. I just needed to set up a proper Debian system. I decided to use the stable release and apt-pinning (You might remember Anthony Towns' warning, that things will break, when libc6 moves to testing), but I had some problems with the graphics card. It was some kind of ATI 128 card, which was not supported by the version of XFree86 4.1 which is part of Debian stable. I tried to run it with the VESA and the framebuffer driver, but both times X crashed several times. Then I found out, that XFree86 4.2 in sarge (testing) does support this chipset with the ATI driver, and so I installed XFree86 from testing. However, this didn't solve the problem. I began to believe that the hardware has been damaged during transportation - I phoned the guy who used this machine daily, but he couldn't provide an advise either.

Luckily I had my brother's notebook with me. I already used it for Debian installation presentations during other events, because it is very easy to install Debian on it. If a visitor came up, saying that he would like to use Debian, but heard it would be so difficult to install, I could easily place him in front of the laptop, give him a CD and guide him through the installation, telling him the possible traps and why the installation is, like it is.

However, since X kept on crashing, I got a little bit panicked, and wrote a mail that it would be nice to get a replacement machine, because I would travel home on Sunday and didn't want to leave grisu a system of which I thought it had hardware problems.

I arrived at my sleeping place shortly before midnight. A nice former farm in a suburb of Hannover, owned by the parents of the Debian fan Johrrit Fahlke. It's a very nice place to stay. It is silent and you can see the stars. That's something you can't when you live in central Frankfurt.

Day 1: Wednesday, March 12th

I woke up by the farms cat greeting me ... with her claws ... already at 6 o'clock. My hosts, teachers at a school next to the exhibition area, took me there early, since I wanted to try a few ideas to get that machine running, I even tried a Knoppix generated configuration for X, but it failed as well.

Andreas Tille arrived very early, and tried to fix the X11 problem, but he also didn't succeed, because the computer decided to run stable for himself. Perhaps it only wanted to be touched by a real Debian developer, not just a guy with to much spare time and a self invented title.

Andreas installed his debian-booth package on the machine. It configures a nice x-planets background and gives you a couple of good configuration examples (e.g. for sudo).

I can't tell you how much visitors we had during this day, I even can't estimate their number. There were many people, who heard of Linux before, but didn't know anything about it. So I went to hall 11 (which is on the opposite of the area), where Klaus Knopper had his own cubicle at the common booth of the district Rheinland-Pfalz. He was very busy, but I got some boxes of his Knoppix CD, so we could give them to such people.

There were some visitors, who only wanted to tell us, how much they like Debian. There was even one person from Korea, who was a real fan. We discussed a little bit about i18n, and he considered showing up again, when grisu has arrived. He really wanted to help us, and so we thought, that he might want to start a Korean translation of the package descriptions.

Thomas Lange, the developer of FAI and several other developers showed up, Thomas left some FAI flyers, and we talked a little bit about it, since I try to convert the admins of our institute to Debian, which is not easy: They use Red Hat, because they always used Red Hat. LinuxLand gave Debian developers nice baseball caps and mousepads with our swirl for free as they showed up. Even a person from SuSE stopped by, and asked, if he might buy one.

Although our booth was in the corner of the hall, we had a good position. Opened by two sides, much people crossed it going to hall 5 (or the restrooms), and some stopped by at our booth. On the other side there was the Linux Forum, where some talks were held. So sometimes, if the talk was interesting, we were idle (and able to take a look at the talk, too), while our booth was very crowded after the talk ended. Luckily Andreas Tille stayed nearly the full time at the booth, and we had much to do, and demonstrated several issues to the visitors. Sometimes it looked more like a Debian booth, hosting LinuxLand.

After 5pm the halls emptied very fast, so we could talk a little bit with the guys in the open booth. Free projects, which didn't had the luck of big sponsorship, had the possibility to get a (part time) booth from Linux New Media (LNM). So I talked a little bit with some people from PHP, and took a small view at NetBSD.

