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A problem we are facing is another balancing act.
I do not believe we are in the business of painting Microsoft black. Ultimately, the corporation's conduct is subject to judgment by the courts. But we should feel free to speak out in an evenhanded way about matters of fact - and do so without fear! One apparent fact is that MS 's power engenders fear in companies and in individuals. That is a terrible thing.
This article from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another fine article by Steve Lohr.
Bruce Peren's site: www .sincerechoice.org
The case of Bruce Perens, who until recently was a strategist for Linux software at Hewlett-Packard, illustrates the balance that companies must achieve as they promote Linux but continue doing business with Microsoft.
Balancing Linux and Microsoft
September 9, 2002
By STEVE LOHR
For nearly two years, Bruce Perens was a senior strategist
for open-source software at Hewlett-Packard - an evangelist
and rabble-rouser on behalf of a computing counterculture
that is increasingly moving into the mainstream. Part of
the job description, he was told, was to "challenge H.P.
His last day as a Hewlett-Packard employee was 10 days ago.
The parting was amicable, Mr. Perens said, but he was fired
- "officially a termination," he noted. "It came after a
long, long warning," Mr. Perens explained. "The thing that
I did that was most hazardous for H.P. is the
Microsoft-baiting I tend to do."
A spokeswoman for Hewlett-Packard declined to comment on
Mr. Perens's departure, citing company policy against
making public statements about why individual employees
But, according to Mr. Perens, a handful of forces combined
to make his exit from Hewlett-Packard inevitable. After it
bought Compaq this year, the combined company became the
largest single buyer of Windows for personal computers and
data-serving computers, and thus more dependent on
Microsoft. A rising threat to Microsoft is GNU Linux, an
operating system distributed free and developed using the
open-source model in which communities of programmers
donate their labor to debug, modify and otherwise improve
After the merger with Compaq, Hewlett also became the
largest vendor of Linux-based server computers, ahead of
Dell Computer and I.B.M. Yet Hewlett's bet on Linux still
pales compared with its reliance on Microsoft. And after
the merger, it was mainly former Compaq executives who took
senior positions overseeing the Linux business.
In the premerger Hewlett, Mr. Perens, a leader in the
open-source movement, enjoyed a lot of independence. When
speaking to potential Hewlett customers on Wall Street and
elsewhere, he would make the case for Linux, extolling it
as a reliable and secure operating system that also allowed
corporate customers to avoid being locked in to proprietary
software like Microsoft's Windows or Sun Microsystems'
Mr. Perens did not have to make the pitch for Hewlett as
supplier of choice for Linux-based servers, services or
support. That chore fell to Hewlett's sales people. "It was
a pretty unique job that existed because of the H.P.
culture," Mr. Perens said. "I would still be at H.P., I
think, except for the Compaq merger."
Yet beyond the postmerger atmosphere at Hewlett, Mr. Perens
also says that he had been taking a more outspoken stance
against Microsoft recently. "Microsoft is out to crush
Linux as a competitor," said Mr. Perens, who became truly
galvanized after the emergence in May of a Microsoft-backed
industry group, the Initiative for Software Choice. Besides
the chip maker Intel, a close Microsoft ally, most of the
other 20 or so members are smaller foreign companies or
The software-choice group sees a threat in what it has
identified as 66 legislative proposals, government
statements and studies promoting open-source software in 25
countries, including Germany, Britain, China, Peru and
Brazil. Some of those legislative proposals would require
the use of open-source software in government, but most of
the government steps are efforts to ensure there is an
alternative to Microsoft in their critical software
The Microsoft-backed group says its purpose is to promote
even-handed competition based on the merits of products,
instead of a government bias for one kind of software. But
as Mr. Perens sees it, the software-choice group has
another agenda. "Its principles are nice-sounding words,"
he said, "but what they really say is, `Let's maintain the
status quo.' "
Mr. Perens has stepped in himself and started an effort to
respond to the Microsoft-backed group. His initiative,
called Sincere Choice, has its own Web site (www
.sincerechoice.org), and its own set of principles. Mr.
Perens asserts that governments could get huge cost savings
and encourage the spread of open-source software by
purchasing only software that operates well with other
programs. Under his proposal, software companies would be
required to supply software with open technology standards
and open file formats that can be used by outside software
developers, without having to pay royalties.
"The royalty-free patent issue is crucial because the
companies with huge software patent portfolios, especially
Microsoft and I.B.M., have huge tolls booths on the
Internet that can limit the spread of open-source
software," Mr. Perens observed.
Mr. Perens, 44, has regarded technology as a force for
personal freedom since he was a teenager in the Long Island
suburbs of New York. He was a ham radio enthusiast, ran a
pirate radio station in Lido Beach, N.Y., and was briefly a
"phone phreak," who could trick the telephone network into
giving free long-distance calls.
His introduction to computing came in college, when he
worked at the radio station at the New York Institute of
Technology in Old Westbury. Mr. Perens was a station
manager, and one of his duties was to prepare the weekly
logs of programs to be broadcast, as well as commercials.
It was a job for a computer, he figured, and he taught
himself the Basic computer language and wrote a program to
handle the logs.
The appeal of computing proved irresistible. "I got so
involved in the computer that I didn't go to classes
anymore," recalled Mr. Perens, who never got a college
Much of his considerable programming skills over the years
since have been self-taught, a trait fueled by his early
experience with formal education, when he was briefly
misdiagnosed as mentally disabled (it was a motor-deficit
problem that he soon outgrew). "All of this is about
empowering the individual with technology," Mr. Perens
said. "That has been a lifelong thrust."
Mr. Perens eventually joined Pixar, where he worked for 12
years on hardware and software tools for the animators of
"Toy Story," "Toy Story II" and "A Bug's Life." While
working at Pixar, he became more deeply involved in the
emerging open-source movement and with Linux.
Having left Hewlett, he is talking to other companies about
doing consulting work. "Open source doesn't mean you take a
vow of poverty," Mr. Perens said.
Yet Mr. Perens is also deeply committed to the values that
he believes the open-source movement embody. "I'm sorry
that I had to leave H.P., but I'm not going to shut up
about my views," he said. "I'm not just going to sit back
and be a quiet engineer. I have a two-year-old son and I
don't want him to grow up in a world that is less free."
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