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Bob Young's trademark impish grin and fire engine-red baseball cap are his stock in trade. And so is Linux, the open source operating system software that could turn Microsoft Corp.'s proprietary Windows franchise on its head.

As chairman and co-founder of Red Hat, the leading developer of open source operating system software, Mr. Young is considered the software industry's chief evangelist for Linux.

Thanks to Mr. Young, the open source movement spurred by the work of Finnish programmer Linus Torvalds, is catching on at Hewlett-Packard Corp. and IBM Corp., two traditional Windows/Intel strongholds.

Mr. Young's company markets the Red Hat Linux Platform, which holds a 68% market share of all open source server operating systems, according to International Data Corp. About 30% of all Web sites run on Linux-based systems.

But you won't see Linux touted in multimillion-dollar ad campaigns. Rather, Mr. Young says, the movement has spread via the Internet and viral marketing to Internet news groups and trade events. "We recognized very early on that we gained a huge marketing benefit in this open source model . . . customers become your salesmen."

Companies such as IBM, Intel Corp., Dell Computer Corp. and other tech giants that have made strategic investments in Linux-based products are also putting their marketing stamp on the movement. In March 1999, Red Hat raised $10 million in venture capital from the likes of IBM, Compaq Computer Corp., Dell and Novell.

"It was a branding event, giving us credibility . . . and it was key to accelerating the momentum," Mr. Young says.

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