Tuesday, 24 April 2012 12:29

Linux Australia: a new name is the least of the problems


The Linux Australia council thinks it is time for the organisation to change its name in order to represent the focus of its community.

And so, it has thrown out a feeler for discussion on its mailing list.

There is no move to get rid of the Linux Australia brand (15-odd years old right now) and the linux.org.au domain. These are deemed to be far too valuable.

Then why change? The organisation has now expanded its activities - it sponsors conferences on other open source topic - Python, Drupal and WordPress as of this year.

It also backs other organisations, like The Ada Initiative, which are involved in activities that it believes come within its remit as an organisation devoted to free and open source software.

And it also has no intention of changing the name of its best brand - linux.conf.au, the name for the Australian national Linux conference that is known worldwide for being one of the better conferences of its kind.

While a number of names have been suggested, one of the problems is that many of them - or many similar-sounding names - have already been taken. For example, a suggestion to change the name to Open Source Australia was made but the acronym OSA is far too much like OSIA - the acronym for Open Source Industry Australia, which already exists. (Suggestions can be made here.)

Given that this is a general topic, everyone and his dog has weighed in. But, as usual, some perspectives deserve a little more attention than others, and to me, it appears the the former president of Linux Australia, James Turnbull, provides a view that is most relevant.

Turnbull, who has been working in the US since mid-2010, says, "I hate to be the harbinger of bad news but Linux Australia is an almost unknown brand. Outside of a small subset of the Australian Linux community (a significant number of said subset post on this list) it's largely unrecognised. It's certainly not perceived as a peak body.

"The linux.conf.au brand is very strong - in the Linux world it's seen as one of the premier open source conferences in the world - but largely in my experience no one knows Linux Australia is the parent entity.

"My view is that this is an opportunity. Rebrand, do some solid media relations and grab hold of the peak body status for open source in Australia. I see this as an excellent chance to own open source issues for Australasia and actually start to make a different in government and business."

But Turnbull's suggestion also highlights one of the major problems that has dogged the organisation - its inability to put together a cogent media policy, its inability to keeps its name in the media, its inward-looking nature.

Turnbull would probably have made some inroads into address these deficiencies had he stayed on as president. It was his idea to run a survey that highlighted many of the issues that Linux Australia faces as an organisation.

His successor, John Ferlito, has done a lot to broaden the involvement of the organisation. But he is not a media slut - and that's the type of person who is needed to run the joint, if one wants to make it well-known. There is no indication of any cogent media policy, despite there being some talk about it.

The term incidentally comes from one of the world's most respected security technologists, Bruce Schneier, who told me during an interview in 2008, "You know, I like to think I'm a media slut, basically. I used to say I'm a media whore, but then I realised I didn't get paid. But I think my job, such as it is, is to communicate security to as wide an audience as possible. So it's important, I mean, the press is how the public get their security information."

The whole success or otherwise of the renaming exercise, if it is gone through, may well depend on that one factor.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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