Aussie Linux body faces growing pains

The future of Linux Australia (LA) is in doubt as the organisation debates how to best carry out its operations with limited resources.In a public e-mail and blog entry entitled "Can Linux Australia survive?

The future of Linux Australia (LA) is in doubt as the organisation debates how to best carry out its operations with limited resources.

In a public e-mail and blog entry entitled "Can Linux Australia survive?", the organisation's president Jon Oxer this week summed up the problems facing the body. "Right now Linux Australia is at a difficult size -- you could almost think of it as being at the 'teenager' stage of development," he said.

Pointing out LA was run by a hard-working voluntary committee that periodically burnt out and had to be replaced with "fresh blood", Oxer described the situation as "dangerous" in the growing organisation.

"The committee is refreshed annually with an influx of new suckers to jump on the treadmill," wrote Oxer, "but as activity in the organisation increases, the burnout rate will no doubt increase proportionally."

LA's principal activity has been to support the annual linux.conf.au conference -- from which it gains a small profit -- although it also carries out other endeavours aimed at supporting the local Linux community and advocating the use of free and open source software.

The organisation's executive committee discussed the issue in an Adelaide meeting several weeks ago, coming up with various options ranging from downsizing LA's operations to hiring an executive to undertake day to day work -- which Oxer estimated would cost around AU$100,000 a year.

While the committee decided to leave the choice up to Oxer, the president hasn't yet publicly made up his mind.

In the intervening time others involved with LA have publicly made their feelings clear.

Vice-president Pia Waugh pointed out LA has already started carrying out wider activities than supporting linux.conf.au, for example advocacy around issues like the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement.

While Waugh doesn't think the current model is sustainable, she has called for those taking up committee positions to commit more of their time to LA, and supports using sub-committees to concentrate manpower on specific issues (such as dealing with the press).

"There are many organisations out there that have employees, however LA can neither afford it, nor really has need," she wrote on her own blog.

Two others -- Secretary Anthony Towns and volunteer LA systems administrator Andrew Pollock -- have questioned the need for the organisation to carry out wider roles like the ones Waugh highlighted.

"Maybe the biggest return to its members would be keeping the [linux.conf.au] cost low?" blogged Pollock, who helped organise this year's Linux talkfest in Canberra.

Pollock did acknowledge, however, that hiring a dedicated staff member for LA would improve the effectiveness of the organisation.

The issue has not been resolved and is being hotly debated online by the organisation's committee and members.

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