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Linux Foundation opening doors to individual participation

By Nathan Willis on September 19, 2008 (9:00:00 PM)

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The nonprofit Linux Foundation (LF), which coordinates an assortment of Linux-oriented standardization efforts and employs key developers such as Linux creator Linus Torvalds, has added to its Web site a gateway toward individual -- as opposed to corporate -- membership. Individuals can join through the site by paying yearly dues, and will get a small voice in Foundation matters in exchange -- plus their choice of T-shirts.

Amanda McPherson, LF's vice president of marketing and developer programs, says that although the Web sign-up mechanism is new, individual "affiliate" membership has been in the bylaws since the beginning. "Our individual members are very important to us. The Linux community has grown to encompass individual advocates, companies, end users, and community developers. We're working to accelerate collaboration between all of these groups, and our individual membership class is an important part of that."

The LF was formed in 2007 when the Free Standards Group merged with Open Source Development Labs. LF's stated goal is "fostering the growth of Linux," which is does through standardization efforts, workgroups, and periodic developer summits.

More direct participation in LF has always been available to corporate members, who pay fees ranging from $5,000 to $500,000. In addition to participating the LF's events and workgroups, corporate members also vote on the board of directors. Platinum-level members receive a seat on the LF board outright, while gold-level members vote on an additional three seats, and silver-level members vote on one seat.

An individual affiliate membership costs $49 annually. The details are spelled out in the Individual Membership Agreement. The agreement starts by explaining that individual participation is affiliate membership, not full membership. Affiliates do not gain all of the rights of full membership provided in the LF bylaws, such as the ability to start a workgroup or ammend the bylaws.

Affiliates do have the right to vote as a class for "at-large directors," and to run for at-large seats themselves. The bylaws say that the affiliates may select two such at-large directors, with another chosen by the LF Technical Advisory Board, and up to two more appointed by the board itself.

And, as if that wasn't enough, affiliate members also get access to a quarterly newsletter, and their choice of three different T-shirts.

The foundation currently has eight platinum member, seven gold members, and 29 silver members. Collectively, individual affiliate members may only have a small voice in steering the direction of the LF, but for an organization that heralds the openness of Linux as its strength, it is nice to see it make participation by the community more, well, open.

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Linux Foundation opening doors to individual participation

Posted by: Benjamin Huot on September 20, 2008 12:22 AM
Finally. I found it a slap in the face that they don't care about early adopters.

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Linux Foundation opening doors to individual participation

Posted by: Rambo Tribble on September 20, 2008 10:22 PM
I'd join in a heartbeat if it weren't for the part about being charged unless 30-day notice is given of intent to withdraw. When did Open Source become so high-handed?

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Re: Linux Foundation opening doors to individual participation

Posted by: hopethishelps on September 21, 2008 08:56 AM
"When did Open Source become so high-handed?"

Generally speaking I don't think Open Source people are high-handed, but I agree with you about the impression the Linux Foundation makes, and I think it's Linus Torvalds. Yes, he's done a lot for free software. But in the last few years he has appeared to become increasingly obsessed with personal control and recognition. Other people have done just as much, or more, for free software. But they don't try to attach their name to the operating system that everybody uses. Torvalds has pushed (hard enough to be mostly successful) for the entire GNU/Linux bundle to be called "Linux" after him. How much of a typical "Linux distro", like Red Hat or SuSE or Debian, has Linus Torvalds actually written? 0.001% maybe? (Don't say his bit is "essential" because a lot of stuff is essential - the shell is essential, the C compiler is essential, editors are essential, X is essential, scads of programs are essential.)

Then there was the spat over moving from GPLv2 to GPLv3. The discussion process that led to GPLv3 was about the most open process ever held, for anything. But Torvalds dissed it because it didn't give a Special Role to Linus Torvalds. (It didn't give a special role to anybody, except maybe Eben Moglen, as was appropriate because a lawyer had to pull the whole thing together.) Since Torvalds is in a position to stop the kernel moving to GPLv3 licensing (so are several other people, by the way, he is no longer the only major contributor to the kernel), he could and did indulge his petty grudge to prevent harmonization of GNU/Linux licensing on GPLv3.

By the way, if you read the article carefully, you'll see that individuals can't actually "join" the Linux Foundation as members. They can only become "associates", with no real rights except voting for two of the directors (out of a total of 16 or 18 - the official web site says 16, but I think the 2 directors that associates can vote for are additional).

