Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Oregon City Builds a Reputation as a Hub for Software Revolution ; Portland Is Benefiting from the Arrival of High-Tech Companies with an 'Open Source' Philosophy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Oregon City Builds a Reputation as a Hub for Software Revolution ; Portland Is Benefiting from the Arrival of High-Tech Companies with an 'Open Source' Philosophy

Article excerpt

As a kid in the 1980s, Bart Massey spent hours tinkering with computer programs, writing his own source code and then sharing it with friends. He and his buddies comprised a small band of curious computer whizzes with no agenda, and certainly no rules. Over time, that code-sharing would come to be known as open source: "We just didn't have a name for it then," says Mr. Massey, today a computer science professor at Portland State University.

Too many cooks may spoil the broth, but too many programmers just makes software better. For a multibillion-dollar company that's spent decades protecting its code with the rigor of Fort Knox, that's a radical notion. But open source is fast gaining converts, shattering traditional business models, and, in the process, transforming Portland into one of the world's open source hubs.

Consider the following:

* Companies like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel have developed their own open-source labs here.

* Linus Torvalds, author of Linux, the first mainstream open- source operating system, moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to work at the Open Source Development Lab in Portland.

* In mid-October the city hosted the first Government Open Source Conference, a gathering for state and municipal technology managers interested in using open-source software in the public sector.

* Most recently, Oregon Gov. Theodore Kulongoski announced a $350,000 contribution from Google to develop open-source software, hardware, and curricula at Oregon State University, which boasts an Open Source Lab, and Portland State University. Portland's standing as a hub for open-source development is not lost on the governor, who is eager to bring even more jobs and investment to what he calls a "burgeoning open technology cluster."

More Firefox than Che

Portland - a city where T-shirts on college campuses are more likely to sport Firefox than Che - is now seeing venture capitalists descending upon it, proof that all the heavyweight open-source talent here may indeed power the local economy.

"I think we'll see a sharp uptick in entrepreneurial activities because of Portland's global influence," says Lavonne Reimer, executive director of the Open Technology Business Center in Beaverton, a suburb.

On the surface it seems odd that the very companies who build and sell their own proprietary software would welcome the arrival of free, open-source rivals. When IBM built its Linux Technology Lab, many observers were left scratching their heads.

But by using open-source systems like Linux, companies can eliminate the cost of building and maintaining their own operating systems, Ms. Reimer says. That leaves them free to focus on other products and services - such as chips or hardware - that are more important to their futures.

From telecommunications to petroleum to government, most industries are choosing Linux over proprietary operating systems because it cuts costs and offers superior security and flexibility, says John Charlson, spokesman at IBM, whose Linux center in Beaverton employs hundreds of programmers. …

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