AU Unix and open systems group in dire straits

One of the oldest Unix user groups in the world -- the Australian Unix and Open Systems Users Group (AUUG) -- may be forced to close its doors due to declining membership.Past president Greg Lehey said in a diary posting late last month that at an AUUG board meeting he attended with new president David Purdue "things don't look good ....

One of the oldest Unix user groups in the world -- the Australian Unix and Open Systems Users Group (AUUG) -- may be forced to close its doors due to declining membership.

Past president Greg Lehey said in a diary posting late last month that at an AUUG board meeting he attended with new president David Purdue "things don't look good .... there's talk of winding up AUUG due to lack of interest.

"Our membership has dropped 50 percent since November 2000 and there's no evidence (as we thought we had two years ago) that the rate of decline is slowing".

Purdue said, however, that AUUG had not "actively" spoken about winding up -- however, he did admit to ZDNet Australia today that "there has been a decline in membership and the board is working to address it". He declined to comment on actual membership numbers.

"We recognise that we must reverse the decline. If membership gets to zero then we have to wind up, but there has been no active plans to wind up the organisation," he said.

AUUG, formed in 1975, styles itself as the oldest or second-oldest Unix user group in the world, probably after the United States-based Usenix which was created that same year. It describes itself as a professional association for end users, corporations, developers and vendors that provides Unix and related systems, including Linux and BSD.

According to Purdue, AUUG reached its membership peak around 5 years ago, "when there was a lot of focus on the World Wide Web and open source was pretty new."

"A lot of money was pumped in [to the organisation] from a joint conference with the Asia-Pacific World Wide Web organisations," he said.

Purdue said the company has some idea on what has triggered the decline in membership, but maintains it had "no concrete data".

"Part of it is economic and part of it is recognition," he said.

"About two years back, during the tech wreck, companies stopped investing in any sort of training and laid off a whole bunch of people. So people spent more time at work trying to keep their jobs and not so much in the social side of the industry," said Purdue.

He added that during this time people also moved to contract information technology roles, which also affected the group's membership.

"Contract people don't go to conferences because they don't earn money at them, and so people are less likely to network via a user group," he said.

Purdue said another issue affecting the organisations' membership is the company's lack of recognition amongst people in relevant areas that "there is this body of people they can network with and share their problems".

"I don't think there's so much a drain from one organisation, I think there's just a whole bunch of people out there that aren't members of any organisation," he said.

However, the leader of an open source body, focussed primarily on open source variant Linux, said membership of her group was thriving.

Pia Smith, president of Linux Australia said "we probably get more and more membership registrations all the time. Our membership is free and we give them away to people coming to our conferences," she said. The popularity of Linux also recently spawned Open Source Industry Australia, a new group with designs on boosting use of the open source operating system in the corporate and government sectors.

Purdue said the AUUG will not know for sure if its membership is still declining until after the group's 2004 Annual Conference in Melbourne next month, at which the future of the body's print magazine publication will also be announced.

According to past president Lehey, however, the decision has already between made to "cease publication" as a print title.

"AUUGN will cease publication as a paper magazine, though we'll continue with some electronic form at least for a while," wrote Lehey.

Purdue refused to comment on the matter prior to the conference.

The company will now try and focus on "what we do well and who our demographic is", Purdue said, explaining that the organisation hope to recruit new members through it's upcoming conferences.

"Aside from our annual conference we also run small events like the Open Source Symposium, the Unix Symposium, Open Source in Government Symposium," he said. "So our initial action is to create focus on these events."

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