New director re-opens LinuxFund

LinuxFund, which was established in 1999 to fund open source projects, is back on track with its new director David Mandel planning to pick up the pieces after the fund was deserted by its previous director and left lying dormant for two years.

Mandel has already decided to fund Wikipedia and Debian as initial projects. Each project will receive $500 a month for one year, and the goal is to fund 6 to 8 more projects in the next year.

LinuxWorld Australia manages to get a some time with LinuxFund's extremely busy new director to discuss the future of the organisation.

How will your experience help LinuxFund get back on track?

I have had a lot of experience doing a lot of different things. I think this is valuable to LinuxFund. I have been involved with open source software for over 30 years, which is well before the term "open source" existed and even before Richard Stallman wrote the GPL. Most of my personal experience with open source software has been as a systems administrator and integrator or as an application programmer, especially with scientific applications and GIS (geographic information systems). I have had experience as a manager in both private for-profit sectors and in volunteer not-for-profit organizations. I helped found a couple Linux user groups and have coordinated the Portland Linux/Unix Group for 10 years.

In my younger years I taught college as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia. This gives me a bit of international experience, which is very helpful. More recently, I spent a couple years teaching at a private career college, where I got to work with students who were very career-oriented and a bit less academic than most members of the open source community.

I'm at a point in my life where I'm still young (mid 50s) and ambitious, but I no longer need to make as much money as I did when I was younger. This puts me in a position to do a lot for LinuxFund and still keep its overheads low.

Of course, I plan to continue consulting as well as running LinuxFund, but I can get by without much consulting income.

LinuxFund raises money by marketing a credit card with Tux, the Linux Penguin on it. How are the penguin credit cards going and what is the subscriber base?

I don't want to say too much about our income or subscriber base, because I'm still getting some of this information from the bank and I don't want to give out incorrect details.

However, the credit card is doing quite well especially considering that LinuxFund was inactive for about two years. Our current income is sufficient to fund 10 projects at $500 a month without endangering the fund.

What other ways does LinuxFund plan on raising revenue?

We are considering this issue. The credit card is working well and we want to continue to expand the number of people using the LinuxFund card. On the other hand, the economy constantly changes and one doesn't know what the future will bring.

Thus, no organization is wise to be too dependent on any one source of income. I can't really tell you how or when LinuxFund plans to diversify, but we are considering the issue.

Also, when we do diversify it will involve new ways of earning revenue to assist the open source community and it won't involve donations or anything like that. We think it is more efficient to give donations directly to open source projects. There is no reason to funnel them through a middle man like us.

When do you think there will be a blog on LinuxFund?

I'm more concerned with upgrading LinuxFund's complete Web site than I am about getting my blog up and going. I have two meetings about this next week.

What are your plans on creating a new Web site?

LinuxFund used to have a site based on drupal which was pretty good, but very dated. We could base the new site on this. Or we might start from scratch. It all depends on who builds it and what they want to do.

Why were Wikipedia, Debian and Freenode selected as initial projects to receive the $500 per month funding, and were there many contenders?

Actually, we aren't currently giving money to Freenode. I put this on our web page, because I thought we would be giving them funds, but Freenode had a problem accepting our funds. This may change in the future. I guess I need to update our Web page.

On the other hand, we are sending checks to Wikipedia and Debian every month. And we are close to sending cheques to another organisation, but this time I'm not going to say anything until it actually happens.

We selected Wikipedia and Debian because they are large, well-run projects of value to a large number of people. They have significant resources, but most of their resources are given to them as bandwidth or equipment or labour and not as cash. Certain expenses like rent and phone bills have to be paid with cash. This is why LinuxFund selected them. We felt $500 a month for a year would truly help these organisations and thus the entire open source community.

Do you know what they each plan to do with the money?

We aren't putting any strings on this money. These are well-run organisations that need money for general operations. That is what the money is for. We trust that they will use it wisely and their track record suggests that they will.

What recommendations can you give to those who want to apply for LinuxFund money?

We are really just getting our funding act together and I'm not absolutely sure what the future will bring. Funding decisions are supposed to be made by the technical advisory board, but they haven't met in a couple years. LinuxFund founder, Benjamin Cox and I decided to fund three organisations right away and we selected them after getting advise from friends in the Portland Linux/Unix Group. I don't want to make any more funding decisions without a formal technical advisory board.

Patrick Mochel, Chris Wright, Greg Kroah-Hartman, and I were on LinuxFund's technical advisory board when it was last active. I have talked with all of these people and they all want to continue their involvement. We expect to meet in the next couple weeks and discuss project funding. At that time, I will give them a list of organisations that have contacted me at requesting funds.

I expect that we will talk about funding a few of these requests and we will also talk about more strategic issues like what types of projects we should fund in the future, what we will require for an application, what we will require for accountability, and the like.

At this point, the only thing you can do to get funding is the write to me at I'm slow about responding, but I'm turning all these requests over to the technical advisory board which may decide to fund a few of them or may decide to build a better system before funding any more projects.

As for me, I will recommend that the board concentrates on giving funding of $500 a month for one year to large, well-established projects that may have a lot of assets but run on very tight budgets and which help a lot of people. This includes Wikipedia and Debian, but it also includes lots and lots of smaller projects as well. Also, I don't think a project has to involve code production. It just has to be of value to the open source community.

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