I was very tired this evening, so I left early. Later that evening I gave my hosts the presents I brought with me: Ebblwoi (spoken applewoy) and a bembl, and we chatted a little bit, mainly why there are guys doing such good work, without getting payed in their free time. That was very nice.

Day 2: Thursday, March 13th

A nice thing was the exhibitions supply service. They sent girls with sandwiches, drinks and coffee to the booths (of course they were not cheap), and you could get bigger thermos of coffee, too.

On this day Alexander "formorer" Wirt showed up, and stayed a while at the booth with me as well as acting for Klaus Knopper, while Klaus had some important dates. Again we were quite busy, but this time we didn't had the opportunity to listen to the talks. However, later I heard that the keynote by Jon 'maddog' Hall was a highlight, and that one guy from Ximian gave a nice talk, why Microsoft's license politics are working for Ximian.

Later this day, when the hall became less crowded, I demonstrated two or three installation walk-throughs for interested visitors. After that I talked a little bit with people from GNOME. They are quite impressed by the Debian packages of GNOME, "which are very fast and stable but a little bit outdated", so we had a good conversation while eating. They love Debian (one them even wore a Debian T-Shirt from LinuxLand) and I like GNOME as well.

Day 3: Friday, March 14th

At this point I stopped writing my diary in the evening. I can't remember anything unusual happening during this day... Oh, wait! There is one funny thing to tell: LinuxLand sells a boxed Debian version. The boxes look very nice. A student, who already burnt Debian CDs, really wanted such a nice box, but could not afford buying one. LinuxLand gave much stuff away for addresses for their newsletter (they are still a company and want to make money), so Franz from LinuxLand made the joke, he could have one, if he would gave them his address, and I added the joke, that I would get a donation, because you can read on the box, that our project gets € 2.00. I don't know he understood, that we were joking, since he did both: He left his address and gave me € 2.00. ;)

I remember, how visitors changed on this Friday. There where not just business people, but also "normal" people and many students. Some stopped by to get their key signed by a Debian developer because they considered becoming a Debian developer as well. I complicated the things a little bit, since I am not a Debian developer (yet). But as far as I can remember, every time this happened, I found a Debian developer nearby.

Did I mention, that we had much questions, which were not Debian specific? Of course, there were Knoppix-related questions (I can't unmount my harddisk, etc.), which were easy to answer. After answering them, I told the questioners that the new version of Knoppix ships with Selflinux (Klaus Knopper even placed a shortcut on the desktop). Hence, often I booted Knoppix on the notebook, demonstrating it, while also showing normal Debian related things on the demonstration machine from LinuxLand.

After the show, the people from LinuxLand, LNM and Max, the moderator of the Linux-Forum, went to a nice American diner. They have nice looking female waitresses, wearing short skirts... Oh, and the food is good, too. ;) We visited a pub nearby for some darts, and that took a long time, since Franz didn't let us go, before he won against every one of us.

Day 4: Saturday, March 15th

Did I mention the good coffee supply? It was a treat on that morning!

Luckily we were too busy to get tired. Grisu had already arrived, and Frank Ronneburg, who wrote the German Debian Anwender Handbuch arrived early, too. So we had enough manpower to stand against the crowd of arriving visitors on that day. Today this definitively was a Debian booth, while LinuxLand was reduced to only a small table. The amount of visitors was really impressive.

I think I installed Debian more than four times on this day, every time explaining the same things, making the same jokes. That became a little bit boring, but I don't think our visitors became aware of it.

Sometimes newbies (or even wannabe newbies) asked which distribution they should use, and I usually pointed them to the LUGs. I showed them the Pro-Linux list of LUGs and told them, that it would be the best for newcomers, to install, what their LUG is using. So they find a good reference in their LUG if they encounter problems, and they don't waste money, since they can get a copy from one of their LUG.

On that evening, we went to that American diner again (because of the milk shakes, not the waitresses!) but it was a little bit difficult to find. The day before that I took a flyer, and found out, that they didn't list their address (but show a waitress). Very strange marketing.

