Debian developer, author and dynamic Web site pioneer Oxer made the comments in an interview with ZDNet Australia just before Linux Australia's annual general meeting, in which his election was officially announced. The AGM also saw the release of news about the location of linux.conf.au (LCA) in 2006; the high-profile conference will leave the country to be held in Dunedin, New Zealand.
According to Oxer, "Firefox has shown us what can happen when a project offers a free alternative to the dominant incumbent software, with huge numbers of people downloading it, and word spreading in a variety of ways. That has occurred despite the fact that Internet Explorer (IE) is shipped 'free' (as it were) with the OS that most people currently run. Firefox has opened the mind of the general public to an alternative way to do software".
Oxer further went on to speculate about other open source applications that could succeed within the Windows desktop space: "Now with OpenOffice.org (OOo) approaching a 2.0 release, the momentum is going to build. If there is a 'get OOo' campaign it will get a huge response. OOo displaces software that's actually very expensive, so the imperative is even greater than with a Web browser that's essentially a give-away item already".
Although Oxer admits that "the inertia to change is also higher with an office package," and that a large part of what makes Firefox so popular is its lack of security holes when compared with IE, he said: "There are also many security holes in MS Office, although they haven't received as much attention. The danger of scripting attacks etcetera is very real.
"However, when businesses start to see they can stick Firefox and OOo on all their machines and not only save significant amounts of money but also improve security, it will start to happen. I think OOo needed something like Firefox to open the door to the concept. Then of course if you step up one level, Linux needs something to open the door as well. Moving to free and open source applications (FOSS) on the desktop is the first step. After that, it's not so scary to consider moving to Linux lock, stock and barrel".
Oxer is also seeing a very positive response from distribution of the Ubuntu and Knoppix Live CDs, which allow users to run Linux and FOSS applications straight from a CD without installing any software. He doesn't expect many users to make a total switch to Linux straight away, but says that "you can bet they'll be running at least a couple of pieces of FOSS now, and the seed has been planted".
In other news from the AGM, the results of Linux Australia's 2005 organising committee election were announced, confirming president for the past two years Pia Smith's previous informal announcement on her blog. Smith will remain as vice-president, while Anthony Towns will take over as secretary and Mark Tearle will continue for another year as treasurer.
Oxer was happy to speak on the performance of the previous committee, saying that: "LA has been rejuvenated dramatically in the last 2 committee years since the changing of the guard at LCA 2003. The committee at that time brought in a lot of energy and raised the visibility of the organisation within the community".
Speaking of the growth in awareness of Linux and the organisation in Australia, Oxer said: "The epicentre of this organic growth has been in Linux User Groups (LUGs) and educational institutions, and so bringing LUGs together and helping them do their job is an incredibly important thing for LA. From what I've seen the committee has been quite active in that regard over the last 2 years, so I'd have to say that Pia and everyone involved with LA has therefore been successful in that objective".
Oxer went on to speak about the future role of his organisation within the community, saying that while "the prime mandate for LA is still to ensure that LCA happens, I feel LA can provide a very important 'unifying face' within the Linux community in the region. The community has traditionally been quite fragmented due to the sheer variety of people and groups involved.
"As Linux moves from being a geek-thing to a mainstream-thing there is going to be a lot of attention focused on it, and a lot of people trying to get their heads around exactly what it is. Obviously LA can't authoritatively speak on everyone's behalf and there will always be a variety of interests and directions.
"However, when journalists or IT strategists or even random users want to understand where the community stands on certain issues it should be LA's job to act as an intermediary, assisting introductions where necessary and providing information directly at times".
Linux.conf.au 2005, which Linux Australia organises, will be held at the Australian National University in Canberra from 18-23 April.