Andover.Net Develops E-CommerceAround Open Source Communities

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Linux, the maverick operating system threatening to supplant Microsoft's Windows NT in some programming circles, is free on the Web. But Andover.Net, an Acton, MA, technology Web-site network, wants to make money off it anyway.


Andover operates and sells advertising on technology sites, including freshmeat.net, an archive that lists ongoing open source projects being developed by independent programmers. This week, the company is expected to announce it will begin funding and hosting projects for programmers. And over the coming year, Andover - having built a giant community of Linux enthusiasts - hopes to begin selling services to businesses entering the open source world.


"We'll act as an intermediary between corporations who want to adopt Linux and those people who can help them and do the development," said Andover president-CEO Bruce Twickler.


Linux is the flagship of the open source trend - some call it a revolution - in which many people contribute through the Internet to computer applications that can be modified or customized over time. No one owns Linux, and it's free to anyone who downloads it off the Web. Freshmeat.net visitors can read about and download dozens of evolving Linux projects.


Twickler is the first to admit that the content on freshmeat.net can sometimes be pretty arcane stuff. "This is for developers. If you're not a developer, you don't want to be there," he said.


But such a targeted community is exactly where Net advertisers want to be. Andover sells banners aimed at the tech-savvy developers on its network of sites. Ad sales account for the bulk of the company's revenue, and several hardware players have bought banners on the network.


Andover now is in the early testing with server51.freshmeat.net, a Web destination named after Area 51, the Nevada site some believe plays host to aliens and UFOs recovered by the U.S. government. However tenuous Linux's link to hidden alien spacecraft, server51.freshmeat.net will nonetheless host ongoing open source projects for developers who want to avoid the cost of setting up their own site. Projects are broken down by category. Beta testing is set to begin Feb. 15, and projects that prove popular or that Andover deems promising will get grants, direct investment or a share of ad revenue. Users must register.


Andover's larger goal is to eventually sell support and services to businesses using Linux. For example, Andover might charge clients an annual subscription fee for regular updates on changes or security issues related to applications those businesses download. Otherwise, Andover may charge for inquiries about Linux or to set up developers with business clients. The firm has yet to determine a pricing scale.


It's a new business-to-business model that is largely untested. Stock analysts who follow Andover's Nasdaq-traded shares don't expect such services to account for an appreciable part of the company's revenue this year.


However, as more developers popularize Linux, big technology players are taking greater notice of the operating system. IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. have endorsed the system through bundling deals.
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