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Money and freedom a winning formula

Open sourcing pays off for businesses

From CNN's Charles Hodson

Open sourcing has come a long way since Linus Torvalds, above, posted his software on the Web.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- In its attempt to conquer the movie world, specialist animators Moving Picture Company (MPC) have turned to an unlikely ally in the form of open sourcing, the concept that is changing the way businesses around the globe are operating.

The London-based company, known for its visual effects and post-production services for the feature motion picture and commercial advertising industries, switched to a Linux-operated system five years ago.

Managing director David Jeffers told CNN that the company has not looked back since the move.

"It's incredible in just five or six years what new technologies have enabled us to do -- even within a year what we might have done in (the motion picture) 'Troy' last year, given certain improvements within our production pipe line," he said.

"If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would just not have believed that we would be able to do what we can now do."

Open source is the concept whereby people from all over the world collaborate voluntarily to produce computer programs in a market normally dominated by big corporations.

It essentially means the software code is freely available for any programmer to examine and improve.

Its proponents claim that it produces better software than the traditional closed model because more programmers can see the source, allowing a greater number of people to spot problems and provide solutions.

The concept began in 1991, when Finnish student Linus Torvalds posted his software, now Linux, on the Internet.

Torvalds freely gave away the source code of the program, so that those who wanted to check its security could have a crack at it. He encouraged people to add to it and improve it, with the only proviso being that it remain freely available to everyone.

As a result, thousands of hackers worldwide spotted its flaws and helped iron them out.

At MPC, that philosophy has been warmly embraced.

The company's head of technology, Nick Cannon, told CNN that since Novell had bought SUSE, one of the leading Linux distributions, more than a year ago, open sourcing looked set to become even more useful for businesses.

"Linux is really very strong in servers and it is being used now in critical systems in different industries," he said.

"Where it has not been so strong, until very recently, is in the desktop for replacing the likes of (Microsoft) Windows. That is because of the lack of software and the lack of standardization of the look and the feel. That is starting to come together now."

He said Novell was beginning to steer efforts to improve this area.

Novell, which installs, improves and maintains Linux-based systems, reported net revenues in excess of $1 billion in 2003. It is now looking to expand its horizons.

Jack Messman, chairman and CEO of Boston-based Novell, told CNN that over time, he had a vision that Linux desktop software would compete directly with Microsoft products, which currently dominate the market.

"I think of Linux as being a disruptive technology, this is a revolution. It is not going to happen overnight because we are not trying to position the Novell Linux desktop as something that competes today head on with Microsoft," he said.

"Over time, as the functionality builds in the Linux desktop, it will become more of a competitor to Microsoft."

But according to Microsoft senior director Ashim Pal, the company's position as market leader is in no immediate danger.

"We are very very serious as a company about how we think about platform value in terms of having the fact based dialogue with customers," Pal told CNN.

"In terms of reflecting our understanding of customers and new products and as long as we continue to do that well I have no concern that we can be successful."

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