Day 5: Sunday, March 16th

This was my last day, and since my presence was not needed, I slept long and had the opportunity to have breakfast with my hosts, after refusing to do so the last days under time pressure. Again, it was nice to have a talk with them (this time mostly about politics, especially those of the United States).

The rest of the forenoon I took a look at the exhibition myself. Of course, I couldn't stop being at work, and always asked if I could purchase a computer without operating system and such things.

On my way home the train had some technical problems, and while sitting together with other railway customers I got another opportunity for improvised talks about Free Software in general and GNU/Linux in particular. So I gave away a big part of the Knoppix CDs I took with me, before even arriving at home.

Last thing to mention: Donations. One guy wanted to get a quittance, so I pointed him to the ffis site. We received a couple of small donations from visitors and € 50.00 from LinuxLand, which I got for food, but didn't use at all. Summa summarum: € 61.

Alexander Schmehl

Day 4: Saturday, March 15th

A friend drove to CeBIT with his son and asked me if I would join him. I said yes and we made an appointment for 5:30 in the morning. After 3 hours by car we arrived in Hannover and they visited the CeBIT. I had to wait for 20 Minutes until Britta from LinuxLand came to the entrance with the CeBIT tickets.

Days 5-8: Sunday, March 16th - Wednesday, March 19th

I don't write this diary on a daily basis. Sorry, but I can't reconstruct the chronological order of the events.

After some breakfast I drove to CeBIT. But first I made a break at the central station and bought a sixpack of water. Tuesday I bought the second sixpack. Yes, I was drinking all the time at the booth...

Like at other booths in the past some visitors asked certain questions about Debian. They all start with a sentences like this: 'Now I have SuSE|Red Hat|Mandrake on my computer, and all the time I read about this "APT". Can you show us something about this and Debian...' Ok, this was a simple task every time, I showed it and other visitors could watch.

We also had some normal Windows users at the booth. They don't use GNU/Linux at all and asked general questions about it. We also had some GNU/Linux or Debian users who asked technical questions. I did my best to answer them.

However, this time we also experienced a new class of visitors. I will call this class 'Knoppix user'. (A bit of background for you: In Germany a big computer magazine with a circulation of 500,000 put the Knoppix CD in the issue that was published directly before CeBIT. Knoppix is a Debian-based live CD, has very good hardware detection and an installer. At CeBIT the publisher also distributed some thousand Knoppix CDs.) These visitors say things like this: 'I tried Linux [Red Hat|SuSE|...] in the last years several times, but it was broken. Now I tried this CD and it's running. This is very nice. Now I will try the real Debian..." First of all this is very good. Knoppix leads the normal computer user to Debian and GNU/Linux in general. But I can't give these users a good answer. I can't propose Debian, they can't install it, it doesn't have any hardware detection, it has an old version of XFree86. You know the story. We should think about this problem and we should not disregard the public...

During the entire exhibition time we exchanged digital keys with other Debian developers, KDE people and 'normal' visitors. Some businessmen asked 'What are you doing?' so I explained the magic of gpg and the web of trust.

Sometimes I had to defend Debian: Some people who don't speak English don't like English debconf messages in the second stage of the woody installer (the first stage is non-English). And one old Debian user bought new hardware and now his X doesn't run...

You also know the usual questions: 'When will sarge be released?' and you know the usual answer. :-) In general the spirit was very good. Some businesses and some (German) government offices try to use GNU/Linux as both server and desktop systems. All the time we had visitors at our booth and in the Linux Park.

At one time a Russian man visited the booth and asked for Russian language support in Debian. Ah, sorry, I don't know about this. I never did this. But a apt-cache search showed some packages, I installed one and yes, we could type Russian (and English) letters. Nice, I love Debian.

On the last day, Andreas Tille helped a second time at the booth. Thanks to Andreas for that. IMHO two persons at the booth are better.

The booth was a success and Debian should make a demo point next year again, if possible with two Debian persons per day.

Michael Bramer