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The Past, Present, and Future of OSS 150

Posted by samzenpus
from the listen-up dept.
CowboyNeal writes "The nature of the open source movement and its software over the years has changed considerably. From its humble beginnings in the early 80s to mainstream Android adoption, open source software along with computers and technology as a whole has gone from the sidelines to a prevalent position in the lives of modern consumers." Read below for the rest of what CowboyNeal has to say.
The open source movement that we know today has its roots in both academia and hobbyists dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. Before even the founding of the FSF, public domain software was available in abundance. Software packages of all sorts were freely given away or sold for the cost of copying them. It's important to note that a given piece of public domain software may or may not have come with its source code, so while it was free in the cost sense, it wasn't yet strictly free in the freedom sense. The early versions of Bell Labs Unix included the source code, which users could use to modify and extend the OS. In 1978, Bill Joy, then a graduate student at Berkeley, released the first Berkeley Software Distribution, or BSD. Rather than a complete OS, BSD was an add-on to V6 Unix. BSD would grow over the years that followed to become a nearly complete operating system. In 1983, Richard Stallman at MIT began the GNU project, to develop a free software version of Unix. By 1985, the GNU version of Emacs had its first release, and in 1987, the GNU C Compiler would follow. As parts of a possible GNU system began to coalesce, soon all that was missing was a kernel.

Both BSD and the GNU project would continue on through the early 1990s, when new catalysts for change were introduced. The release of a new BSD aimed at desktop and consumer hardware, 386BSD, was held up in courts by AT&T. Also around this time a Finnish student, Linus Torvalds, would release his first operating system kernel called Linux, in 1991. By 1992, Linux would adopt the GNU Public License, and be distributed with the userland that GNU had built. Since the GNU system was nearly complete but lacked a kernel, it was a natural pairing. Also in 1992, the BSD legal case would finally be resolved, and the parts of BSD that weren't written by AT&T were released to the public, and while it was short-lived, it became the basis for NetBSD and FreeBSD, and other BSD-based operating systems. Though In 1993, an event far bigger than just the world of software hackers took place. For the first time, private individuals could acquire access to the Internet. No longer did someone have to be affiliated with a government or educational institution to get onto the Internet. This rapid influx of enthusiasts provided new manpower for both Linux and BSD projects.

In 1995, the Apache Project would make its first release, based on the source code of NCSA HTTPd, which was nearly ubiquitous as the web server used to power the Internet. Over the years, the NCSA code would be slowly rewritten, and Apache would take over NCSA HTTPd's position as the predominant web server.

By 1998, the open source movement had rapidly grown, but hadn't yet been named as such. In early 1998, Netscape announced that they would release the source code for their flagship product, Navigator. In response to this as well as the growing popularity of Linux and BSD operating systems, the term "open source" was coined and later the Open Source Initiative (OSI) was founded by Bruce Perens and Eric S. Raymond. The OSI was founded as an organization for education and advocacy, and was inclusive of GPL, BSD, and other "open source compatible" licensed software, such as the Apache Web Server and XFree86 windowing system.

From here it seemed that the sky was the limit for open source software. Over the next few years, Linux would become the de facto server software for many organizations. While desktop market share eluded Linux outside of the hobbyist and enthusiast circles, its place in the data center would be securely cemented. In 2003, a then-little-known-of company called Android, Inc. was formed and began working on software for mobile phones. Before releasing anything, they were acquired by Google in 2005 and set to work on a mobile device platform powered by Linux. In 2007, Google and many other hardware and software companies announced the Open Handset Alliance, and unveiled the Android operating system, which was built on the Linux kernel. A year later in 2008, the first Android device would ship, and by 2010, Google would begin selling their own phones, after partnering with other manufacturers.

By 2008, another odd turn of events would happen. Microsoft was long an enemy of open source and free software, seeing them as potential competitors to its proprietary systems. Soon even the giant of the proprietary software world, would begin to utilize open source software licenses. Microsoft would go so far as to use open source software as part of Windows Azure, and eventually even donate code to the Samba project.

While Linux hasn't taken over desktops in droves here in the states, the same can't be said overseas. Traffic estimates to SourceForge consistently place domestic traffic in only the 15-20% range, meaning that anywhere from 80-85% of the downloads are going overseas, where open source is an easier sell, given the prohibitive cost of a proprietary operating system. However, given the lack of actual sales figures, it's difficult to pin down how widespread open software usage actually is. One place that Linux has won big stateside, in the form of Android, is the mobile phone market, where Android now powers 52% of the smartphones domestically, and 68% of the smartphones in the entire world. 2012 saw another milestone for Linux, when Red Hat, Inc. became the first Linux company to boast of a billion dollars of revenue within a single fiscal year.

