There are those in the Linux and open source communities who believe the label "religious devotees" is detrimental to the cause, but the Rev. Don Parris embraces it.
But Parris is no zealot -- neither in the Linux world nor the religious one -- and this ordained Baptist minister with the Charlotte, N.C.-based Matheteuo Christian Fellowship has made it his mission to spread the good word about free and open source software (FOSS). The Greek word "Matheteuo" translates to "to make disciples," and Parris has extended the moniker to include making other software users into Linux and open source disciples themselves.
Parris is a longtime user of the Ubuntu Linux distribution and a contributor to the Freely Project, which is a community of users that promotes open source software (OSS) in churches across the United States as a less expensive alternative to the high licensing costs associated with owning Microsoft Windows. Through the Freely Project, a cadre of technically savvy Linux users helps churches migrate from Microsoft Windows to free or less expensive alternatives.
Parris has taken his devotion to Linux beyond the church, publishing The Penguin in the Pew, a book about the intersection of Linux ideas and Christian values, as well as assuming the role in April of editor in chief of the Linux news site LXer.com.
It was at LXer where Parris really stretched his legs into the wider world of enterprise Linux deployments when he leveled a charge at Microsoft in his first post that called the software firm an "economic terrorist" for its monopolistic behavior with Korea and the European Union. The EU's executive commission has found that Microsoft violated European antitrust laws, while Korea was once threatened by Microsoft with the removal of all Windows desktops if it pursued an open source strategy instead of remaining with Microsoft Office.
As a minister, Parris said he simply cannot support a company that behaves in such a manner. With his new position at LXer, he is trying to take the message of free software to the data centers of corporate enterprises.
One area where Parris sees a parallel between his work and the enterprise is the rise of the open source software stack. Most of the churches he assists require customer databases, projection software, an operating system and Web browsing. With the addition of a Web server like Apache, similar software stacks could easily be found in many of today's enterprises.
And according to a study published this month by Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, the probability that a stack will contain some open source components is greater now than it has ever been before. The report said service providers like IBM and Hewlett-Packard are formalizing support, training and certification services to encourage the adoption of open source in their products in direct response to the demands of their customers. This means that software like the Firefox Web browser, MySQL databases and the OpenOffice suite -- whose use is already seeing an upward trend -- could be adopted at even greater rates.
That's just fine for Parris, whose network at the Matheteuo Christian Fellowship uses open source and absolutely no Windows. Once upon a time, he did run Windows 2000, but he migrated off that OS and onto Novell SUSE and Ubuntu 5.11, which he said presented no issues other than a short period of acclimation.
The process began with a dual boot of Windows 2000 and SUSE Linux 8.0 before Parris managed to go to a single boot with just SUSE in 2005.
"SuSE came with KDE [K desktop environment] as a default desktop environment, and KDE looks a lot like Windows. There wasn't a real big transition" Parris said. "I think this idea that exists today that people can't migrate or change because they don't know anything about computers is kind of goofy."