[SIGCIS-Members] History of open-source

Subramanian, Ramesh Prof. Ramesh.Subramanian at quinnipiac.edu
Fri Aug 27 01:49:58 PDT 2010

Apologies if Evan's Question has already been answered before, in which case this would be redundant. However, the following is excerpted from an article I wrote some time ago.

---begin excerpt

The free software movement was started in 1983 by Richard Stallman, a computer scientist working at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab. He started the movement at least partly in response to AT&T's plan to commercialize the Unix operating system which it was until then freely licensing to universities and non-profit organizations. In an email addressed to friends and fellow computer scientists (Stallman, 1983), Stallman explained the launch of his GNU (Gnu's Not Unix) project as one that was meant to free computer users and software developers from software copyrights and restrictive use licenses. His idea was that when any software became freely available, allowing anybody to use and make changes to them, new innovations would result, the quality of software would improve and the entire computing and user community would benefit as a result. To start the project, Stallman announced his intent to write and freely release a Unix-compatible system called GNU. GNU was to be a kernel containing all the utilities needed to write and run C programs: editor, shell, C compiler, linker, assembler, etc.  After accomplishing that, the project was to add "a text formatter, a YACC, an Empire game, a spreadsheet, and hundreds of other things.  We hope to supply, eventually, everything useful that normally comes with a Unix system, and anything else useful, including on-line and hardcopy documentation (Stallman, 1983)." 

Stallman founded the non-profit Free Software Foundation (FSF) in October 1985 to spread the message and philosophy of free software. The FSF defines free software as follows (adapted from (Free Software Foundation, 2010c)):

"Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it means that the program's users have the four essential freedoms:
*	The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
*	The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
*	The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
*	The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this."
Stallman authored the "General Public License" or GPL which is the most widely used free software license. The GPL is called a copyleft license (Free Software Foundation, 2007), and its unique characteristic is that works derived from a software product (or any other creative endeavor) by using this license can only be distributed under the same (GPL) license terms. 

Today the GNU project and FSF are very well established, and numerous software projects have been released under the GPL.  It must be noted that there are numerous "open" or "free" licenses today. Examples among them are the BSD License, MIT License, and Apache license. The free software licenses each come with its own restrictions and level of openness, and can be categorized based on:  whether the license allows derivative works to link to proprietary software, and whether the derivative can be freely distributed. The distinctions between what each license allows, and does not allow is very important for software developers as it could have important ramifications with regards to their use and prospects of future commercialization. Because of this there is currently much debate on the virtues and benefits of one license over another. Comparisons of the licenses are listed and commented upon by the FSF (Free Software Foundation, 2010a), the Open Source Initiative (Open Source Initiative), and in the KDE development site (Rusin, n.d.).

Another development that took place during the late 1980s was the formation of the "Open Software Foundation" (OSF) by seven computer manufacturers. This group, consisting of Apollo Computer, Groupe Bull, Digital Equipment Corporation, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Nixdorf Computer, and Siemens AG banded together as a reaction to what was perceived to be an attempt at controlling the Unix operating system by AT&T and Sun Microsystems. As noted earlier, AT&T wanted to commercialize the software, and began implementing very restrictive licensing arrangements. However, there were already several flavors of Unix in the market, marketed by various companies which had earlier been licensed by AT&T. But AT&T wanted to exercise more control over Unix, and also profit from the software. AT&T developed a close working relationship with Sun Microsystems, a microprocessor manufacturer. Other computer vendors saw this as a move by AT&T and Sun to control Unix, and formed their own "open standards group" called the Open Software Foundation. They tried to develop and popularize a Unix variant called OSF-1 and also worked towards creating open standards for the Unix environment. This consortium, however, was not very effective. In fact, by the early 1990s it became apparent to the Unix vendors that the real threat to Unix was not another competing Unix flavor, but Microsoft Windows operating system. Therefore the former rivals were forced to join together under an initiative named the "Common Open Software Environment" (COSE), and AT&T and Sun Microsystems joined the OSF.  

Some of the companies that formed the original consortium do not even exist now. A notable work in standardization that was achieved by this group is in the area of Unix windowing environments (i.e. Motif  X-Windows system).   The OSF exists now as "The Open Group," and remains an industry consortium focused on developing common and open standards in computing.