It's still difficult to predict what the future holds for open source software. With the advent of programs such as One Laptop per Child (OLPC), which has put Linux-based laptops into the hands of nearly 2 million children, a new generation of children are being raised on open source software overseas. Government adoption of open source software is as it is in other sectors, where Linux has a foothold on the server, but hasn't made significant strides into end user territory yet. That looks to be changing somewhat, with recent movements in Jordan and France, but the change is still slow in happening.
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The Past, Present, and Future of OSS

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @07:44PM (#41800003)

    From the '70s to 1995 it was The Impossible Dream. A small band of dreamers nominally led by Richard Stallman, up against corporate goliaths like Microsoft and IBM. Can you possibly imagine such a world? The theme song would've been "Imagine" by John Lennon.

    After Netscape Navigator exploded on the scene in 1995 and introduced the masses to the WWW, leveraging the exponential growth of telecom bandwidth exploiting optical fiber, it became Inevitable. That's because the staff at Microsoft, IBM, AOL, Netscape, and other tech companies couldn't pivot fast enough to meet the explosion in demand for technological change. The situation was ripe for freeware that could be modified and extended by tech-savvy customers, and for emerging standards to be crafted from the bottom up, rather from the usual consortium of a handful of giant tech companies eager to maintain their respective customer bases.

  • by AddisonW (2318666) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @08:01PM (#41800093)

    The most important change is the maturation of open source developers and open source development.

    Use of the viral and restrictive GPL is falling dramatically and truly free licensing like BSD is on the rise. Fading away are the days of the open source world being dominated by 15 years screaming about 'possibly GPL violation!!!' on Slashdot.

    Everywhere that open source is succeeding is thanks to BSD licensed software:

    * BSD based Chrome over the GPL based Mozilla

    * Partially BSD based OS X on the desktop over the clusterfuck of GPL Linux desktops

    * BSD based(outside the kernel) Android dominating the cellphone market over the effectively dead GPL based Linux cellphone efforts

  • Who cares (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @08:07PM (#41800119)

    Total Linux implementations dwarf Windows. Android + other embedded Linux + servers and other infrastructure exist in huge numbers. The desktop is nowhere near the majority of installed os.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @09:07PM (#41800411)

    I think the sad optimism is elsewhere: MIcrosoft is the fourth largest tech company in the world, and everyone gives Google and Apple a free pass. We should be spending far less time worrying about ancient enemies and more time worrying about Google abusing OSS (ignoring copyrights and license obligations) and Apple (the 1000 lb Gorilla hawking closed source wares). What exactly are we worried about from Microsoft? They are one of the most lenient vendors out there - you can run whatever you want on their platform (even if that is slowly changing), and they have a metric ton of open source.

    It isn't the 1990s anymore. The world has changed - Apple is the new Microsoft, and Google is a close second.

  • by hessian (467078) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @09:10PM (#41800433) Homepage Journal

    This is a good compilation of what otherwise was scattered data, and at a level of complexity that people can read quickly to grasp the history of Open Source software.

    I wish it had included one major source of free 1980s software, which was software written in BASIC and/or "poke assembler" (DATA statements from BASIC that were POKEd into the memory of your A2+ or C64). Much of this was designed to hack: war dialers, exchange hackers, copy programs, deprotectors, compressors, etc.

    While that may be a bit distracting as the uses were illegal, it's important to remember that at this time, finding software was difficult and with computers costing the equivalent of $5000 today, it was very hard to afford or find software. "Sharing" was how you explored the world.

    I wish machines had a universal language today, as the BASIC/assembler mix was back then. The closest I've found is Perl.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @09:38PM (#41800583)

    Total bullshit and FUD.

      Apple is part of the Microsoft/Apple/Oracle/Facebook axis of evil companies who are predating on the rest of the market with patent trolling, FUD and application/format lockin.

    Google is far more FOSS friendly than MS is now and ever has been.

  • Re:F/OSS will lose (Score:5, Interesting)

    by andrew3 (2250992) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @09:41PM (#41800589)

    Mod parent up, very true.

    The era of mobile phones presents a new set of hardware, most running proprietary firmware and controlled by proprietary drivers. A GNU hacker describes difficulties in producing free replacements for these []:

    one device - the HTC Universal - took four of us three years of part-time work to finally understand all of the hardware. the best i ever managed on one device was 8 weeks (!) - the Compaq ipaq hw6915 - and i had to stop because the last 3 of those 8 weeks were spent _not_ managing to get the device to come out of suspend.


    by the time you have source code, it's too late: the device is out the door. it's obsolete already, anyway.

    I'm not saying there's anything wrong with some optimism, but people who care about software freedom shouldn't overlook these major blocking issues.

  • by murdocj (543661) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @09:41PM (#41800591)

    Well, seriously, it's pretty much now or never for the mythical "linux desktop". With Windows 8 MS has managed to simultaneously piss off the customers, the hardware vendors, and the 3rd party software vendors. If Linux can't make inroads into the desktop market over the next year or two, when will it?

