The 11th annual Ohio Linux fest (OLF) goes down this weekend. It's a free conference happening Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Greater Columbus Convention center downtown. The theme of the conference is FOSS Links the World, (FOSS stands for Free and Open Source Software). You may be asking, what is Linux? Kevin O'Brien, the publicity director for OLF, explains. “Linux is the software that can run your computer. It is similar in that respect to Microsoft Windows or the Macintosh OS/X operating system. But, unlike those other operating systems, you have complete freedom as to where and when you install it. Linux is software that respects your freedoms, not the desires of some corporation somewhere. Also, the software is completely transparent because all of the source code is freely published and anyone can download it.” So even if you haven't heard of Linux before, you have probably used a computer running it at some point, if you have used the search engine Google (a sponsor of OLF) or an Android smart phone. But the basic idea behind Linux is that there is a certain ethical concept of freedom, as in speech and openness, that permits sharing of anything developed with the Linux code. They even have a specially developed legal standard that underpins much of the Linux world, the GPL (Gnu Public License) that mandates a concept known as copyleft, which is in some ways the inverse of copyright. This concept means that a lot of Linux development happens in hybrid structures, with some people participating as paid employees, others as academics and some just joining in as volunteers or enthusiasts. All of these people working together create what is known as the open-source community, and events like OLF are the physical manifestations of a community that often exists primarily in the ether. What does Linux have to offer you? Well if you are bothered by the revelations that the NSA paid off commercial software providers to make their privacy software more easily snooped by the government, open-source software provides one of the only solutions to the problem. As Kevin O'Brien points out “the software is completely transparent because all of the source code is freely published and anyone can download it. You may not want to download it yourself (I never have, actually) but enough people do that if anyone tried to insert a vulnerability or a 'back door' into the software for the purposes of spying or stealing your identity, it would be detected almost immediately and the vulnerability fixed almost as quickly.” That means the NSA can't easily break a Linux computer whereas the German government suspects that the TPM platform promoted by Microsoft and a core part of Windows 8 might be secretly compromised by the NSA to enable more spying with more ease. So if you are interested in learning more about Linux technology, here are some highlights: UbuCon takes place on Friday (a community gathering for people who use Ubuntu). The first keynote speaker, Jon “Maddog” Hall takes the stage 5:00pm. He will speak about his experience with bringing Linux to the Favelas of Brazil , and how he has been using free software to help transform the developing world. Saturday is when the bulk of activities take place. Although much of the conference is orientated toward people who are already tech savvy, there is also a Meet the Penguin track for people who are just getting started with Linux. If you don't get the penguin reference, you soon will after you see Tux (the penguin) the ubiquitous mascot for Linux. One year the organizers even went so far as to bring in live penguins to the convention center. There is also a vendor area where various companies and organizations give out swag and meet people. Keynote speakers begin at 6:00pm on Saturday. The first will be by Robyn Bergeron, the head of the community driven Linux distribution, Fedora. Her talk “Keeping Your Head About You: A Journey of finding sanity and balance in the world of open source” and the subsequent talk “Building and Running an Open-Source Community: The FreeBSD Project” by Dr Marshall Kirk McKusick should provide informative lessons for everyone from community activists to tech start-up entrepreneurs. The event is followed by an after-party in the Arena district but that's only for conference attendees, tickets & registration information can be found at the OLF website at