The history of Open Source Software (OSS) is one of freedom, ingenuity, and collaboration. Open Source Software, or OSS, is simply a way to describe computer software that is open to individuals to be able to download, modify, add to, and redistribute without having to purchase a particular set of expensive licenses. OSS is the Woodstock of computer software. Created out of the desire to keep computer software a shared and collaborative environment, OSS aims at protecting the freedom (or liberty) of computer programmers worldwide. History is made by the work of a few individuals, and their stories are what make the OSS movement particularly intriguing.
The story begins with Richard Stallman, a programmer at MIT, who began working on operating systems in the 1970's and early 80's.
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The system he was working on was called ITS, or Incompatible Timesharing System.1 Stallman came across issues of copyright and source code when dealing with trying to fix a printer/driver issue at the lab. This frustrating experience pushed him to create a better system. He envisioned a system of "free software". Free, not in terms of money, but in terms of ability to access; liberty. He believed that an operating system could be built where users would collaborate and be able to share in a free manner, without having copyright or source code restrictions. Stallman describes his motivation:
"Cooperation was our way of life. And we were secure in that way of life. We didn't fight for it. We didn't have to fight for it. We just lived that way. And, as far as we knew, we would just keep on living that way."2
He outlined the following purposes for free software:
1. You have the freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
2. You have the freedom to modify the program to suit your needs.
3. You have the freedom to redistribute copies, either gratis or for a fee.
4. You have the freedome to distribute modified versions of the program, so that the community can benefit from your improvements.3
His system was called GNU. One other major contribution that Stallman had was to invent a "copyleft" for his software. He was looking for a way, "to protect his work from being taken and used in proprietary packages."4 So, he decided to release the software with a copyright to protect users/programmers' freedom. Stallman states, "To copyleft a program, we first state that it is copyrighted; then we add distribution terms, which are a legal instrument which gives everyone the rights to use, modify, and redistribute the program's code or any program derived from it but only if the distribution terms are unchanged. Thus, the code and the freedoms become legally inseparable."5
The next software pioneer came from Finland; Linus Torvalds.
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Linus was an undergraduate student at the University of Finland who released a new version of LINUX operating software. He was able to create an operating system built entirely by volunteers hackers (computer programmers) and coordinate it over the internet. His system ultimately came to compete with the larger corporate-driven systems like Windows NT by Microsoft. Torvalds explained his shock at how LINUX grew in popularity and use:
"Linux today has millions of users, thousands of developers, and a growing market. It is used in embedded systems; it is used to control robotic devices; it has flown on the space shuttle. I'd like to say that I knew this would happen, that it's all part of the plan for world domination. But honestly this has all taken me by surprise."6
The Open Source Institute
As many other programmers were joining the free software phenomenon, one of the larger software companies, Netscape, took a very bold move. In 1998, the company decided to release their browser, Navigator, to the public. "To prevent Microsoft from controlling the browser market (and HTML), Netscape chose a surprise strategy: they "open sourced" Navigator."7 This was cited to be a response to reading Eric Raymond's paper The Cathedral and the Bazaar (1997). In this paper, Raymond described, "a new way of understanding and describing the folk practices of the hacker community."8
Thus, the Open Source Movement had begun. The label "Open Source" came out of a strategy session held in Palo Alto, California on February 3, 1998. Thos present included Todd Anderson, Chris Peterson (of the Foresight Institute), John "maddog" Hall and Larry Augustin (both of Linux International), Sam Ockman (of the Silicon Valley Linux User's Group), Michael Tiemann, and Eric Raymond.
1. Free redistribution.
2. Source Code.
3. Derived Works.
4. Integrity of Author's Source Codes.
5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups.
6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor.
7. Distribution of License.
8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product.
9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software.
10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral.
The Cost of Freedom?
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So, the question is why would anyone want to create software for FREE? As Jeff Rowe states, "open source software is not driven by corporate budgets, but by people fulfilling a need and software freedom."9 The OSS system not only relies on volunteers for its content management and structure, but also utilizes the global network of the internet. "The global network not only fosters an environment where culture can be generally accessible, but also allows for easy and inexpensive redistribution of culture back into various communities." Further, "this aspect of the Internet facilitates the modification of culture as users are able to collaborate and communicate with each other across international and cultural boundaries."10
So, where's the MONEY?
According to Robert Young, CEO of Red Hat, "you make money in free software exactly the same way you do it in proprietary software: by building a great product, marketing it with skill and imagination, looking after your customers, and thereby building a brand that stands for quality and customer service."11
Alexander Hars and Shaosong Ou also discuss the motivations for participating in these type of Open Source projects. They outline the following factors of why a programmer would spend their time developing this software without the benefit of working for a corporate closed source system:
1. Internal Factors: Proponents of open source development emphasize the selfless and motivated nature of open source participants.
2. Intrinsic motivation: Programmers are motivated by the feeling of competence, satisfaction and fulfillment that arises from writing programs.
3. Altruism: Open Source programmers provide something for others.
4. Community identification: Programmers identify themselves with a Open Source community and align their goals with that community.
5. External rewards: Programmers may receive indirect rewards by increasing their marketability and skill base or selling related products and services.
6. Future rewards: Programmers may look to receive revenues from related products and services, may increase their human capital, use OSS as a form of self-marketing, and gain peer recognition.
7. Personal needs: A programmer may just have a need for a certain program that is not in existence, or need to modify a current one.12
The Future of OSS? An Open Source Culture?
It is impossible to truly know what the future holds for the open software movement. However, there have been many talks about how as technology changes, so will the need for more programmers to be sharing and evolving the information and systems. As Robin Rowe was quoted as saying, "How much longer will we be WIMPs? (windows, icons, menus, and pointers)?"13 The future could include more capabilities such as: Gesture, Speech, Conversation artifical intelligence, Image artificial intelligence, 3D heads-up display, New I/O devices...the possibilities are endless.
Clay Shirky, an internet guru, discusses the possibilities of the future for a more collaborative software system than a corporate system. Check out his talk on Institutions vs. Collaboration on TED.com: