Free For All

In a perfect world, Bill Gates would be a beggar and every citizen would tote a gun. At least, they would in hacker Eric Raymond's Camelot.The notorious high-tech radical is traveling the country, indeed the world, with his "open-source" crusade, proselytizing to mostly bearded, bespectacled and fashion-challenged geeks. His rather socialist message? Software code should be free and open to all; dump copyright and intellectual property protections.Raymond is widely credited -- along with Linux creator Linus Torvalds -- for fueling the open-source movement, using the Internet as his free-software-for-all medium. His paper "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" (posted at www.tuxedo.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/) has become an open-source bible for believers.Raymond, an ex-mathemetician from Malvern, Penn., says closed-source monopolies, such as Microsoft, "lie when they say they can innovate.""Organizations don't innovate; individuals with insights do. The best that a company like Microsoft can do is to be responsive to individuals who have insights," says Raymond.That isn't happening, he says. "If architects build houses like programmers write software, the first woodpecker that came along would be able to end civilization as we know it."Although hackers can be loners, unwilling to speak up, every movement needs an evangelist, he told the crowd. "Oh shit, that's me," he added. "I like hackers, they're my tribe and my people, but there are not many extroverts among them."Gregarious he is -- kind of a Celtic storyteller/jester/warrior hybrid -- determined to strut around the countryside spreading his open-source seeds.But Raymond's condemnation isn't only aimed at the Microsoft-led Old World Order -- his own choir also needs to embrace a little capitalism, he says. Engineers and hackers need to market their wares and not "assume businessmen are stupid.""The wrong message we've been giving the key industry leaders is, 'If you give your operating systems to a bunch of bearded, sandaled freaks, who spout something that suspiciously sounds like communism, everything will be OK.'""If we had marketed UNIX correctly, Gates would be sitting on a street corner with a sign, 'Will program for food,'" Raymond said.Raymond gives carefully scripted open-source presentations to Fortune 500 decision-makers. He scored last year with Netscape, which decided to include the source with the release of Communicator 5.0.The evangelist warns that open-source advocates must tread lightly with these big-company targets. "By all means, don't tell these guys that intellectual property is evil and wrong, unless you want to meet their friendly security guard as an escort on your way out."Companies and individuals are starting to see the open-source light, he emphasizes, with many of the closed-source empires dead or dying. He predicts that it's only a matter of time before Microsoft's cookie crumbles, despite short-term gains.Raymond -- who couldn't look more the hacker part with his balding/ponytailed head and black T-shirt -- is highly political. His Web site (www.tuxedo.org/~esr/) says he is a Libertarian, adamantly anti-Internet censorship, favors individual access to encryption and exercises his right to bear -- and advocate -- guns."I enjoy playing with guns," his site says. On Eric's Gun Nut Page (www.tuxedo.org/~esr/guns/), he emphasizes that it is "not only the right but the duty of free people to be armed and willing to use lethal force in defense of life and liberty."On the site, Raymond outlines a pro-gun argument "not intended for the intelligence-impaired." He suggests that pro-gun-controls folks post big signs on their front lawns, reading, "This Home Is A Gun-Free Zone." If that sounds like a bad idea, his simplistic argument goes, "then perhaps you should consider how dependent you are on the kindness of 'gun nuts' and rethink your position."The site describes Raymond's personal "heat": a Colt M1991A Officer's Model semiautomatic pistol, "small enough to conceal but has excellent stopping power." He gave his wife, Cathy, a Smith and Wesson Model 60 for her birthday, "a small-frame, five-shot alloy revolver with a bobbed hammer, designed for concealed carry."Whoever said geeks can't be romantic?Raymond's speaking schedule is available at http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/speaking.html. E-mail comments to donna@shutup101.com.

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