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Inter@ctive Week: Cold War In A Digital Age

Jul 31, 2000, 16:01 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Rob Fixmer)

"...who are the latter-day Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels whose manifestoes moved both the Chinese government and the U.S. Senate to action last week? Why, two computer science students, of course: Linus Torvalds, who fashioned Linux, a free and open operating system (OS), while a 21-year-old student at the University of Helsinki, and Shawn Fanning, who invented the Napster music exchange technology as a 19-year-old student at Northeastern University in Boston."

"These two revolutionaries each created a "people's software" around which fanatical followers have constructed suspiciously left wing-sounding tenets like "Code must be distributed openly and universally," and "Music wants to be free." I thought these slogans sound innocuous until I read an article last week on the front page of The New York Times about how the government of China had turned against that bastion of capitalism, Microsoft, and its chairman, Bill "the richest man in history" Gates, to throw its official support to Linux. What could be more un-American?"

"This situation oozes paradox. Here's the most closed society in the developed world insisting that the survival of its citizens and sovereignty demands an open source OS. So Windows is no longer the official OS of China. As Times reporter Craig S. Smith wrote of Linux, "The almost communistic 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need' approach appeals to China's Marxist leaders."

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