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Tech Cults: 6 Sects of Fanatical Tech Loyalists

Tech cult No. 4: The Temple of Drupal

Established: 2001
Gathering of the tribes: DrupalCon
Major deity: Dries Buytaert
Holy scriptures: The Drupal Handbooks
Religious icon: The Drupal Drop

It's the biggest conspiracy you've never heard of. General Motors and Proctor & Gamble, the White House and the World Bank, Christina Aguilerra and Mensa -- all have joined the Temple of Drupal, the open source content management platform created by Belgian programmer Dries Buytaert in 2001.

It's estimated that 1 percent of the world's Websites use the social-media-friendly Drupal, a number that may increase dramatically after Drupal 7's code is finalized, which is expected to happen later this summer.

"The thing that set Drupal apart and allowed its community to grow so large and so rapidly is, first and foremost, Dries, the guy who founded it," says Matt Tarsi, project director for Accession Media, a Web design, development, and marketing agency that relies on the Drupal CMS.

Dries is currently co-founder and CTO of Acquia, which offers its own flavor of Drupal and sells support services for it.

"I think he really knew how to cultivate the developer community from very early on," says Tarsi. "Even now, as Drupal gets serious enterprise adoption, the company leading the way there is Acquia. Ever hear the phase 'Nobody got fired for choosing IBM or Microsoft'? CIOs like to have a vendor to lean on for product support and upgrades and to scream at when things go wrong. Acquia has now become that for the Drupal community."


The faithful gather twice a year at DrupalCon and 24/7 at sites like Drupal.org, where they welcome newcomers and politely tolerate comparisons to other open source CMSes like Joomla and WordPress, says Tarsi.

Drupalistas are usually easy to spot, he says. They often sport stickers and T-shirts featuring the Drupal "Drop," a Smurf-blue figure with a Hershey's Kiss-shaped head that's become as iconic as the Linux Penguin to earlier generations of geeks (pictured right).

"Someone mumbling about hook_form_alter() or preprecess_node() is also a dead giveaway," he adds.

Tech cult No. 5: The Way of the Warp (OS/2)

Established: 1987
Gathering of the tribes: Warpstock
Holy scripture: OS/2 Warp Unleashed (1995)
Sacred relic: Original OS/2 Warp CD-ROM (circa 1994)
The Antichrist: Steve Ballmer

Once they were legion. Now only a few thousand remain. And yet the devotees of OS/2 Warp are keeping the flame alive -- united by a love of its functionality, a hatred of Microsoft, and sometimes just necessity.

Tech consultant Jamie Wells says a client he works for still uses OS/2 to run its homegrown ERP and CRM systems, only instead of PCs they run it virtualized on Mac Minis.

"It gives them the appearance of being a cult, but they don't think of themselves that way," says Wells, whose company, SheerBrilliance Consulting, specializes in any operating system, as long as it doesn't come from Microsoft. "As technology has changed, integrating these apps with the outside world has become more difficult. We've had to learn more and more about OS/2 to keep them working."

OS/2 has been declared dead more times than Abe Vigoda, yet it lives on as eComStation (eCS), an operating system based on Warp v4 that was created by Serenity Systems after IBM abandoned development of OS/2 in the late 1990s. Many bank ATMs continue to be powered by OS/2, and eCS is still in active development. Some Warp-heads with too much time on their hands have even managed to run Windows 7 under eCS 2.0 [video].

Still, the Way of the Warp is a low-key group that lacks many of the trappings of a cult, such as major deities or bizarre rituals.

"Some argue that using OS/2 is a bizarre ritual in itself," says Andy Willis, vice president of Warpstock, which holds gatherings of the faithful in North America and Europe each year. "Those practicing, however, find it more bizarre to subject oneself to something coming out of Redmond."

Still, using OS/2 more than a decade after it was abandoned by its creators is a bit like operating inside a time capsule, adds Neil Waldhauer, Warpstock's secretary.

"Most OS/2 and eComStation users are rugged individualists who know the technology has moved on, and don't really care," Waldhaeur says. "OS/2 does enough for us, and does it in a style we love."

Tech cult No. 6: The Open Sourcerors

Established: 1980s
Gathering of the tribes: SourceForge, Open Source Initiative
Major deities: Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, Eric S. Raymond
Minor deities: Too many to name
Holy scripture: "The Cathedral and the Bazaar"
Animal spirit guide: The Linux Penguin

Vast, sprawling, and anarchic, the open source movement is perhaps the tech world's largest and most anti-authoritarian cult -- and that's exactly how they like it. Their goal: to radically transform the world, one line of code at a time.

"From the geek point of view, what open source gives you is clean technology," says Simon Crosby, CTO of Citrix's Datacenter and Cloud Division, and founder of open source virtualization vendor XenSource (now part of Citrix). "The notion that the best code from the best contributors rules. It has the inherent appeal of technological elegance, independent of business BS."

Hundreds of millions of people use open source products every day, but the numbers of open source developers is unknown. Geoff Radcliffe, director of business development for iPhone and WordPress development shop Raster Media, estimates 70 percent of hard-core geeks are open source cultists.

"This is a movement that won't soon be quashed," says Radcliffe. "The opportunities for a smart mind to get rich, famous, and popular from open source development have evolved considerably since its first introduction and will only continue."

But it's also a movement rife with internal divisions, none more prominent than the schism between the followers of Richard Stallman, who believe software should be free, and pragmatists lead by luminaries like Linus Torvalds, who feel commercialization is perfectly acceptable as long as the code is good and accessible to all. Add in the dozens of different open source licenses, each with their own advocates, and the movement splinters even more.

How do you recognize Open Sourcerors? Look for the geekiest people in the room -- the ones with Perl security algorithms printed on their T-shirts or "There's no place like 127.0.0.1" stickers on their laptops, says Crosby.

Yet it's the geeks who will inherit the earth, he says.

"There's no doubt that open source development has profoundly transformed the world," says Crosby. "None of today's cloud applications -- Google, eBay, Amazon, Yahoo, SaaS, or the iPhone -- would exist without open source. It frees people to do amazing things with software. And wow, they sure have."

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This article, "Faith in numbers: Six more tech cults," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.

Dan Tynan is contributing editor at InfoWorld, author of the Tynan on Technology blog, and co-founder of eSarcasm, an award-winning geek humor site. (Note: Awards still pending.)

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