July 12, 2005

LinuxFund remnants may resurrect the project

Author: Jay Lyman

Although it appeared that its Web site would remain stale and funds would not support Linux developers, there is now growing interest and opportunity for LinuxFund.

Launched in 1999 and promoted at trade shows, LinuxFund was placed in jeopardy when project leaders, who struggled with a lack of resources, let the project go dormant last summer. NewsForge attempted to contact LinuxFund's board of directors and developer board, with more success reaching the developers. In particular, David Mandel of Oregon State University and Patrick Mochel of Open Source Development Labs indicated a willingness to ensure a positive future for LinuxFund. Both Mandel and Mochel are former LinuxFund Developer's board members who are currently involved in Linux and open source development and promotion. Mandel is chief activist with the Portland Linux/Unix Group, and Mochel works closely with the Linux kernel for OSDL. Both men stress the need for LinuxFund to evolve with the open source community and to compensate developers.

NewsForge has learned that the Fund comprises 5,000 to 10,000 affinity cardholders. Although its recent falter has caused some to call for the MBNA bank-backed card's withdrawal, others are urging Tux-branded credit cardholders to hold onto the penguin plastic, which Mandel and Mochel say will soon be delivering dollars to developers.

Chance for changeover

LinuxFund's stagnation appeared to have little impact on generating revenue from the program's cardholders, who brought in about $100,000 per year for developer support. News of the fund's status led some to call for OSDL or the Free Software Foundation (FSF) to get involved or take over the accounts. OSDL, which recently laid off Linux developers as part of a strategic reshuffling last month, said it was not interested in taking over the fund.

In an email, FSF executive director Peter Brown said, "The FSF would be very grateful to receive any amount of the collected funds." Brown added in an interview that the FSF has the resources and connections to properly distribute the funds. However, he said the organization would need to change the name of the program from LinuxFund to GNU LinuxFund; otherwise, he would not be interested in taking over the program.

It now seems more probable, and potentially more beneficial, that Mandel and Mochel will get the organization functioning to where it can distribute funds, gain nonprofit status, and increase developer support.

Mandel explained that he was a volunteer with LinuxFund and was poised to take over as executive director at one point, but it didn't pan out. "Instead, I took a job which made it impossible to continue my involvement with the fund, so I talked to Jerritt Collord and sort of resigned my position." He continued, "That was a couple of years ago, and since that time, I haven't had any involvement with LinuxFund. However, I became semi-retired a few months ago and would now like to get involved with LinuxFund again."

Mandel said, "Given the current situation with LinuxFund, I may be interested in becoming a part-time executive director. The goals and procedures of LinuxFund need to be clarified and rethought in light of changes in open source." Mandel thinks Linux Fund should be incorporated into a larger, well-run non-profit, such as Portland's FreeGeek, which is a successful hardware recycler and major FOSS proponent.

He also believes that LinuxFund's top priority should be distributing the $126,000, that has accumulated since the project was largely abandoned. "LinuxFund also needs to get a developer board together and start giving out money," said Mandel. "I would be willing to help with this."

Spend that money

Others have also expressed interest in helping steer LinuxFund in the right direction. Developer Rusty Russell suggested that French developer Fabrice Bellard, who has developed the machine emulator QEMU used by kernel developers, become involved. Russell, who has had two winning entries in the International Obfuscated C Code Contest said, "Someone with this proven range and output should simply be unleashed to write whatever OSS code they want." In addition, open source developers and supporters Anthony Papillion II, Anna Lisa Cruz, and Bob Tanner have also shown interest in turning around the Fund.

In an email to NewsForge, Mochel pointed out that the last developer board meeting was about two years ago; however, the group, which included OSDL's Chris Wright, had discussions up until a year ago regarding the distribution of funds to individual developers.

When asked whether the four-member developer board or LinuxFund officers could re-assemble to distribute the money, Mochel said it would not be too difficult. "Absolutely," he said of giving out the funds in a manner consistent with the group's mission. He added, "The board is easy, since we all live in the Portland area and we have a wealth of both expertise and interest in stimulating new development.... If anything, there's no time like the present; there has never been more people or community involvement than there is now."

"Further, in the long term, I would like to see the organization re-established and potentially see it grow," he said. "It's had a positive impact on several projects and individuals in the past.... In the meantime, a few key people are going to have to sit down and figure what is there and [what] needs to happen in order to make it come back to life. They need to understand the infrastructure that's already in place, and someone needs to take over the day to day operations."

"I would love to see it get resurrected, at least to get the outstanding funds distributed, but also as an ongoing project again," he continued. "I think that it's always had a lot of potential. It would be a shame to see it fall permanently by the wayside."

Click Here!