Sunday, January 22, 2012

Open Source

It was interesting to learn some more about the history of free and open source software. In Revolution OS the main players in these movements tell the story. It was fun to see that in spite of the sharing nature these men (why all men?) have there little quarrels about who deserves credit for what :)

To summarise the topic: 
  • Software sharing is as old as computers. 
  • At some point in the 70s software development became expensive and companies needed to find ways to recover costs, so starting to lock down the source code. 
  • In the 80s groups of nerds started to work together to build their own systems. 
  • Richard Stallman started the GNU Project in an effort to build a complete operating system. He founded the Free Software Foundation to promote the concept of "free software". 
  • Linus Torvalds 'beat' the GNU project to the development of a kernel, the central component of most operating systems. 
  • In combination with the GNU components a first complete working free-software operating system was available. 
  • While the software is available for free, business opportunities arose around providing service, and custom packaged systems. 
  • Eric Raymond was one of the people who thought that the term free-software (and its philosophy) was not appealing for businesses and started to look to rebrand the movement to reflect the business potential of sharing source code (in response to Netscape's decision to release Communicator as free software.) 
  • The term open source was coined. 
  • In Richard Stalman's article Why Open Source Misses the Point the philosophical differences are laid out: "[the Open Software Initiative] judge solely by the license of the source code, whereas our criterion also considers whether a device will let you run your modified version of the program ... " 
I am not all that fussed about these quarrels. I like playing around with free and open source software. What is important to remember is that is definitively was a revolution and is leading to great creative things. 

But, is the proprietary software industry hitting back?

In the video recording '28c3 The coming war on general computation,' Cory Doctorow paints a picture of the next way in which the computer industry will hit back. While the copyright war is not even over, Doctorow predicts that the next war will be fought over what applications can be run on the computers, tablets, phones, etc that we buy. He predicts that companies will install functionality (with or without our knowledge) that will ban anything they do not like (read; that does not make them money?) He predicts a Big Brother approach to regulation of computer technology in the near future. And that the industry behind these coming lobbies will be unmeasurably more powerful than the movie and music industry in the copyright war. 

I may be an idealist. I still believe that if one does enough to keep the masses small and dumb, the masses will at some point rise to the challenge and topple over the powers that be. There is probably already a movement working on the next generation Open Source or Free Internet!

Thinking about this I remember that my first encounter with free software was in the mid eighties when in the evening on the radio in a programme about computers, they would 'play' a simple programme for a game or so. You could record these on cassette tape and then run on your Commodore 64! Of course I had to cycle 6 miles and cross a river to get to a friend with a Commodore, but hey ... ;) 

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