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Boston Globe: The evangelist

“The last few years have seen a steady rise to prominence of a
rival to Microsoft’s Windows operating system known as Linux. From
the user’s point of view, Linux’s great virtue is that, unlike
Microsoft’s Windows NT, it doesn’t crash. Never mind that it is
virtually free. It is as reliable as thousands of software
engineers can make it, sifting among themselves for the most
technically elegant fixes for the inevitable imperfections of its
early versions. Its only drawback compared to Windows: for a while
longer, it will be somewhat more difficult to install and use.

From the point of view of hardware manufacturers and software
developers, the rise of the Linux system is, well, more
complicated. For behind Linux are a series of deep social and
technological developments with far-reaching ethical overtones
known for the moment as the Open Source movement. Its signal
characteristic? It is a not-for-profit community, at least not for
big profits, much like the highly collaborative professional
community that built the Internet itself.

Just over a year ago, the movement didn’t have a name – or
rather it had a number of names, all derived from the various legal
shadings undergirding the distribution of its products: freeware,
free software, shareware, and open software. Each term implied a
certain degree of control over the source code (the mainspring) of
the program; each concealed a conviction about the appropriate
relationship between the computer community and the business
world.

Then in January 1998, Netscape said that it would make available
for free the source code for its Navigator, thereby making it easy
for others to write software to connect up to the Web-browsing
tool, even to propose changes to Navigator’s design. Netscape
allowed that it had been persuaded to do so by a paper called ‘The
Cathedral and the Bazaar.’

Other people have made more fundamental contributions to the
Open Source movement than software engineer Eric Raymond, author of
the paper. There is Linus Torvalds, for example, the inventor of
Linux. Richard Stallman of the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology has been preaching the gospel of free software since
1981. Harvard’s Scott Bradner and others of the Internet
Engineering Task Force showed how a loosely organized committee
could maintain the open standards that made the Internet
possible.”


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