A weekly column profiling companies and personalities. This week: Quantum Linux Laboratories

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Quantum Linux Laboratories, a Linux services provider.

Partners live in Federal Way and Everett.

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Key staff:
Chuck Wolber, founder and managing partner; Bill Broomall, partner.

Early start:
At age 5, Wolber punched nonsensical code into punchcards at the Purdue University computer lab while his dad programmed FORTRAN. He later became a “Unix geek” at Washington State University.

Work world:
Wolber worked in systems administration and development at Boeing and REI. He was recruited to join a dot-com that went under in 2002, which, he said, “changed the course of QLL from a part-time to a full-time business.”

Company story:
While at Boeing, Wolber started QLL with co-worker Daron Clay in 1999. They planned to focus on Linux education but there was little demand, so they branched into contract systems administration.

Wolber, Broomall and a third partner, Gabriel Shirley, handle daily operations. The company has a growing cadre of contractors doing customer support and programming.

Primary customers:
Organizations that need senior-level Linux expertise but not more paid staff.

Not seeking investors now. Wolber said the company has a positive cash flow and is growing.

Elevator pitch:
“I usually like to ask if one prefers to have the hood of their car welded shut,” Wolber said. “Then I go into how we’re able to leverage the expertise of thousands of elite programmers around the world to solve problems and make small businesses look and act like big businesses.”

The 800-pound gorilla:
Wolber said Microsoft deserves “a lot of credit for bringing an awareness of what computers can do to the masses.” He also credits the company for the work it does on usability. “In general, though, they always strive to sell the ‘next thing’ rather than taking a step back to engineer a platform that is stable and secure,” he said, adding later that he thinks Microsoft will always be in the market. “But they will go the way IBM did in the ’80s and early ’90s — becoming more and more marginalized by a changing marketplace.”

Why read about QLL:

“We’re a company making money by using community-developed software … for the most part, it’s never been done until now. We’re literally writing the rules on this stuff as we go along. That’s gotta be interesting to someone.”

— Brier Dudley