What is the Linux Foundation really for? The further glorification of Linus Torvalds? We already have a Free Software Foundation, not named after anybody. Do we need another one named for Linus Torvalds and driven by nominees of large corporations?

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Re(1): Linux Foundation opening doors to individual participation

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 204.184.63.104] on September 22, 2008 03:22 PM
Oh come on, everbody knew this was coming. Linux is a powerful tool that buisnesses rightly want to use. And if the community can't give corporations confidence in Linux (afterall we can barely read an article without flaming), maybe a corporate style group can. For me it's all about getting the best possible software at the best possible price and if this is the only price, that we have to call Linux Linux, well shoot it's fine by me.

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Linux Foundation opening doors to individual participation

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.0.245.29] on September 21, 2008 03:01 PM
Having sat in at various levels (from multinational thru to small business and as a home developer I have found that the only way to get recognition is to come in as a corp-rat.

LF is a meeting place for large corporations and is a money making, self promoting QUANGO.
It see no advantage to joining this as an associate, FWIW I would rather put my money into a FLOSS project and stick to being a member of the local LUG's.

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Linux Foundation is a corporate creation, not an advocacy group for individual community members

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 200.105.169.253] on September 23, 2008 04:08 PM
This article doesn't lay the background for the reader. It is important to understand what the Linux Foundation is and what it isn't. It was created to be an advocacy group for the big corporate players. It is a merger of the Open Standards Group and the Open Source Development Lab. The OSG was an effort by the big corporations to standardize GNU/Linux so that it wouldn't fragment like UNIX did in the 80s and all the different distributions wouldn't become incompatible. The Linux corporations realized that fragmentation would kill the growth of Linux--the best strategy for growth was to unify the desktop and the system tools and grow the overall market rather than cannibalize from their competitors.

The OSDL was created so that Linus Torvalds wouldn't be hired up by a single Linux company and thus turn GNU/Linux into a vested interest for one company. Basically as I understand it, Linus was unemployed but he didn't want to go work for Red Hat, IBM, HP or any other big Linux company because it would undermine the independence of the Linux kernel. So the big players got together and created the OSDL to give Linus a job in a neutral place where he could continue working on Linux without any interruptions. In many ways it was a selfless act on the part of Linus because he would have earned a much bigger salary as an employee of one of the big companies, but he chose a much smaller salary at OSDL because it would help the kernel stay independent. Afterwards OSDL decided to hire a few of the other luminaries as well whose independence was also deemed critical.

Since the same corporations were participating in both the OSG and the OSDL, in the end it just made sense for them to merge to become the Linux Foundation. Despite the fact that Linus tried to stay independent, the Linux kernel has increasingly come to represent the interests of the large corporations who pay his salary and the salaries of most of the top kernel developers. Most of the current kernel development is in areas which are of little interest to the average desktop Linux user, but for specialized big-iron or real time embedded devices.

It is a good sign that the Linux Foundation is now looking for individual members, but don't delude yourself into thinking that it will represent your interests as an individual community member. If you want to have a voice over the direction of Linux and FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software), look to organizations which were set up to advocate for you, not for corporations. The groups which really advocate for individuals rather than corporate interests are the Free Software Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Those are two groups which actively lead campaigns for user's rights. The FSF is not the most open group and certainly their selection of board members is not an open process, but they do try and involve the community as can be seen from the rewriting of the GPL3.

The Open Source Initiative does very little as far as I can tell, except for maintaining the Open Source definition and deciding with licenses comply. Bruce Perens tried to join its board and convert it into a more general advocacy group for users, but he was rebuffed. The only positive thing which I can say about the OSI is that it has always maintained that its board members should act as individuals and not as representatives of the Linux companies where they work.

If you want to be part of an advocacy group for community members join the FSF or EFF, you are likely wasting your time with the Linux Foundation. If you want to influence the development of GNU/Linux, I would advise participating in groups like GNOME, KDE, Mozilla, Apache, Debian o Fedora, where an individual voice is more likely to be heard. I think that the Linux Foundation realizes that it can't effectively represent the GNU/Linux community when it only allows corporate members, so we might be seeing a new focus, but I doubt it based upon the voting rights they are going to give individual community members.

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