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Hacker brings message to Springs

Software should be open to all, activist says


IF YOU GO
What: Eric Raymond will be the guest speaker at the combined gathering of the Pikes Peak Linux Users Group and the Perl Mongers Users Group.

When: 6 p.m. Friday.

Where: Colorado Technical University, 4435 N. Chestnut St.

Other details: The event is free but can accommodate only about 200. Organizers ask that attendees RSVP.

For information: Contact Glenn Butcher at 590-6736 or butcher@cos.coloradotech.edu or Tim Chambers at tbc@netbox.com

TO LEARN MORE
For more information about Eric Raymond, the open-source movement or Raymond's Colorado Springs visit, organizers of Raymond's visit recommend these sites:

www.tuxedo.org/~esr/

www.pplug.org

www.pikes-peak.pm.org

www.slashdot.org

By Joanna Bean / The Gazette
Story editor Joan Zales; headline by Rhonda Van Pelt

Meet Eric Raymond, self-described computer hacker, poet, gun freak.

Raymond is a proponent -- no, make that one of the technology world's most provocative spokesmen -- for a sweeping movement that could rewrite the way software is developed and delivered.

In a word: He's the Antichrist of the software profiteers.

You can catch Raymond and his musings when he comes to Colorado Springs on Friday.

He'll talk about the "open-source" software movement at a meeting of a couple of local computer-user groups. He's likely to draw quite a crowd, given the growing population of software engineers in town and the momentum behind the open-source, or free software, movement Raymond and others are trying to advance.

The movement, in short, offers a radical alternative to the traditional software industry by suggesting that the best way to produce good software is to have independent developers use it and improve it.

"The open-source movement is a significant and growing force in the software industry, and Eric is one of its more visible and outspoken advocates," said Bdale Garbee, a friend of Raymond's and a Hewlett-Packard Co. manager in Colorado Springs.

Raymond -- whom Garbee describes as a "jovial, gun-slinging sort of fellow" -- gained notoriety a couple of years ago with a paper he wrote and posted on the Internet titled "The Cathedral and The Bazaar."

In it, Raymond described the phenomenon he says makes the open-source software movement so compelling: If you open up the source code, or line-by-line coding that tells a computer how to execute a task, to anyone who's interested in using it, you'll work out bugs faster.

That flies in the face of the traditional software establishment -- read Microsoft Corp. -- that develops software, sells it to users and fixes bugs, all the while aggressively protecting its intellectual property.

The open-source movement has its roots in -- and couldn't exist without -- the Internet.

Decades ago, as software engineers created the computer network we now know as the Internet, they posted their software -- for instance, to run an e-mail program -- onto the network. Based on users' feedback, developers then would tweak it.

Without the Internet and its vast, far-flung user base, there likely wouldn't be an open-source movement.

And without Raymond's "Cathedral" paper or a man named Linus Torvalds, the open-source movement might have remained an underground, grass-roots phenomenon.

Torvalds, truly, is at the center of the movement. He created an operating system -- a core computer program -- in the early 1990s called Linux.

Unlike well-known operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, Linux is widely available for free on the Internet. Torvalds has become a cult hero for his program and philosophy.

However, it was Raymond's "Cathedral" paper that really turned heads. In early 1998, executives at Netscape Communications Corp. decided to open up the source code for their browser program, Navigator. Raymond's paper, they said, swayed them.

"The whole (open-source) concept has turned the software industry on its ear," said Glenn Butcher, chairman of the computer science department at Colorado Technical College and a host of Raymond's visit. "It runs counter to everything we hold dear in capitalism."

Certainly, Raymond, Torvalds and the rest of the open-source movement don't have every answer for the software industry.

Garbee, the HP manager, has spent lots of time pondering the open-source phenomenon. He also has installed Linux on about 3 percent of the servers, or network host computers, in HP's Colorado Springs operation.

He wonders: How can anyone hope to create a money-making software industry by essentially giving away the software? One clue, he says, might be found among new software companies springing up around the open-source movement. They're offering add-on services -- for a fee -- to help companies use Linux and other open-source software.

Anyone who attends Raymond's talk Friday is likely to get an earful on software and more.

Tim Chambers, who works for Hewlett-Packard in Colorado Springs, invited Raymond to town. Raymond, who lives in Malvern, Pa., is known for visiting local user groups, casual gatherings of people with common computer interests. Pikes Peak Perl Mongers and the Pikes Peak Linux Users Group are hosting Raymond's visit.

In an e-mail interview, Raymond said he agreed to come here "because they asked me nicely." His visit might also have something to do with the local technology population -- Raymond suggests the area "had a critical mass of developers a year ago."

Raymond is an eloquent and passionate spokesman for the movement. He's also quite a character.

Check out his site on the Web (see accompanying box). You'll need a couple of hours to sample Raymond's writing on everything from gun control (hates it) to libertarian philosophy (loves it) to hackerdom (no, hacker isn't a bad word; the miscreants who ruin computer networks are really known as crackers in geek circles) to martial arts. One of Raymond's essays, for example, is titled "Ethics from the Barrel of a Gun." Raymond calls it "an adventure in ethical philosophy; what bearing weapons teaches about the good life. If you are politically correct, this will give you absolute hives. Read it anyway." Raymond even has posted his poetry on his site.

What sets Raymond apart from your run-of-the-mill, run-off-at-the-mouth geek is that the open-source movement he's passionate about is becoming the real thing.

"For (software) that must be supported and sustained over long terms, I'm coming to be of the opinion that open source is the only viable choice," Garbee said.

HP isn't alone in adopting Linux, even in a limited way. Software giant Oracle Corp., for example, is incorporating Linux in its products. DMW Worldwide, a Colorado Springs software company, recently unveiled a software program that employs Linux.

"A lot of servers are running on Unix," said Jay Mitchell, DMW spokesman. "But there are a lot starting to run on Linux too."

Joanna Bean may be reached at 636-0368 or bean@gazette.com


Copyright 1998-1999, The Gazette

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