Computer Programmers Rally To Support California Open-Source Bill

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Comparing their cause to America's fight for independence from England, computer programmers rallied Thursday to support a proposal that would require the state of California to purchase more open-source software.

Michael Tiemann, chief technology officer for Raleigh, N.C.-based software company Red Hat, led about 30 protesters from the Linux World Conference and Expo to a podium outside City Hall. He urged politicians to adopt the Digital Software Security Act, a month-old proposal gaining support among hackers, civil libertarians and people opposed to Microsoft's dominance of the global software industry.

"Government and monopolists want to take away our right to write software and use computers as we want to use them," Tiemann said to marchers, mainly shaggy-haired men in T-shirts and jeans. "Open source is the true spirit of democracy, and we must preserve it."

The proposal would require California state agencies to use open-source software such as the Linux operating system as an alternative to proprietary software such as Microsoft Windows. Tiemann and several other open-source enthusiasts wrote the proposal and published it online, but they're asking programmers around the world to suggest changes.

Mainly because of the reduced cost, government agencies and corporations around the world are switching to open-source software to run databases and manage e-mail. According to research firm A.D.H. Brown Associates, about 20 million people are using the Linux operating system, the most popular example of open-source software.

But the Computing Technology Industry Association blasted the notion that California adopt an open-source approach. The Washington-based trade group said the proposal would stifle innovation in corporate America and cause "unintended repercussions for California, its [information technology industry and its citizens."

A Microsoft spokesman refused to comment on the bill but said the world's largest software company supported the CTIA's position.

Microsoft's snubbing didn't surprise protesters. Many worried that Microsoft could extend its dominance in operating systems and Internet browsers to gain access to personal data stored on computers, including passwords or financial information. They feared digital privacy bills introduced earlier this year, including one to put government-mandated anti-copying mechanisms in consumer electronic devices.

"They're all in cahoots--Microsoft, the government, corporate America," said protester Mike Collins, 48, a computer consultant in Austin, Texas, who sported a tattoo of the Linux penguin logo on his calf. "We are at a pivotal point. We need open-source now more than ever."

But the rally's sparse attendance may underscore challenges facing the proposal. Only about 30 of the 15,000 Linux World attendants marched to City Hall. Open-source enthusiasts are known for their libertarianism and disdain for politics.

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