Open source community needs unity

Summary:commentary Last week in our regular News Perspectives newsletter, your correspondent asked what the next step was for the free and open source community. This week, I asked Linux Australia (LA) vice-president Pia Waugh to elaborate on her recent remarks to linux.

commentary Last week in our regular News Perspectives newsletter, your correspondent asked what the next step was for the free and open source community. This week, I asked Linux Australia (LA) vice-president Pia Waugh to elaborate on her recent remarks to linux.conf.au about code and culture in the open source community.

Waugh, a two-term president of LA, opened a can of worms at the conference in Canberra recently by calling on the community not to splinter into factions and interest groups, and lift its game in areas of common interest, such as documentation, advocacy and events.

If the splintering -- primarily between coders and industry advocates, but also threatening from believers in various types of development and distribution models -- continues, Waugh claims the community is easy prey for its rivals.

"We need to work as one big family," Waugh told ZDNet Australia . "There needs to be respect from both sides".

The most critical issue for the developer and community-focussed LA and its sister business-focussed organisation Open Source Industry Australia is -- as discussed last week -- the ramifications of the Australia-United States free trade pact on rules governing intellectual property matters such as patents and copyright.

"Linux Australia feels very strongly about [the FTA]," Waugh said. "We've put a bunch of work in and paid a lot of legal fees to understand its implications for the community.

"There is a large potential for destructive measures," she said, arguing these could cramp software development in Australia and hamper the local ICT industry's capacity to flourish.

However, despite the efforts of Waugh and her fellow-travellers in LA and OSIA, she is adamant their efforts are not going to be enough in the long term to take the open-source community where it needs to go. The collaborative "family" ethos must be reinforced by forging ties where necessary beyond the community.

"We call on the broader (ICT) community -- not just developers -- over the next six months to help educate our government so the legislation [enacting the provisions of the FTA] put into force is not too onerous," she said.

Waugh reckons the community has made solid ground to date by dragging vendors, non-government organisations and Australian-focussed bodies such as Software Queensland and the Australian Computer Society on board in lobbying efforts where common ground exists. It can even reach outside to non-ICT groups where justified she said, citing meetings last year with the peak generic drugs group over the patents issue.

"Change just doesn't come from fringe groups," she stresses.

However, Waugh's remarks are tinged with a degree of bitterness. Without naming names, she believes some well-funded, professional ICT lobby groups are not pulling their weight on the FTA issue.

"A voluntary and community-based organisation like Linux Australia should not have been put in the position of single-handedly defending such rights [rather than] broader organisations that this negatively impacts.

"We would certainly hope to work with broader organisations on this," she said.

From your correspondent's perspective, the message is unequivocal. Free and open-source community members must resist any temptation to divide into camps and adopt a personal agenda. There are enough potential crises threatening -- some which could cripple FOSS altogether -- for its members to have the luxury of putting blinkers on. The disagreement between two heavyweights -- Andrew Tridgell and Linus Torvalds -- over the BitKeeper source code management tool is just one reminder that unity, while not easy to come by, must be prized.

Iain Ferguson is ZDNet Australia news editor.

Topics: Open Source

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