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Open-source thinking – Linux firm creates foundation

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By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Building on the ideas behind the Linux open-source operating system, Durham tech firm Red Hat will endow its new foundation with $30 million to champion open-source thinking.

By marketing Linux, whose underlying programming code is free and available to anyone, Red Hat and a handful of other companies are challenging the proprietary software market dominated by Microsoft.

Red Hat, whose strategy has helped it sell billions of dollars in stock, now wants its new Red Hat Center to “promote the concepts underlying open-source technology for the betterment of society,” says Laurie Racine, the foundation’s president.

Those concepts include the free and open exchange of information and access to technology in ways that make it easy to use, manipulate and understand, Racine says.

Starting this summer, the foundation will begin accepting proposals for grants to test open and accessible technology in a variety of disciplines, including law, engineering, social science, education and health care.

The Red Hat Center probably will make grants four times a year, issuing requests for proposals or soliciting applications in particular subject areas and sectors, Racine says.

The foundation also plans to team up with other funders.

“We will be very interested in partnering and collaborating with other nonprofits and industry and corporate foundations to move agendas forward,” she says. “We don’t want to bear the burden of this by ourselves. We see this largely as a group endeavor.”

Racine, a founder and former managing director of the DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival at Duke University and former director of the health sector management program at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, said the foundation will not promote any single open-source product — including Red Hat’s – but rather will be an advocate for open-source thinking in general.

“We are trying to expand society’s awareness of the benefit of looking at information in a different way, one that is based on free exchange of information and collaboration and accessibility,” she says

The foundation has four goals. It wants to:

* Help people better understand technology’s limits, and the nature of open and accessible technology.

* Teach students in universities and middle and high school students to understand technology by breaking it down into its component parts – and help them apply that way of thinking to other academic disciplines.

* Support research and development projects to help universities build on skills based on open and accessible technology

* Help public policymakers better understand open-source technology and its applications to society.

The Red Hat Center has named seven people to its board: Lawrence Lessig, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University; Sim Sitkin, an associate professor of decision sciences at Duke’s Fuqua School; John Gilmore, founder of Sygnus Corp., which merged with Red Hat, and a founder and board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; John Seely Brown, chief scientist at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center; Marc Ewing, a Red Hat founder and director; Robert Young, a Red Hat founder and its chairman; and Donnie Barnes, one of Red Hat’s first employees.

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