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Red Hat gives and gets an education

Mike Evans, vice president of corporate development for top Linux seller Red Hat, traveled to California's capitol to educate legislators in the state Senate about open-source software, but he ended up getting something of an education himself.

"It was interesting to see the debate of open-source software among non-techies. It's somewhat refreshing to realize not everybody in the world understands this stuff," Evans said in an interview after he spoke to the Senate Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee. For example, several seemed to believe that if an administrator uses open-source software that anyone can peer into the inner workings of his or her computer system. (In reality, a typical running system is hidden behind firewalls and other security measures, whether based on open-source or proprietary software.)

The hearing's purpose was twofold: an education about general open-source software and a discussion about how it might apply to election systems. Evans was intrigued by the push toward open-source software in voting machines so it was possible to understand what was going on--a benefit of earlier, less automated systems. "You've gone from pretty transparent systems to this thing that has a black box with proprietary stuff. Nobody knows what it's doing," Evans said.

Open-source software is gaining traction among government customers, but there's still a ways to go. When Evans told the Senate's information technology personnel he'd be brining his own Linux box to show his presentation, Evans recounted, "They said, 'What is a Linux box?'"

And the Web site that offered streaming audio of the hearing only presents Windows Media audio files.

In his presentation, Evans said Red Hat isn't among those who believe open-source software should be required for governments. "We advocate choice," he said.