MOSCOW, Russia — Stuffed into a small office on the top floor of the Institute of Philosophy in downtown Moscow, Alexei Smirnov and a dozen other techies sit hunched over laptops, pecking rapidly at their keyboards as open source code flickers across their screens. This is the nerve center of the ALT Linux team, a chain of Russian-speaking Linux programmers that stretches from Siberia to Israel. In many ways, this is also the core of this country’s burgeoning open source movement. In this nation long known for its skilled programmers and a love for anything that is free, open source is starting to take hold.
Six years ago ALT Linux began as a volunteer corps of coders eager to improve programs and show off their programming skill. In the last few years it has morphed into a company with 30 staff employees in four cities, plus another 120 unpaid programmers who participate just for kicks.
The company’s flagship product is a nine-CD set of 4,000 packets of programs in Russian (and other languages) and complete documentation. It sells for some 1,400 rubles, or about $45. The company’s one-CD version for an individual desktop user, called Junior, costs $7.
But the core of ALT Linux’s business is developing and supporting open source-based applications for corporations and sometimes government agencies.
The same is true for the other main Russian open source developers: Moscow-based ASPLinux and St. Petersburg’s Linux Inc.
A love for free stuff is practically a part of the Russian national character. Almost all home computers run on pirated Microsoft programs that can be purchased on streetcorners and in underpasses for $2-3. Businesses and the government, of course, are held to a higher standard, but piracy exists in these spheres too.
The cultural roots of Russia’s love of free stuff run deep. One of the richest words in the Russian language is khalyava, which roughly means «free.» Khalyava does not mean free in the sense of liberated, though, nor is it an exact synonym for «gratis» or «free of charge.» Khalyava is most commonly used in reference to free food or free drink (vodka, say). But the word has also been used in its adjectival form to describe open source: khalyavny software.
[ source: http://newsforge.com/newsforge/03/09/29/1555233.shtml?tid=11 ]
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