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[ba-unrev-talk] NYTimes.com Article: An Alternative to Microsoft Gains Support in High Places

This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by garyrichmond@rcn.com.    (01)

Open Source, Linux in today's New York Times.
GR    (02)

garyrichmond@rcn.com    (03)

An Alternative to Microsoft Gains Support in High Places    (04)

September 5, 2002
By STEVE LOHR     (05)

Governments around the world, afraid that Microsoft has
become too powerful in critical software markets, have
begun working to ensure an alternative.     (06)

More than two dozen countries in Asia, Europe and Latin
America, including China and Germany, are now encouraging
their government agencies to use "open source" software -
developed by communities of programmers who distribute the
code without charge and donate their labor to cooperatively
debug, modify and otherwise improve the software.     (07)

The best known of these projects is Linux, a computer
operating system that Microsoft now regards as the leading
competitive threat to its lucrative Windows franchise in
the market for software that runs computer servers. The
foremost corporate champion of Linux is I.B.M., which is
working with many governments on Linux projects.     (08)

Against this opposition, Microsoft has found itself in the
uncommon position of campaigning for the even-handed
competition of "a level playing field." And I.B.M., once
the feared monopolist of the era of mainframe computers, is
casting itself as a force of liberation from Microsoft, the
monopolist of today.     (09)

Microsoft worries that some governments may all but require
the use of Linux for their powerful servers, which provide
data to large networks of computer users. For the most
part, the battle does not involve the kind of software that
runs on the typical computer user's desk.     (010)

To curb such moves, Microsoft is backing an industry group
called the Initiative for Software Choice. The group lists
20 members - besides the chip maker Intel, a close ally,
most of them small foreign companies or organizations.
(Illegally stifling choice, of course, was precisely what
the federal courts in the long-running antitrust case ruled
that Microsoft did in the market for personal computer
software.)     (011)

The motivations and actions by foreign governments vary
somewhat, but mostly they seem to be trying to ensure
competition. That was the stance taken by a delegation of
Chinese officials involved in developing their software
industry, who visited the United States last month.     (012)

In an interview, Jiang Guangzhi, director of a software
development center in Shanghai, discussed the progress made
in China on various Linux projects and emphasized that the
government did not want one company "to manipulate or
dominate the Chinese market." With its entry into the World
Trade Organization, China is facing increased pressure to
crack down on software piracy, adding to the appeal of free
software like Linux, Mr. Jiang said.     (013)

His delegation had attended the LinuxWorld conference in
San Francisco, and met with I.B.M. executives and its Linux
experts at the company's headquarters in Armonk, N.Y.     (014)

Yet Mr. Jiang also spoke glowingly of Microsoft's
involvement in China. The company set up a research
laboratory in Beijing and recently made a commitment to
invest $700 million in China over the next three years in
education, training and research, and in investments in
local companies.     (015)

"We appreciate Microsoft's contributions," Mr. Jiang said.    (016)

To Chinese Communist officials, it seems, Linux is a useful
tool of pragmatic capitalism to pump-prime market
competition to China's advantage.     (017)

The support of open source software by governments around
the world is rising. There are currently 66 government
proposals, statements and studies promoting open source
software in 25 countries, according to the Initiative for
Software Choice. The policy statements and legislative
proposals mainly encourage the use of open source software
in government procurement, and nearly all of them have
cropped up in the last 18 months.     (018)

"It's growing, unfortunately, from our perspective," said
Mike Wendy, a spokesman for the software initiative, which
was founded in May.     (019)

The impetus for the international activity was in Europe. A
technology advisory group to the European Commission issued
a report two years ago that termed open source software "a
great opportunity" for the region that could perhaps
"change the rules in the information technology industry,"
wresting the lead in software from the United States and
reducing Europe's reliance on imports.     (020)

As open source software, especially Linux, has spread,
countries in other regions have also come to regard it as
both a model of software development and perhaps an engine
of economic growth. The government proposals and projects
are efforts to position their nations to exploit a
promising trend in technology.     (021)

