The Open Source Development Labs – the not-for-profit organization where Linus Torvalds works, and which maintains the Linux kernel – has undergone some changes this week.

Stuart Cohen, the visionary who led OSDL since 2003, is leaving the organization, ostensibly to pursue a new business venture. He’s working with OVP Venture Partners, a Northwest venture capital firm, but according to the OSDL, won’t be working for OVP directly. No clear word as to what his new venture will be, but the word is that it’ll be in the open source market.

Cohen will be replaced by Mike Temple, who had been OSDL’s chief operating officer. There were also layoffs (“approximately nine,” according to the organization), leaving a staff of 19.

What will they be doing? It looks like the OSDL’s mission is being downsized, along with the staff. As they put it to me, “We plan to focus on fewer projects but ones where we can have the most impact.” Specifically, they’ll be a home for Linus and others, maintain the legal defense fund and patent commons, promote regional activities and provide an umbrella for the Linux community to collaborate under.

It’s unclear what will happen to key initiatives, such as Carrier Grade Linux (one of OSDL’s greatest achievements), Data Center Linux, the Mobile Linux Initiative and the Open Source Driver project.

Given the recent issues regarding Linux and intellectual property – most recently the Microsoft/Novell accord and SCO’s setbacks in its lawsuit against IBM – this is not the most auspicious time for OSDL to restructure itself downwards. If OSDL becomes less relevant, who will hold up the standard for Linux? Corporations like Novell, Red Hat and IBM? Stuart has been a strong spokesman. Linux is lessened by the diminution of the OSDL.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick