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Ghost in the machine

Brent Northcutt is something of a ghost in the machine. For I-Land Internet Services' 18,000 customers, his work would go unnoticed much of the time.

But, there, lurking in the digital background of ones and zeroes, are his programming scripts making sure that things run smoothly. As a system programmer for I-Land, the 32-year-old Warrensburg resident works his magic in languages with names such as PHP, Perl, and C++.

A dedicated adherent to what is known in the virtual realm as the open source movement, Mr. Northcutt is most at home in the Unix-based Linux operating system.

For most computer users, there is little more to using the Internet than starting up the system and hoping online. A Windows or Mac system comes pre-packed and ready to go. Linux systems require the owner to have some proficiency in Unix programming, but provide a greater versatility that allows systems to be configured to an individual's needs.

A battle of philosophical wills has simmered for years between those, like Mr. Northcutt, who advocate open source code, and business interests like Microsoft, who favor a closed system.

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