Source code is software rendered in a programming language
that human programmers can read and understand, before it
is compiled down to the digital 1's and 0's that the
machine processes. Software companies, like Microsoft,
typically guard their source code as a trade secret, and
certainly do not allow outsiders to modify or redistribute
it.     (022)

In the open source model, the source code is freely
published for all to see. Then, interested programmers -
often all over the world, communicating over the Internet -
work on a project to fix, modify and add improvements.
These self-selected communities work out their own
governing arrangements to determine when changes in the
code are approved or rejected.     (023)

The leading open source projects are Apache, the software
most used for distributing Web pages to desktop computers,
and the Linux operating system. The kernel, or basic
engine, of Linux was initially developed by Linus Torvalds,
a Finnish programmer who now works in the United States -
though the operating system itself is a result of work from
many contributors, including Richard M. Stallman, who leads
a free software project called GNU.     (024)

Just how far the open source model can go is uncertain. The
projects rely on voluntary contributions from programmers
who work at universities, government laboratories and
companies. Money is made in the open source environment by
supplying technical support, services and writing
applications that run on top of the open source software.     (025)

Linux has certainly gone a long way already. Though there
are versions of Linux that run on desktop PC's, the real
success of Linux has been as an operating system on larger
data-serving machines, which power computer networks in
corporations and governments and the Internet.     (026)

The big market for computer server software is also crucial
to Microsoft's future. Although the company controls a huge
portion of the personal computer operating systems market,
to keep growing it must push increasingly into the
lucrative market for software that runs corporate and
government data centers. It is there that Microsoft
encounters what its senior executives have cited as the two
most significant competitive threats: I.B.M. and free
software, notably Linux.     (027)

That combination, in Microsoft's view, could be
particularly powerful, especially if open source software
emerges as the most politically acceptable technological
path.     (028)

In Germany, for example, the lower house of Parliament
adopted a resolution last November declaring that the
government should use open source software "whenever doing
so will reduce costs." The resolution also cited as
advantages "stability" and "security." Microsoft's Windows
operating system is often criticized for crashing too often
and for being susceptible to computer viruses and security
breaches.     (029)

Then in June, the German government and I.B.M. announced a
"far-reaching cooperation agreement" to use open source
software in national and municipal government agencies.
"The fact that Linux provides a true alternative to the
Windows operating system," said Otto Schily, the German
interior minister, "increases our independence and improves
our position as a big customer for software."     (030)

The German case, I.B.M. says, is part of an emerging
pattern. "There's not a large government in the world we're
not talking to," said Steven Solazzo, general manager of
I.B.M.'s Linux business.     (031)

The Initiative for Software Choice, the Microsoft-supported
group, said it has nothing against open source software as
such, but that a declared policy favoring one development
model is a bias - a competition based on prejudice instead
of the merits of the products.     (032)

"All we're looking for is a level playing field
competitively," said Peter Houston, a senior strategy
executive in Microsoft's Windows group.     (033)

As open source software moves out of its incubator of a
comparatively small community of devoted software
developers and into the commercial mainstream, customers -
in governments and corporations - will increasingly see its
limitations, Mr. Houston said. Windows, he said, has a wide
range of tools and technical abilities that Linux does not
have in a "comprehensive, integrated, easy-to-use" package.    (034)

By contrast, Mr. Houston said, I.B.M. is mainly trying to
convert its weakness in the operating-system market to its
advantage by making money supplying the software - the
ingredients that an operating system like Linux lacks - and
collecting services revenue for putting it all together.     (035)

"I.B.M. is just trying to move the value up the chain from
the operating system," Mr. Houston said.     (036)

In the end, market competition should determine whether
Microsoft or Linux gains the upper hand.     (037)

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/05/technology/05CODE.html?ex=1032236941&ei=1&en=612cb5280a994c5e    (038)

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