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Now, Linux gets its own credit card

Benjamin Cox, founder of the Linux Fund, will offer people credit cards emblazoned with the Linux penguin mascot.

Give Linux fans a little credit.

Or at least, give them a credit card.

That's the plan of Benjamin Cox, founder of the Linux Fund, who will offer people credit cards emblazoned with the Linux penguin mascot.

Although he hopes to make a comfortable living from the project, Cox isn't just trying to make a quick buck. The goal of the non-profit initiative is to channel proceeds toward worthy open-source development projects.

Cox is the latest of a breed of entrepreneurs who sees the opportunity to find a little money in the Linux phenomenon. And though his project is comparatively small, some big names are involved as well--such as venture capital firms Benchmark, Sequoia, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.

Cox has signed a deal for the cards through MBNA, a company that provides credit cards tailored to appeal to fans of everything from the National Football League to Star Trek. Under the deal, a percentage of each charge made on the credit card with the credit card is diverted into the Linux Fund.

The organization recently added an online application to his site and signed up more than 400 interested people at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo earlier this month, he said. If he can sign up 100,000 people, that would provide an estimated $2 million a year to fund development projects and scholarships, he said.

The development projects will be selected by a board of developers familiar with the software, said Mark Willey, a member of the board. Projects will be peer reviewed, he added.

Cox's Linux Fund project shouldn't be confused with another Linux Fund, which aims to invest money in Linux companies.

VC interest in Linux
Deeper pockets have become interested in Linux and other open-source projects recently. Benchmark Capital, a noted Silicon Valley firm that typically provides funding to projects just getting off the ground, is one such outfit.

Kevin Harvey, the Benchmark partner who deals with open-source projects, said he considers his firm the leading venture capital firm in terms of backing open-source projects--the efforts such as Linux where programmers may freely share the software's original programming instructions.

Benchmark benefited from Red Hat's initial public offering and has taken a stake in, whose core project is the SourceXchange site where programmers can bid for open-source projects. Other efforts are in the pipeline, he added.

Harvey said SourceXchange will begin with less glamorous projects, such as those a company wants to outsource instead of devote its own programmers to. But later, he expects it to house many more serious efforts. Companies will be able to save money hiring programming talent, and programmers will be able to work from all over the world.

"There's talent all over the world that would love to be able to work and live where they want to and find their clients over the Internet," Harvey said.