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Companies woo open-source developers

Companies trying to jump on the open-source movement are coming up with a variety of incentives to woo programmers, including creating projects to prove that they aren't just "parasites" exploiting the programmers.

Companies trying to jump on the open-source movement are coming up with a variety of incentives to woo programmers, including creating projects to prove that they aren't just "parasites" exploiting the programmers.

In the open-source method, many programmers contribute to software products, and new companies built on those efforts are cropping up nearly every day. This unhindered sharing of programming code stands in contrast to the more common software development method in which a company writes its own software and jealously guards the product.

Companies benefiting from open-source efforts go to great pains to avoid acquiring the dreaded label of "parasite"--a company that exploits the work of open-source programmers without "giving back to the community." Often, those efforts include contributing to the programming effort, as in the case of Red Hat and most other versions of the Linux operating system.

But an increasing variety of methods are cropping up as companies try to entice programmers to their own projects and secure the goodwill of the programmers. Among the various efforts emerging this and next week:

• OpenSales, a seller of e-commerce software that soon will be released as open-source software, is sponsoring discussion groups where people can hash out the ups and downs of various open-source licenses with noted figures and intellectual property lawyers.

• Sendmail, a company that sells a product based on a widely used open-source email program, will unveil a new Web site Monday where programmers, system administrators, and others can gather to exchange information and chat with noted developers.

• Covalent Technologies, which sells products and services based on the open-source Apache Web server software, has begun selling CD-ROMs of the software for $25, $10 of which goes to support the Apache Software Foundation.

• And Metro Link, which sells basic graphics software for Linux and other operating systems, said today it will donate $1 to Linux International and $1 to X.org for each copy of one of its software packages sold.

One side effect of the courting of the open-source programmers is the rise in prominence of the relatively small number of the so-called luminaries who have been advocating open-source programming since long before it achieved today's level of acceptance.

For example, Eric Raymond, author of the open-source programming tract "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" and a cofounder of the Open Source Initiative, is in high demand.

An interview with Raymond will be published on Tuesday, he'll serve on the panel in the licensing discussion initiated by OpenSales, and will speak next week at the Arizona Internet Professionals Association meeting. In addition, he has spoken about the open-source movement to Microsoft and blessed the open-source efforts under way at Apple.

Licensing debate
OpenSales chief executive Michelle Kraus said the company is sponsoring a series of licensing workshops in November, December, January, March, and May in Palo Alto, California. Attendees will include Raymond, intellectual property attorney Allen Grogan, Mitchell Baker of Mozilla.org, Rick Moen and Nick Moffitt of Linuxcare, Kevin Lenzo of Carnegie-Mellon University, and Karsten Self of the Free Software Community.

One issue open for discussion is how OpenSales's own license. The company chose not to use the Gnu General Public License because it's impossible to add proprietary customizations to open-source software released under the GPL, she said.

Instead, OpenSales will make its software an open source project as soon as it finishes work on its license, currently called Yet Another Public License, or YAPL, Kraus said.

OpenSales' software is modeled after the software that powers eToys' e-commerce site. Indeed, the OpenSales chief technology officer comes from eToys, and the same venture capitalist firm, Idealab, funded both operations.

Though the software will be available for free, OpenSales will sell its services to companies who want it customized, tailored for their own computing environment, or set up faster than they might be able to do by themselves, Kraus said.

OpenSales, founded in 1998 by Bill Gross and based in San Mateo, California, has about 25 employees and is funded chiefly by venture capitalist firm IdeaLab. Kraus said she took over the company in March.

Sendmail making noise
Sendmail is also making noise coinciding with a major expansion of its product. Next week, the company will publish a series of interviews with several open-source members, said Richard Guth, vice president of marketing for Sendmail.

The festivities will begin with Eric Allman, the original author of the Sendmail program and founder of the Sendmail company. Other participants include Raymond, Paul Vixie, leader of the Bind software that's instrumental for servers shuttling information across the Internet, Brian Behlendorf, co-creator of Apache, and Tim O'Reilly, open source advocate and head of publishing company O'Reilly and Associates.

The events will take place on the company's new Web site, Sendmail.net, a portal site that will include open-source news and technical information that will be updated often. Two full-time employees and several part-time writers will control and write for the site, Guth said.

"The goal of the site is to connect the open-source community with the technical ideas and the information they need" to use and improve the Sendmail software, he said. "People are starving for information and the ability to talk to people doing new and different things."

Though the Sendmail program was originally developed in 1981, the Sendmail company was founded in 1998 and began shipping commercial products in January.

Now, Sendmail has signed partnerships with several companies to add new capabilities to the Sendmail email software. The companies, such as the Brightmail software to filter out unwanted mass email and the TrendMicro software to catch viruses in email before they're delivered to the email recipient. Through the partnerships, Sendmail will add new APIs-- standard ways of interacting with a program--so that these modules can easily be plugged into the Sendmail software.

Other modules will allow the software to encrypt email, scan for email that could get a company in trouble with lawyers, and send email automatically to subscribers to a service, he said. The new features will arrive in January.