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Andreessen plugs Linux

The Netscape exec says he expects Linux to gain status as a serious operating system for corporate use and may even challenge Windows NT at some point.

BOSTON--On the latest stop of what is looking more and more like the "open source" tour, Netscape Communications' Marc Andreessen told a meeting of the Massachusetts Software Council today that he expects Linux to gain status as a serious operating system for corporate use, and said it may even challenge Windows NT at some point.

Andreessen said that the open source code model "will drive change in the industry and reinforce an economic shift for software companies? where companies give away a product for free to get something back."

Such open source code is exemplified by Linux, a popular free version of the Unix operating system, and by Netscape's release of the source code for its Communicator software.

Andreessen also pointed to Apache, a freeware Web server widely used on the Net, as another example of the free source code movement.

He delivered a similar message just more than a week ago at the Web.Builder conference in San Francisco, sponsored by CNET: The Computer Network, the publisher of NEWS.COM.

"The software industry has to reexamine how it develops revenue stream," he said. The idea is to "give source code away to get more users of your software. It's getting harder and harder to sell software as people want more content and services."

He said the number of developers around the world involved in open source code projects has grown as the Net has gained wide popularity over the last few years. He also said that Linux is the only operating system growing market share besides Microsoft's Windows NT.

"The fascinating thing is these projects are, in fact, resulting in software that is more stable and has more platform features," he said. Andreessen said that's because open source projects are not limited to budgets or manpower constraints found in corporations, and can tap into the brightest developers all over the world.

He said, "Programmers? all say 'well we use NT or Solaris here at work cause we have to. We all have Linux at home cause we want to'? It's really captured the hearts and minds of the technical community like nothing else has since the emergence of the Web."

Citing Apache, Linux, and Mozilla.org, where Communicator source code is hosted, Andreessen said all three have an interesting characteristic. "It's impossible to compete with them. A company can't compete with Linux because it would be like competing against something that doesn't exist," he said.

"You can't out-innovate them, because they're moving faster than any company can build. They're cheaper, because they cost nothing and no one's charging for them. They have far broader life support and language support than any company could possibly afford."

He told the council that he expects to see the emergence of Linux as a "very serious" operating system, used in a broad range of commercial applications.

After his speech he was asked by an attendee how companies can control the introduction of viruses into their code with such wide distribution. He said the open source model works somewhat like peer review in the medical community, where doctors and researchers submit findings to colleagues for review, then it gets published in a journal. With open source code, developers closely follow each other's work, adding to changes being made by others.

"People have been finding and fixing bugs a lot faster than we were able to," he said

Beyond the open source model pitch, Andreessen also said he would like to see a different use of the existing phone line for Internet access.

"We complain a lot about not having enough bandwidth. It's time to take into account that what we do have is a worldwide analog voice phone network. What we ought to do is hook up these very good speech recognition systems they're coming out with?to the Net and we ought to give people all over the world access to the Internet over the analog Network using voice as the interface."