A little-known organization—at least outside of its native home in the
Netherlands—has quietly been funding various free software projects
to the tune of roughly €2.5 million a year. Most of those projects
have been in the Netherlands or Europe, but it is looking to expand
its reach to
the rest of the world. It is "actively encouraging"
submissions of funding proposals for
projects that involve network technology and will be released as open
source, according to NLnet Foundation Director
The Foundation grew out of the Netherlands' first internet provider, NLnet,
which laid the original backbone along the rails in that country. In 1998,
sold to UUNet and the proceeds were invested into the Foundation. The
intent of the money was to fund technology, particularly internet
technology. Because the internet depends on interoperability, it just
makes sense to require
projects that are funded to release their code, Mischenko says.
The Foundation prides itself on being quick to answer requests for funding
as there are "not too many bureaucratic layers" to the
organization. Projects that try to get government funding often fall
behind because it takes so much time and effort to get a grant of some
kind—the technology may well have moved on. Depending on the size of
the project, and the amount of funding required, answers can come as
quickly as just a few weeks.
Each year, two themes are chosen to focus on so that projects in those
areas get priority for funding. For 2008, those themes are "Identity,
Privacy, and Presence" and "Open Document Format" (ODF).
While ODF is not directly connected to network technology, the internet
will be a poorer place without open formats that can be freely shared.
Part of the ODF effort was helping governments understand the importance of
open formats in general and ODF in particular. One of the outcomes of that
work was that all agencies in the Netherlands must start using open formats or
justify why they cannot.
The ODF theme is just one area where the Foundation has broadly interpreted
its mission. It has helped fund the FSF Europe (FSFE) Freedom Task
Force project for several years. In addition, it provided €200,000
to help pay for
Eben Moglen's time to work on GPLv3 at the FSF. Mischenko notes that
it is important for the foundation to fund things that will help
"protect the network"; he and the board see these efforts
as important in that regard.
The bulk of funding this year has gone into the Identity, Privacy, and
Presence theme. A list of
the currently funded projects has a number of interesting entries from
support for Tor hidden
services and an improved
routing algorithm for GNUnet to
hardware projects such as RFID Guardian and e-Passport.
The current structure of funding is made up of four "layers", each
corresponding to how much the Foundation will provide as well as how long
it will provide funding for. The first layer is for things like funding trips
for developers and other community members to attend conferences and the
like. The second layer is for commitments of up to €30,000.
Currently around 15% of proposals for second layer funding are granted.
For larger projects, the third layer can provide 2-4 years of funding of up
to €500-600,000 per year. The fourth layer projects are currently
fixed for the next five years as the Foundation is funding DNSSEC work at
NLnet Labs as well as work on intelligent agents at Vrije
Mischenko said that the board is "willing to hear about ideas that
don't fit into the layers". He said that the Foundation will
continue its current funding model "unless we hear a great
world-changing idea that we put all our money in and then we are
gone". It is not just projects that can be funded by the
Foundation, any person, company, or organization can apply. "As long as
it is a network technology and it will be put in open source", the
Foundation will consider funding it.
[ Along those lines, the author would like to thank the NLnet Foundation for
helping to fund his recent
trip to the co-located NLUUG autumn
Mobility conference and Embedded Linux
Conference Europe in Ede, the Netherlands. ]
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