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Re: Ideas for Linux center something

On Mon, 2003-12-01 at 10:20, Kai Hendry wrote:
> http://www.cs.helsinki.fi/u/hendry/work/advocacy/linux-helsinki.pdf
> My department is asking for ideas for a linux center among staff.

Hi, I'm currently a student at that very same department. Nice to see
that there's been some thinking about this topic.

> If you have any comments, please relay them onto me to pass them along.
> I would like the department to tackle Debian (Skolelinux) tasks. I think
> it is easier to get going than a Linux Development center.

I think that a Linux Development center is not something that can be
conjured out of thin air. A Linux Development center would need, er,
developers. When developers exist, a development center could provide
them with resources to perform more efficient development, or to focus a
number of developers at a specific task in a more efficient manner.
Also, people tend to provoke new ideas in each other, so it would
probably be good from an inspirational point of view as well.

I agree that Debian, and the Skolelinux flavor in particular, would be a
well-focused task that could eventually grow into a development center.

Some points that I find cruical:

1. This idea must not be seen as existing in isolation.

        The development model of Open Source/Free Software (hereafter
        OSS) is often said to have similarities with the academic model;
        but there are some important details that a university needs to
        understand before spending lots of resources on trying to
        accomplish anything within the world of OSS.
        Mixing with corporations can be a valuable resource, but I think
        it's imperative to keep in mind that the success and failure of
        a Linux Development Center cannot be tied to any particular
        company's stock price or marketing agenda.
        The department must be prepared for international communication.
        A Linux Development Center, by definition, is part of a global
        network of individuals and organisations. The implications of
        this need to be understood.

2. Choosing a task and fitting it into the department's current

        Should the Linux Development Center be a "place" or a
        "phenomenon"? In other words, should the Linux Development
        Center be a provider of physical resources within which its
        participants can work on any project, or should it be a point of
        contact for people wanting to work on some specific task(s)?
        I think, as suggested with Debian/Skolelinux, that the latter is
        a more plausible initial approach. For example, the first task
        could be to work on some aspects of Debian that are perceived as
        important for the CS department. (Or simply that the first
        developers are interested in.) From there, you could expand as
        interested parties approach the Center with project ideas.
        A Linux Development center could provide an opportunity to
        integrate tasks performed there with studies. For example, the
        course "Software Engineering Project" could cooperate with the
        center, and other courses could do similar things.

3. Keeping an open mind and an accessible environment

        Who can participate, share, and contribute? In my view, a Linux
        Development Center would be a joke if participation does not
        follow the openness that we are used to in OSS projects --
        access to source code, documentation, thoughts and discussion
        has to be the foundations of a Linux Development Center.
        Thus, the Center should welcome all participants. Of course,
        gaining physical access to a "Development Lab" or hardware would
        have to be restricted to, say, the students at the CS
        department. But any other resources that can be accessed via
        CVS, web, mailing lists, etc. has to be open.
        Alternatively, the center would not host projects itself. It
        would merely be a loosely-knit group of people who meet more or
        less regularly, host conferences and meetings with people from
        other groups, and participate in certain OSS projects such as

> I don't see how my department can offer support. I know there
> isn't enough expertise here. But perhaps as a host to the public and
> businesses to show off "Linux", every now and then. Perhaps a host to
> Install Days. Although this dept. is generally off limits to the public.
> Esp. on weekends.

Perhaps eg. install days, bugsquashing parties and the like could be
organised in the department facilities under the Development Center
umbrella. The facilities would be offered more easily and without cost
to organisers of events that are blessed by the Development Center (ie.
non-commercial, development of OSS).

> Getting businesses to partner with this department sounds interesting.
> Perhaps some business like Sonera and Nokia could give us more resources
> than just money to play with. Although we don't have much actual space
> here at the department for machines.

As I said, mingling with the companies is a good thing, but it should
follow a strict protocol. The companies must understand that their
donations cannot have unreasonable strings attached. At the same time,
they should be encouraged to participate in the community at equal
terms. Also, I think it would be best to have something real to show the
companies before starting to talk to them. Being totally unprepared
either makes the Development Center sound like an academic failure
waiting to happen, or the company might expect unreasonable things -- or
worse, they might "buy" the Center, direct to serve their interests, and
the openness would soon be gone.

As the department is moving soon, I suppose the space issue is going to
change -- for better or worse, I don't know. (At least the new building
looks big on the outside: http://www.cs.helsinki.fi/Exactum-kamera/ :)

> Anyone familiar with any other uses of money/resources? I should
> probably consult SPI. I noticed, was it, Gnome offering cash bounties
> for particular jobs.

I think at this point volunteer work should be the focus. The department
will have to shell out for any initial costs (hardware) and will have to
provide some resources (occasional use of classrooms, continuous use of
network, etc.) if they want to go through with this idea.

The integration work would take a massive effort, and perhaps the
department would like to try something small first, and then progress

I have some experience in fundraising from different projects, and since
I'm also a student at the CS department at Univ. of Helsinki, I'd be
more than happy to talk more about this with you.

Thanks for relaying the message, hope to hear more from you soon!

Fabian Fagerholm <fabbe@paniq.net>

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