  • by andrew3 (2250992) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @09:47PM (#41800613)

    BSD based Chrome over the GPL based Mozilla

    Chromium is BSD-licensed. Chrome is available under a proprietary EULA []. So much for freedom...

    Partially BSD based OS X on the desktop over the clusterfuck of GPL Linux desktops

    You say "on the desktop", but really Darwin is only a bare-bones OS with nothing GUI/desktop related on it.

    * BSD based(outside the kernel) Android dominating the cellphone market over the effectively dead GPL based Linux cellphone efforts

    Android has a lot of software licensed under the Apache 2.0 license. They also have a lot of proprietary software on it, especially drivers and firmware.

  • Re:F/OSS will lose (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @10:30PM (#41800793)

    I dream of a world where ideas are evaluated on their merits, instead of who they came from.

  • by bug1 (96678) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:03PM (#41800925)

    The heartbreaking thing for me is that the work of hackers who believed in sharing is now the tool coprorations use to enslave users.

    Copyleft is uselss when corporations can use alternative methods to ensure free software is unmodifiable.

      - apple put a shiny layer ontop of BSD and make billions, cant modify it.
      - google create android ontop of Linux and then (something), cant modify 99% of android devices.
      - Cloud companies creating solutions based on free software and users commonly dont even on their own data let alone anything else.
      - Big sites like amazon/ebay/facebook taking as much as they can get, giving nothing back.

  • by ohnocitizen (1951674) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:15PM (#41800999)
    Proprietary software does not equal being an enemy of FOSS. Google is very FOSS friendly, their problem is they are not very privacy friendly.
  • by murdocj (543661) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @11:37PM (#41801123)

    But this is a much bigger problem for MS than ME or Vista. It's not a poorly performing iteration of the same O/S. They have changed the UI to confuse users. They are building their own hardware and thus threatening the hardware vendors. Valve is worried that they are going to lock out 3rd party distribution of software. It's not just users who are annoyed, it's businesses that now have pretty strong business case to make an alternative available.

  • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Monday October 29, 2012 @01:24AM (#41801509) Homepage

    See also: [] []
    "The most important thing that IBM did to us was the announcement on February 8, 1983, of the Object Code Only (OCO) policy. I fear that ten years from now another speaker will be standing here telling you that that was the day VM died, but I hope not.
    Since that day in 1983, the community has devoted enormous effort to attempting to convince IBM’s management that the OCO decision was a mistake. Many, many people have contributed to this effort in SHARE and in the other user groups. The greatest of SHARE’s source heroes is unquestionably Gabe Goldberg, who has persevered and maintained hope and a sense of humor in the face of IBM’s seemingly implacable position. In SEAS, Hans Deckers has been a particularly hard worker in the battle against OCO, and Sverre Jarp, the SEAS Past President, also deserves much praise for his role.
    In February, 1985, the SHARE VM Group presented IBM with a White Paper that concluded with the sentence, “We hope that IBM will decide not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Though we had tried to make our White Paper reasonable and business-like, IBM chose not to reply to it.
    A few months after the announcement of the OCO policy, IBM released the first OCO version of VM, VM/PC. VM/PC had a number of problems, including poor performance and incorrect or missing or incompatible function. Without source, the users were unable to correct or compensate for these problems, so nobody was surprised when VM/PC fell flat. ..."

    (Is that a picture of me talking to Kirk Alexander in front of an SGI Iris in the iCGL running some windowing and 3D model creation software I wrote? Not sure... Might be someone else and different software. What an amazing community back then and there -- one I did not appreciate enough at the time and just took for granted in my youth and lack of experience.)

    A key point made in Melinda Varian's history of the VM Community is that even though only a small percentage of users actually looked at and changed the source code (an argument IBM made as to why providing the source did not matter), those users were a very impotent driver of fixes and innovation. When I was contracting at IBM Research around 2000, there were IBMers still angry about that decision two decades earlier and how it went badly for IBM, and they helped create some of the pressure for IBM to support the Free and Open Source Software movement. I pushed to get Python formally approved for official use in IBM Research back then, which took a bit of doing to go through IBM Legal. They even (embarrassingly) wrote Guido to ask him if he really had written it.

    And: [] []
    "Interviewer: Is studying computer science the best way to prepare to be a programmer?
    Bill Gates: No. the best way to prepare is to write programs, and to study great programs that other people have written. In my case, I went to the garbage cans at the Computer Science Center and I fished out listings of their operating system. You got to be willing to read other people's code, then write your own, then have other people review your code. You've got to want to be in this incredible feedback loop where you get the world-class people to tell you what you're doing wrong."

    The web with plain-text distribution of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which are often readable, have been a bit of a return to those earlier days when you often had to type in BAS

I'm all for computer dating, but I wouldn't want one to marry my sister.