While the free software movement was started in 1983 Stallman, it found resistance in industry. Many conservative business people found Stallman's fervent free software is freedom" approach too radical and libertarian, and thus the free software movement did not gain much traction initially. It was not until 1998 that the concept of Open Source Software was initiated by Bruce Perens and Eric S. Raymond. By then the idea of free software was not new. Perens and Raymond were supporters of the principle of free software, and tried to find a way to make the principle of free and open software politically palatable to industry. 
Perens is a former project leader at Debian, a well-known Linux distribution. He authored the "Open Source Definition" as a policy document for Debian GNU/Linux Distribution in July 1997. Perens describes the creation of the Open Software Definition thus: 

"Debian, an early Linux system and one still popular today, was built entirely of free software. However, since there were other licenses than the copyleft that purported to be free, Debian had some problem defining what was free, and they had never made their free software policy clear to the rest of the world. I was the leader of the Debian project, at that time, and I addressed these problems by proposing a Debian Social Contract and the Debian Free Software Guidelines in July 1997. Many Debian developers had criticisms and improvements that I incorporated into the documents (Perens, 1999)."

Around the same time, on May 27, 1997, Eric Raymond, a computer programmer who had worked on both the GNU project and Linux project synthesized his experiences in working on open and free software projects and presented the essay "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" at the Linux Kongress at Wurzburg. In that essay, he contrasted two free software development models, the Cathedral Model and the Bazaar Model. The Cathedral model is exemplified by a few select programmers or a close-knit team that works on a project, and then makes the source code open at every release. Important open source software resulting from this model are GNU Emacs and the GCC (GNU C Compiler). The Bazaar model is exemplified by code development by the public at large, through the Internet, in an open code development regime. Any interested party can have access to the code developed at any point, and make additions or changes based on common consensus. An important software resulting from this model is the Linux operating system spearheaded by Linus Trovalds. After publication of "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," Raymond was invited by Netscape Communications Inc. as consultant for their project to make the Netscape software open source. 

Perens and Raymond teamed up to author the Open Source Definition which removed certain Debian-specific language from Perens' Debian Free Software Guidelines. The Open Source Definition has ten clauses that emphasize free redistribution, inclusion of source code, allowance for modifications and derived works, protection of the integrity of the author's source code, nondiscrimination against persons, groups and certain fields of endeavor, the stipulation that an open source license should not be specific to a product or restrict other software, and should be technology neutral. The entire definition can be found at http://opensource.org/docs/osd. It is important to note that the Open Source Definition is not a license. Rather, it provides criteria that licenses should follow in order to be considered as open source. Several open source licenses exist currently in addition to the GPL. Perens compares some of them with respect to the Open Source Definition in (Perens, 1999). In developing new software, it is important for a software developer to be aware of these licenses to determine what level of open source criteria the author wishes to adhere to.  
The open source software and free software movements have spurred numerous software projects, products, innovations and new software companies. Red Hat, a Linux distributor is a notable success story. Undoubtedly, the Linux project, with its multifarious distributions, has been the poster-child of the success of open source. Other very successful projects include the GNU project, the GNOME windowing environment, the OpenOffice project, the Apache web server project, the Mozilla Firefox browser project and Google Chrome browser project. Google, Inc.'s Android operating system, a Linux variant, is a successful open source project. Linux has been incorporated into numerous cellular phones and personal computing devices. Major components of Mac OS X, including the UNIX core, are made available under Apple's Open Source license. IBM Corporation joined the open source world in the late 1990s and gave the movement mainstream credibility.

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Please ask, if you need the bibliographic details of the citations in the above.

Ramesh Subramanian, Ph.D.
Gabriel Ferrucci Professor of Information Systems
Quinnipiac University
275 Mount Carmel Avenue
Hamden, CT 06473.
Email: rameshs at quinnipiac.edu
Web: http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1288.xml?Person=23345&type=5
Visiting Fellow, Information Society Project
Yale Law School
127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511.
Email: ramesh.subramanian at yale.edu
Web: http://www.law.yale.edu/intellectuallife/9841.htm

> -----Original Message-----
> From: members-bounces at sigcis.org [mailto:members-bounces at sigcis.org] On
> Behalf Of Evan Koblentz
> Sent: Friday, August 27, 2010 10:36 AM
> To: members at sigcis.org
> Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] History of open-source
> Apologies if I've asked this before .... does anyone know of a solid
> history of open-source computing?
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