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Editor's Note: Open Source Beyond Computing

How Open Source Could Help Change the World

  • March 23, 2000
  • By Kevin Reichard

Can Open Source make a difference outside of the computing community? Charles Crystle thinks so, and he's willing to put his own money on the line to prove it.

Crystle is the founder and chairman of Chili!soft, a Bellevue, Washington firm that creates software solutions for platform-independent Active Server Pages, allowing them to be run on Linux-based Web servers. The firm was acquired today by Cobalt Networks, which will acquire 100 percent of the outstanding stock and assume all stock options of Chili!Soft in exchange for 1.15 million shares of Cobalt common stock. (You can read more about the purchase at Linux Today.)

Instead of taking the proceeds of the sale and doing something incredibly indulgent--like building a world-class yacht--Crystle plans on forming two new ventures: creating a foundation focused on technology development in Central America and forming a musician-centered business incubator in Manhattan's Silicon Alley. The foundation will promote technology skills for Central American citizens as well as providing "social venture capital" to technology-related ventures.

Given Crystle's background as a frustrated musician who once held a recording contract, it's not surprising that he would seek to change how the record music does business--a passion shared by other musicians, many of whom are looking at alternative distribution methods via the Web that bypass traditional music companies. "The record company was just terrible, and it was impossible to build a sustainable career," Crystle says. "I'm expecting the incubator to be a catalyst for positive change.

The ultimate goal, he says, is to change the model in which record companies rely on monster sellers (million sellers and better) and cannot seem to make money on titles that only sell 100,000-200,000 copies. By bypassing traditional distribution channels and offering downloads directly from the Internet and expanding the revenue stream with related merchandise like videos, Crystle predicts that an artist can receive 50 percent of all revenues.

And expect to have a large dollop of the Open Source philosophy built in. "It takes more than just record sales to make an artist," Crystle says. "Look at the Grateful Dead: they encouraged people to record their music, yet they were able to build a great career for themselves. Yes, people had bootlegs, but I think if people like the music, most of them will buy it and support the artist.

"The product is not just the music--the artist is actually the product."

If this sounds a little vague, it is--the incubator is still in the early stages of development. There obviously will be an Internet center to the venture ("we'll be using Cobalt servers running Chili!Soft, obviously, and I expect we'll be paying full price for the equipment," he says with a laugh), but Crystle is still searching for space and seeking partners--both employers and outside investors--in anticipation of a May rollout.

If the incubator takes off, don't be surprised if he moves on to something different. "I'm the consummate start-up guy," Crystle says. "For me, any company with more than 25 employees tends to get boring."

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