What next Linux Australia?

Summary:commentary Jonathan Oxer was surprisingly candid about the state of affairs at Linux Australia, the organisation he leads.In his July 1 blog entry, Oxer openly questioned the group's survival, pointing out the obvious -- Linux Australia is stuck in no man's land.

commentary Jonathan Oxer was surprisingly candid about the state of affairs at Linux Australia, the organisation he leads.

In his July 1 blog entry, Oxer openly questioned the group's survival, pointing out the obvious -- Linux Australia is stuck in no man's land.

The organisation was established mainly to manage an annual conference on Linux but over the years, it has morphed beyond its original shape.

Oxer has found that increasingly, the amount of work which lands on his plate, and in the laps of other volunteers, is too much to bear.

"Right now Linux Australia is at a difficult size -- you could almost think of it as being at the "teenager" stage of development. It has grown well beyond a small organisation that exists solely to facilitate a conference, but it's not yet big enough or well resourced enough to support a paid executive to handle day to day chores.

"It's involved in far more things than almost anyone outside the committee would be aware of, but doesn't have staff to delegate chores to," he wrote.

Oxer has proposed hiring a full-time executive but this would come at a hefty cost -- $100,000 a year would surely put a huge dent in the organisation's coffer.

To many in the media, the entity is seen as a voice for the Linux community, and at times, for the open-source fraternity at large. This recognition is undoubtedly due to the passion, drive, commitment and time so freely given by its members and office bearers.

I'm sure Oxer recognises these traits, which made it even more puzzling to see how he tagged his band of soldiers.

"The committee is refreshed annually with an influx of new suckers to jump on the treadmill, but as activity in the organisation increases the burnout rate will no doubt increase proportionally," he lamented. I would be surprised if volunteers didn't take umbrage at being labelled a sucker.

Apart from a permanent or full-time headcount, the association would have to be more active in seeking direct corporate sponsorship(s) and finding ways to diversify its revenue base. But these stumbling blocks seem to be too much for Oxer at the moment.

Unlike the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) or enterprise software user groups, Linux Australia does not have the financial backing and resources these organisations enjoy.

Since vendors like IBM, Red Hat, Novell and Oracle have pledged allegiance to Linux and open-source software, it would be interesting to see if they come to Linux Australia's aid -- with no strings attached (well, hopefully not that many).

It will be up to Oxer and his team to negotiate the balance between funding and integrity/independence.

The president has asked for suggestions on how Linux Australia should operate. Obtaining feedback is always a good thing but one must also set a deadline for a decision to be made.

Oxer believes the organisation is merely at the "teenager" stage of development. I strongly disagree. Perhaps he's yet to realise that the course it takes in future will have wide ramifications because fundamentally, Linux Australia is today a victim of its own success.

Fran Foo is ZDNet Australia managing editor.

Topics: Open Source, Linux

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