UniForum UK, like several of the international UniForum affiliates, has been a thriving organization on its own for more than 10 years. So when its affiliation with UniForum became official this month, the event was more like the beginning of a liaison than an adoption.
The British organization, with 1,232 current members, began as a UNIX user group, like many current affiliates, in 1983. Originally called /usr/group/uk, the group became UniForum UK in 1989, following the lead of its U.S. counterpart. "The original idea came from the States, to start a UNIX user group of like-minded individuals who, at that time, were of a fairly technical background, to meet regularly, and discuss issues and swap information on what was then very much a new era with UNIX," says Philip Flaxton, UniForum UK commercial director.
"We have a well established membership base, a comprehensive list of publications, and we offer discounts to our members, run study tours for members to go to the UniForum show and UNIX Expo," Flaxton notes.
The organization has sponsored various exhibitions in London over the years, beginning with the European UNIX User Show in 1985, continuing with an annual Open Systems exhibition, and leading up to the Enterprise IS event coming up in October. In addition, UniForum UK has been running its own seminar programs since the '80s, through relationships with X/Open, the Open Software Foundation, the British Department of Trade and Industry, and the former UNIX International.
Most of the regular meetings are held within a 60-mile radius of London, although occasional ones are held in Northern England and Scotland. Usually the meetings consist of a seminar, followed by an open discussion of current issues. The organization consists of user members and "trading members" from the computer industry. "We sometimes invite our trading members, from the vendor community, to perhaps be present to talk with users in the membership," according to Flaxton. In addition, a subgroup called the Government UNIX Group meets quarterly, consisting entirely of officials from the central government, with meetings sponsored by a vendor.
UniForum UK has an extensive range of publications, including its monthly magazine, Open Forum, with a circulation of 10,000 in the United Kingdom. Its annual industry guide and directory is published twice a year. Other publications have included a guide to POSIX and a compendium of application stories in an open systems environment called the User Case Book.
One of the latest publication efforts of UniForum UK has been an agreement with the Financial Times, the most influential business publication in Britain, to publish, twice a year, a supplement called Profiting from Open Systems. Through working with Financial Times, "We have significantly raised the profile of UniForum UK," Flaxton says. The next supplement is due to be published Oct. 14.
Another new initiative of the organization has been the publication of its Trading Standards Code of Practice, a set of guidelines drawn up over a two-year period and designed to assist users in selecting a vendor to purchase from. "Vendors can be approved and accepted into our scheme when they become trading standards-compliant," Flaxton says. "What this means is that they have undergone scrutiny and are expected to abide by a certain set of criteria. Anyone purchasing or dealing with them from a user perspective can deal with confidence."
The vendors agree to abide by a stringent set of rules. Then if anything goes wrong between the vendor and purchaser, "If they want to go to arbitration, we can actually act as an arbitrator." The program just began two months ago and has not been put to the test of providing arbitration yet. "This is a very big initiative for us," Flaxton says.
UniForum UK is also looking into ways of working with organizations such as the Confederation of British Industries, a kind of lobbying group representing UK corporations.
In its relationship with UniForum, Flaxton's organization hopes to work on joint initiatives in the UK and possibly the rest of Europe, as well as things like the trading standards project, on which UniForum UK could assist its U.S. counterpart. "Like you, we are looking to expand both the open systems marketplace and our membership," Flaxton says. "Through the Financial Times, we're reaching more end users and that's helping in our membership drive."