HP, O'Reilly link firms, programmers

Hewlett-Packard and O'Reilly and Associates unveil a new Web site designed to let companies tap into the pool of open-source programmers.

Hewlett-Packard and O'Reilly and Associates have unveiled a new Web site designed to let companies tap into the pool of open-source programmers while letting those developers get paid for their efforts.

The Web site, called SourceXchange, will let programmers bid for projects that companies don't want to do on their own, said Wayne Caccamo, head of HP's Open Source Software Operation. Companies will offer a variety of compensation, including cash or free equipment, and the resulting software will be released to the open-source community.

Because the projects will have formal schedules and milestones, "it takes away some of the last excuses people have not to use the open-source development model," Caccamo said. In open-source programming, the original software instructions are shared freely, a strong contrast to the secretive proprietary method that prevails at companies. The most famous technology in this expanding realm is the upstart, and increasingly popular, Linux operating system.

O'Reilly and Associates, a longtime supporter of open-source programming movement, will host the site and will get a part of the proceeds that change hands--a financial model that resembles that of online auctioneer eBay. Also like eBay, the developers and the organizations sponsoring the research will be able to rate each other, said Brian Behlendorf, chief technology officer of new ventures at O'Reilly and a cofounder of the open source Apache Web server project.

HP will describe the SourceXchange project next week at Linux Expo in Raleigh, North Carolina. HP also said it has got Linux up and running on Intel's simulator of the next-generation 64-bit "Merced" chip and that the Linux now works with HP's OpenView corporate computer management software.

Among other announcements expected at the show:

• VA Linux Systems will unveil its www.linux.com Linux portal, which currently gets about 100,000 visitors a day.
• SGI will announce details of what parts of its own high-end Irix operating system software it plans to release to the open-source community. SGI has said it plans to release servers this summer using Intel's 32-bit chips running Linux as well as Windows NT.
• Transaction processing software company BEA Systems will announce two of its flagship products, Tuxedo and WebLogic, will be available on Red Hat's edition of Linux, and that developer versions will be free.
• Chilisoft has announced the Linux version of its software that lets Linux use Microsoft's active server page technology that lets servers generate customized Web pages on the fly.
• The Beowulf cluster including an eight-port switch and two computers for $2,599.
• Linux seller SuSE will announce that its version of Linux is available at retail stores, including Best Buy Fry's Electronics and CompUSA. The company also will be showing the beta version of its upcoming version of Linux for Compaq's Alpha chips.
• Caldera Systems will announce that it's participating in the Linux Professional Institute's vendor-neutral program to certify basic features of different versions of the Linux operating system.
The SourceXChange project is the latest indication that being an open-source programmer can be worth putting on a resume. Behlendorf gained credentials by helping with the Apache project, which has become a Web server supported by both IBM and HP, not to mention countless Web sites.

Linux hasn't made leader Linus Torvalds any richer, but he's fond of pointing out that he's in no danger of unemployment. He probably would have little difficulty landing one of the four job openings at SGI for Linux kernel developers. He currently works at Transmeta, the secretive Silicon Valley start-up concentrating on a new PC chip architecture.

Andrew Tridgell, a key developer of the Samba software that lets Linux machines emulate Windows file and print servers, just landed himself a job at Linux technical support startup LinuxCare, where he'll get to continue his open-source work.

Being an open-source developer can be a good way to get new hardware as well. Compaq, HP, and Sun Microsystems have given away free computers to developers of Linux for their own chips.

"We could compensate a developer writing, say, a device driver for a workstation [by saying] 'Keep the box when you're done,'" Caccamo said. "It's an extremely cost-effective way for HP to pay developers, and it also gets HP gear in the hands of open-source developers."

SourceXChange was the brainchild last fall of an HP information technology employee who recognized that the ordinary contracting process is "very burdensome, complex, and time-consuming" and wanted to find a cheaper, simpler way of hiring outside employees, Caccamo said.

The company approached O'Reilly and Associates about the project's viability, Caccamo said, then realized that O'Reilly, a book publisher and open source booster, would be a good place for such a site.

Projects to be posted
In six or eight weeks, the first projects, all sponsored by HP, will be posted at the Web site, Behlendorf said. Once the system is debugged and ready for prime time in August or September, the site will be opened to any company, and HP will turn over the site operation to O'Reilly.

"HP will be the beta sponsor for SourceXchange. At the end of the beta period, HP will be stepping back, making sure there's a level playing field," Caccamo said.

Caccamo declined to say how much money HP was spending to start up the effort, but did say the company did donate two HP servers. The program will give companies "an excellent outsourcing option for lots of projects," Caccamo said, though not necessarily the projects that would involve the company's proprietary intellectual property.

The project also will have "peer reviewers," experts who can help companies to write good requests for proposals and mediate disputes if there are disagreements about the quality of software.

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