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March of the Penguin

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Linux

It's a bit like moving from the basement to the living room.

Open-source software, once primarily associated with computer operating systems, is now being used by companies for critical functions and software applications such as storing data, managing customers and analyzing business information.

The success of Linux, the free computer operating system created in the early 1990s by Linus Torvalds and developers around the world, has paved the way for a growing open-source ecosystem.

``The technology is evolving very rapidly,'' said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with research firm IDC.
As more than 10,000 software developers and other tech workers gather in San Francisco this week for the twice-a-year LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, the focus will be on this new era of open-source software.

Numerous Web sites, such as Google, are now operated on open-source software. Mozilla Firefox is an open-source Web browser that has been downloaded more than 75 million times. OpenOffice is a suite of desktop applications, including word processing and spreadsheet, popular in developing countries, such as India and Brazil.

A worldwide community of developers write and contribute to creating open-source software. That in turn can make the software cheaper and better than proprietary products, open-source advocates say, because the developers don't charge for it and collective brains are constantly improving it.

``It's a new avenue, in terms of technology,'' said Dave Rosenberg, LinuxWorld's conference director. ``They recognize if you can leverage this whole community aspect to development, it's a huge cost advantage.''

IDC forecasts that worldwide sales of open-source applications, tools and system software running on Linux -- while just a slice of overall software sales of more than $200 billion this year -- will increase from $5.4 billion in 2005 to nearly $17 billion in 2009.

``Organizations are looking for ways to cut costs,'' Kusnetzky said.

And in recent years, the open-source model has inspired a new breed of software applications company.

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