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Newsweek/MSNBC: Free For All

Jul 29, 2003, 21:30 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Miriam Mahlow)

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"The Nooitgedacht Primary School, on the outskirts of Cape Town, is little more than a few drab buildings surrounded by barbed wire. The school can't afford a library, and only a few students have the money to buy uniforms. But up two flights of stairs in room No. 6, a class of fifth graders sits hunched over 20 computer terminals, writing with word-processor programs, experimenting with spreadsheets and familiarizing themselves with the mouse and keyboard. How does a level-C school--the lowest on the South African government's poverty scale--afford an up-to-date computer lab?

"Linus Torvalds has never been to Nooitgedacht, but he's the most likely answer. Torvalds, a Finnish computer scientist, was only 21 back in 1991 when he invented the Linux operating system with the idea of competing with Microsoft's Windows. Rather than sell copies of the software for a fee, Torvalds released Linux's source code--the original program--into the public domain. That kick-started the so-called open-source-software movement, which has since produced a whole suite of programs, from word processors to spreadsheets to video programs—most of it free. In recent years some big companies like IBM, HP and Oracle, but also foreign governments like those of France and Germany, have embraced Linux as a way to stem Microsoft's dominance in PCs..."

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