Canadian open source community association looks beyond Linux

Canada’s national Linux industry association is broadening its mandate and creating programs to tackle the policy issues surrounding open source technologies, members of its leadership team said Tuesday.

The Canadian Linux User’s Exchange (CLUE) has replaced its old Web site with one backed by a Drupal-based content management system and a motto (“CLUE: Get One”) that hints at its intentions to become a more aggressive advocate of what its members call Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS).  CLUE was founded in the late 1990s and has since become an point of aggregation for contact information of interest to many regional user groups across the country.

Though CLUE has provided use of the domain name to users for several years, it is considering a change in URL and will soon be gathering board members in Toronto to update its bylaws. The changes will reflect the association’s decision to look beyond Linux and other parts of the open source experience.

“If you were to monitor Linux user group mailing lists and online forums for a significant amount of time, you’d find that a large proportion of the questions people ask and discuss are not specifically about Linux,” Bill Traynor, CLUE’s president, said in an e-mail interview. “Therefore, as a national organization interested in the advancement of FLOSS in Canada, it makes sense to broaden our mandate.”

Traynor said he got involved in CLUE in 1999 during its attempt to build a CLUE Linux Centre in Toronto.  That effort failed due to its loss of the space the group was occupying, he said.  At that time, CLUE interest waned in the physical sense, but membership continued to grow based on the use of the domain e-mail alias, he added.

“Most of the Linux users involved in CLUE are also involved with technologies such as BSD, Perl, Python, etc.,” he said.

Evan Leibovitch, president of a Toronto-based consultantcy called Xinul Computing and a CLUE founder, said “Linux system” has been used to describe a disc that includes not only the operating system but tools such as the mySQL database which can run on a variety of platforms.

“The first purpose of companies like Red Hat was to pick from thousands of tools out there and figure out, what is it you include on the disc? That is the role of the Linux distribution,” he said.

Traynor said CLUE will complement its online activities with an upcoming National Open Source Weekend, which will build on “installfests” which have been held across Canada before. It is also developing an Adopt program that will attempt to match up non-profit organizations – which usually operate on shoestring IT budgets – with local expertise that can help them cut their teeth with open source technologies.

“As we are completely volunteer-based at present, most of our activities are a result of specific interest from one or more members of CLUE.  That is, one person usually runs with an idea (such as the Adopt program) to gain traction and hopefully get more volunteers excited about it as well,” he said.

Leibovitch said recent controversies over the use of open source, such as a decision to move to OpenDocument by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, demonstrate the need for a stronger voice within Canada.

“It is no longer a matter of, are Linux and open source suitable for business use? That question has been answered at a technical level,” he said. “The fight involved in getting open source more into the mainstream, is more and more a politics and business and salesmanship issue.”

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