An Evangelist for Free Software

In an idealistic corner of the computer world, there is a breed of benign engineers called open-source software programmers. They believe in sharing their work rather than selling it. Yet last month when one of these programmers, Miguel de Icaza, 27, announced the creation of the Gnome Foundation to bring open-source software to the masses, he was flanked by such giant corporate partners as Sun Microsystems, Compaq and IBM. That makes de Icaza a type that's rarer still: part software hippie handing flowers to the corporate police, part digital-age powerhouse.

The open-source movement is based on programmers' writing software and then...

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