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Former Microsoft exec joins open-source project

One of the guys behind Microsoft's "Halloween memo" regarding Linux is now working on open-source media software.

A former Microsoft executive who helped shape the company's initial response to Linux has joined a company selling open-source media software.

CAC Media, a New York-based company that sells software and services for set-top boxes and other media devices, told CNET News.com that it has hired Nat Brown as its chief technical officer.

Brown worked with Microsoft from 1990 to 1999, during which time he helped create the COM+ communications protocol, contributed to development of the DirectX graphics library and helped guide initial plans for the Xbox game console.

He was also one of the main contributors to the infamous "Halloween memo," in which Microsoft first documented concerns about open-source software as a competitive threat.

Brown said the memo, chiefly written by engineer Vinod Valloppillil, partly reflected his admiration of open-source methods.

"There were a lot of us that talked about open-source casually in e-mail, and the memo synthesized a lot of those discussions," he said. "My thought was that there's this beautiful thing with open-source where, as a developer, there's a very low barrier to entry. The flexibility that gives you is really incredible."

Brown said that when he decided to return to work after a few years to concentrate on his family, it was natural for him to look at open-source companies.

"I knew I wanted to get back into something and do it with a smaller company," he said. "I'd been talking with Microsoft about going back to work on the Windows infrastructure. But the company is just very, very big, and the opportunity to have (an) impact and really execute on your ideas is very limited."

Photo: Video Without Boundaries
The MediaReady 4000 will be the first device
to run on CAC Media software.

CAC packages existing and customized open-source applications, device drivers and other components to run digital media centers. The first device to run on the company's software, the MediaReady 4000 receiver from Video Without Boundaries, is set to ship early next year and combines video recording, music playback and other living-room functions.

Brown sees devices powered by CAC software as appealing to folks who want a device that does more than a TiVo-style video recorder but without the complexity and expense of a PC running Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center operating system.

"I'm a big TiVo fan, and I don't say lightly that we'll have an equal user experience and more functionality," Brown said. "I know what the TiVo is capable of doing, and I know that company is not doing it."

Besides the software to run such gadgets, CAC also plans to run a content distribution system that will ship downloadable movies and other video to its set-top boxes, focusing on self-produced films and similar content.

"I see film students selling their films across our network--things like that," Brown said. "There just aren't many places you can go to get independent content. With the distribution services out there now, it's a DRM (digital rights management) nightmare of the same (lousy) content you can get on cable."