Faith in numbers: Six more tech cults

These six sects of fanatical loyalists prove there is no end to passion in tech

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Tech cult No. 6: The Open Sourcerors

Established: 1980s

Gathering of the tribes: SourceForge, Open Source Initiative

Major deities: Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, Eric S. Raymond

Minor deities: Too many to name

Holy scripture: "The Cathedral and the Bazaar"

Animal spirit guide: The Linux Penguin

Vast, sprawling, and anarchic, the open source movement is perhaps the tech world's largest and most anti-authoritarian cult -- and that's exactly how they like it. Their goal: to radically transform the world, one line of code at a time.

"From the geek point of view, what open source gives you is clean technology," says Simon Crosby, CTO of Citrix's Datacenter and Cloud Division, and founder of open source virtualization vendor XenSource (now part of Citrix). "The notion that the best code from the best contributors rules. It has the inherent appeal of technological elegance, independent of business BS."

Hundreds of millions of people use open source products every day, but the numbers of open source developers is unknown. Geoff Radcliffe, director of business development for iPhone and WordPress development shop Raster Media, estimates 70 percent of hard-core geeks are open source cultists.

"This is a movement that won't soon be quashed," says Radcliffe. "The opportunities for a smart mind to get rich, famous, and popular from open source development have evolved considerably since its first introduction and will only continue."

But it's also a movement rife with internal divisions, none more prominent than the schism between the followers of Richard Stallman, who believe software should be free, and pragmatists lead by luminaries like Linus Torvalds, who feel commercialization is perfectly acceptable as long as the code is good and accessible to all. Add in the dozens of different open source licenses, each with their own advocates, and the movement splinters even more.

How do you recognize Open Sourcerors? Look for the geekiest people in the room -- the ones with Perl security algorithms printed on their T-shirts or "There's no place like" stickers on their laptops, says Crosby.

Yet it's the geeks who will inherit the earth, he says.

"There's no doubt that open source development has profoundly transformed the world," says Crosby. "None of today's cloud applications -- Google, eBay, Amazon, Yahoo, SaaS, or the iPhone -- would exist without open source. It frees people to do amazing things with software. And wow, they sure have."

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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