Big names drum up support for Asia Linux groups

Participation by big vendors is helping attract new members to open-source groups in Asia, who want to benefit from shared knowledge and meet local and international developers
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Participation by big open-source vendors is helping attract new interest in Linux user groups in Asia.

Khairil Yusof, president of the Free/Open Source Software Society (FOSS) in Malaysia, said in an interview that the group's members have benefited by sharing knowledge with others from different technology backgrounds during its monthly meetings.

New members are able to listen to talks ranging from a wide spectrum of topics such as desktop usage to running an open-source software business, as well as "personally meet local and international developers", said Yusof.

"This exposes them to one of the biggest advantages of [the group], that interactions and knowledge-sharing has no barriers... a junior developer can ask questions and have an informal conversation with international personalities such as IBM's [vice president of open source and standards] Bob Sutor or Sun's [chief open-source officer] Simon Phipps," Yusof said.

Denis Antipov, one of the first members of The Dining Philosophers — one of two Shanghai Linux user groups — said his group has also benefited from inviting representatives of open-source companies to give talks, which he said has incited new interest in the group.

For the Malaysian group, organising monthly meetings has also helped expand the group's contact with other developer interest groups, noted Yusof.

He said the monthly meetings have "continued to attract increasing numbers, creating a better local community compared to communicating via mailing lists in the past."

Yusof adds that the group's membership has started to expand beyond "pure" open-source software advocates and users, and now includes other groups such as Java developers, as well as business executives from non-IT backgrounds who are interested in incorporating open-source software into their organisations.

The need for a formalised organisation
FOSS Malaysia's Yusof said one of the limitations the group faces is its lack of a "formal" organisation with which to handle administrative and financial matters. This poses obstacles to making official statements and fund-raising efforts, he said.

He expects this to change this year: the group plans to register as a society to overcome these issues, to facilitate various community groups eventually working together under a single "formally registered" umbrella.

According to Antipov, the Shanghai group faced a similar problem with having a permanent venue to host meetings, which caused a decline in activity last year.

Antipov hopes the establishment of a permanent meeting place will help establish the meetings as social events, and in turn attract new walk-ins.

However, cultural barriers in China may still demonstrate a rift between locals and foreigners. Antipov said The Dining Philosophers, made up of mostly Western expatriates, may have a challenge engaging the local community due to language or cultural differences.

"Initially, there were more Chinese members but with time they lost interest and stopped coming," he said, possibly due to busy schedules but also that "some seemed to be unsure what the group is for".

Although the group numbers have grown — the membership count on the group's Google page stood at 91 at time of writing — the group has "sadly lost interest of an initial chunk of the group" as a result, noted Antipov.

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