Open source goes to Davos

Cue the trumpets: A free software pioneer is now a Young Global Leader.

Published January 27, 2006 12:04AM (EST)

One afternoon in the fall of 1997, in a San Francisco restaurant not far from ground zero of the dot-com boom, I listened to a young programmer named Brian Behlendorf explain to me the theory behind open-source software. As one of the key members of the loosely organized team that created the Apache Web server, Behlendorf, as I wrote then, was "a fervent believer in the possibilities for cooperative software development on the Internet. "

His beliefs have never changed, but along the way there have been some interesting twists. Behlendorf is now the chief technical officer of CollabNet, a company that specializes in making software that facilitates collaborative software development over the Internet. He's also been right in the middle of the great technology outsourcing debate. Not only does CollabNet do a lot of its development in India, but the very tools the company sells make the process of outsourcing software development even easier. If the Internet is part of the core infrastructure of globalization, then Brian Behlendorf is one of its architects.

So it wasn't all that surprising to learn this week that Behlendorf has been named a Young Global Leader, a member of an "Elite Group of Powerful International Visionaries" affiliated with the World Economic Forum. Despite the vaguely New World Order tone of "Young Global Leader," his peers look like a pretty interesting group, ranging far and wide across the globe: artists, politicians, corporate executives, activists. Their mandate is to address together the complex challenges of today to shape our world toward a better future.

Out-of-work U.S. programmers are likely to see Behlendorf and CollabNet more as part of the problem than part of the solution, but it makes me feel good to know that he is in Davos, Switzerland, right now, hobnobbing with the captains of global industry. And not just because he's become a friend of mine since those early days of the Web. I think he sincerely believes that greater collaboration between the peoples of the world will lead to a better world. As he wrote in his defense of outsourcing for Salon: "One of the biggest challenges facing the globe is the gap that exists in the wealth and standards of living enjoyed by the world's nations. Foreign trade and communication are the best tools for addressing this, when combined with trade agreements that limit exploitation by setting minimum wages, work environment standards, environmental standards, and so on ... Those concerned about solving the world's problems should be falling over themselves to encourage developing nations to build a white-collar workforce, and to open that workforce to the world."

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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