"Mike Owens credits a little penguin for reviving his moribund interest in technology. A chemical engineer by degree, programmer by choice, the 33-year-old resident of North Richland Hills, Texas, said he was close to turning his back on computers as a profession five years ago.
At the time, he was working and playing exclusively on Microsoft Windows machines.
"Even from a programming standpoint, it was a nightmare," he said. "It just never worked right, and you spent more time trying to program around the bugs than you did doing anything really creative or productive."
On a whim, Owens began experimenting with the open-source operating system Linux, whose mascot is a pleasant, pudgy penguin. He immediately felt an affinity with the operating system and the dedicated volunteer developers who tend it.
"It's technology with love in it," Owens said.
Since then he has woven Linux into every facet of his personal and professional life.
At home, he runs a network over a Gateway server loaded with the Gentoo flavor of Linux, a highly customizable distribution. On his Dell laptop, it's Linux running the show. Even his portable music player uses a database run by the free system.
"I don't use anything Microsoft, and I haven't for years," he said.
At work, it was not a change without pain. Owens had landed a job as chief information officer for Century 21 Mike Bowman Inc., where 150 real estate agents and 30 staff members rely on him to keep their Microsoft systems running.
"I don't care who you are. You will almost certainly have to interoperate with Microsoft products in one way or the other," he said.
But, like many Linux switchers, Owens was enticed and excited by the help available from others of similar mind-set. He joined the North Texas Linux Users Group (NTLUG.org), a haven for geeks with a passion for building and tweaking the OS.
And he began to explore ways the real estate office could be converted from Microsoft, exploring solutions that others had developed and made available on the Internet.
Microsoft products may dominate the world, but grass-roots groups such as NTLUG are booming all over the country. Although Linux is installed in perhaps 5 percent of the world's machines, it is gradually gaining status and increasing its reach as more programmers and information technology managers warm to its benefits, especially for Web applications."
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