July 22, 2005

LinuxFund names new director, schedules payouts

Author: Jay Lyman

In an effort to restart, the LinuxFund credit card program, intended to benefit the Linux and open source community, has named a new executive director and announced it will begin funding open source projects again.

LinuxFund's new head, David Mandel, told NewsForge in an interview the funding -- $500 per month for a year to Debian, Freenode, and Wikipedia -- will be given to the projects quarterly and is part of an effort to get LinuxFund back on track. Mandel said that with help from LinuxFund's founder, Benjamin Cox, he was confident the project, and more importantly its payments to FOSS developers, would resume and possibly even grow.

The fund -- which derives money from a percentage of LinuxFund cardholders' purchases using Visa and MasterCard credit cards -- is undergoing a facelift after the royalties kept rolling in, but the administration of the project fell apart last year.

LinuxFund reportedly takes in approximately $100,000 per year from an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 cardholders, or at least those figures were right at the time the project's site went offline and its directors let it go dormant, at which time the fund was worth about $126,000 in checkings and savings accounts. Mandel said the project will move conservatively at first, saying, "We don't know what bills are out there."

However, the fund's proceeds will be distributed, he stressed, and soon. The Debian, Freenode, and Wikipedia projects will each receive $6,000 beginning this month, and LinuxFund hopes to support eight to 10 more open source projects with the quarterly cash flow, reviewing its grants on an annual basis, according to Mandel and the new LinuxFund site.

"LinuxFund funds projects of interest to the open source community," Mandel said. "We have never restricted the funding to software development or to Linux. While new code is important to the open source community, other things, like support and education, are as well, and LinuxFund has been willing to fund projects in any of these areas."

Mandel said that in the past the fund has relied on local Portland, Ore.-based open source community members who can meet in person -- developers and non-developers -- but said the group must be open to others. Mandel said he would like to reassemble the project's developer board, which includes OSDL's Chris Wright and Patrick Mochel and others, to determine more recipients of the money.

Mandel praised Debian and Wikipedia as important projects that were dedicated to openness. Although Debian leaders did not respond to requests for comment, Wikipedia spokesperson Elisabeth Bauer said the Wikimedia Foundation relied on public donations for its projects, including Wikipedia, and that the organization was grateful for regular basis funding that assists in planning, adding it is coming from a project "closely aligned with our own goals."

"As one of the top 40 Internet sites, Wikipedia attracts an enormous amount of traffic and visitors, which leaves the project in constant need for hardware," Bauer said. "Like most donations, the money will therefore be used to cover hardware and bandwidth costs, and possibly software development work necessary to provide Wikimedia's free services to the public."

As for Freenode, some FOSS proponents charged that support for the project was actually support more for the individual behind the project, executive director Robert Levin. Levin said he welcomed the support. "My first reaction is, wow, that's very gratifying," he said. "It's very good to know people are thinking of us." Levin said his organization would probably accept the funding from LinuxFund.

As for those thinking ill of him and Freenode, Levin defended his organization, which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and credited the harsh sentiments to the personal politics of Internet Relay Chat. Levin reported he earns $16,000 a year, which is about half of the Freenode organization's budget.

LinuxFund's Mandel also defended Freenode. "They are a large network that requires a lot of volunteers and contributed resources to keep it going. They don't do software and they don't do content, but they give thousands of open source users and developers an organized way to communicate with one another. And they do this with one employee who is paid $16,000 a year! That is why we think they are worth funding."

As for Mandel's own salary, he said he was being paid $1,000 per month as executive director of LinuxFund, less than the previous executive director, in an effort to keep overhead low, which Mandel said is one reason LinuxFund has survived. The fund itself is not a 501(c)3 nonprofit, but rather is listed as a public benefit nonprofit with the Oregon Secretary of State's office, as reported by Ilan Rabinovitch, who has followed LinuxFund on his blog.

"I have other income (even after I leave [Oregon State University] next February)," Mandel said, referring to his pending semi-retirement. "So I can afford to live on this. I'm also moving LinuxFund's office into my home, so the fund won't have to rent office space anymore. This should save the fund $400 to $500 per month."

Mandel reiterated that while it may take time and some hurdles remain, he foresees LinuxFund continuing and even growing its number of cardholders and funds for open source through appearances at trade shows, a practice which helped the project grow after its launch in 1999.

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