Ubuntu LinuxSure, Microsoft expects Windows' installed base to top 1 billion licenses by the end of this year. But in the shadow of Windows Vista, a rather remarkable trend -- known as an InstallFest -- continues to transform Linux from a fringe desktop option into a mainstream Windows alternative. Here's the scoop.

Consider the situation in Northern California, where volunteers will work on March 1 to install Ubuntu Linux on hundreds of salvaged PCs that will be donated to local schools. The Alameda County Computer Resource Center and Untangle (an open source security company) are among the event's organizers.

The InstallFest effort will promote open source, bridge the digital divide and keep toxic computer equipment out of landfills, notes Andrew Fife, a product manager at Untangle. Or, as Fife details through images in his own blog:
InstallFest marries unwanted hardware with community activists to empower our kids in schools.
This isn't a unique event. Similar InstallFest events happen regularly around the United States and are frequently backed by local Ubuntu user groups.

Hmmm. The VAR Guy can't help but wonder how many Windows evangelists would spend their weekend trying to install Vista on aging hardware for school kids. Even on new PCs with a full gig of memory, we all know Vista doesn't earn passing grades.

In stark contrast, Fife notes, Ubuntu Linux offers a great user experience -- even on legacy hardware. The InstallFest systems will also gain FireFox, OpenOffice and Untangle's security software to shield school kids from the Web's darker side.

For Microsoft friends and foes alike, this latest InstallFest shows how passionate community members continue to transform open source from a fringe solution into a mainstream option. Heck, even some Mac users are making the Linux move. In the ultimate irony, Windows may reach the masses, but Linux may be more inclusive when it comes to reaching low-income communities.

For daily coverage about Ubuntu Linux, check out our sister Web site: www.allaboutubuntu.com.