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Paul McNamara, vice president for products and platforms at software company Redhat, Inc., came to Penn last night to discuss his company and its new way of looking at software sales. McNamara was the first speaker in a series sponsored by the Dining Philosophers, Penn's student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery, an international group for computer science and education. Redhat produces a version of the Linux operating system. An operating system is the basic software that runs computers, like Microsoft Windows or the MacOS. Linux is distributed freely under an agreement called the GNU General Public License, which allows others to view the underlying code for the program and modify and even sell the software themselves, provided they in turn make their changes to the software publicly available under the same terms. The GNU license is an example of an "open source" licensing agreement, one in which the underlying source code for a program is made freely available to anyone who wants it. The system allows users to contribute their work toward the underlying programming of the operating system. Redhat Linux is the most popular of about a dozen major distributions of various versions of Linux. More than 60 people, mostly Engineering students, filled the Towne Building's Heilmeier Hall for McNamara's presentation, which was directed toward explaining his company's business model and discussing open source software development. Open source development is superior to standard, proprietary software development because it allows for the collaboration of thousands of people over a wide geographic area on a flexible schedule, McNamara said. "People in India can effectively participate in real time with people in Canada," McNamara said. Open source development also allows for a "darwinian effect," where the best of several versions of the same software is selected, McNamara said. It also allows the massive task of writing an operating system, which can consist of more than 25 million lines of programming, to be divided into a large number of small components. Redhat sells its software in stores for around $50, but since the licensing agreement requires that the software also be made freely available, the entire operating system can be downloaded from thousands of Internet servers and even purchased through other distributors. McNamara said that even though Redhat sells "a bazillion copies" of the boxed version of its software, the company makes most of its money through training and specialized programming and support, mainly for large corporate customers. The company announced a program two weeks ago called Redhat Network that allows Redhat to manage and support its corporate companies' computers remotely over the Internet.

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