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Open Source

'How I Coined the Term Open Source' (opensource.com) 117

Today is the 20th anniversary of the phrase "open source software," which was coined by the executive director of the Foresight Institute, a nonprofit think tank focused on nanotech and artificial intelligence. The phrase first entered the world on February 3rd, 1998. Christine Peterson writes: Of course, there are a number of accounts of the coining of the term, for example by Eric Raymond and Richard Stallman, yet this is mine, written on January 2, 2006. It has never been published, until today. The introduction of the term "open source software" was a deliberate effort to make this field of endeavor more understandable to newcomers and to business, which was viewed as necessary to its spread to a broader community of users... Interest in free software was starting to grow outside the programming community, and it was increasingly clear that an opportunity was coming to change the world... [W]e discussed the need for a new term due to the confusion factor. The argument was as follows: those new to the term "free software" assume it is referring to the price. Oldtimers must then launch into an explanation, usually given as follows: "We mean free as in freedom, not free as in beer." At this point, a discussion on software has turned into one about the price of an alcoholic beverage...

Between meetings that week, I was still focused on the need for a better name and came up with the term "open source software." While not ideal, it struck me as good enough. I ran it by at least four others: Eric Drexler, Mark Miller, and Todd Anderson liked it, while a friend in marketing and public relations felt the term "open" had been overused and abused and believed we could do better. He was right in theory; however, I didn't have a better idea... Later that week, on February 5, 1998, a group was assembled at VA Research to brainstorm on strategy. Attending -- in addition to Eric Raymond, Todd, and me -- were Larry Augustin, Sam Ockman, and attending by phone, Jon "maddog" Hall... Todd was on the ball. Instead of making an assertion that the community should use this specific new term, he did something less directive -- a smart thing to do with this community of strong-willed individuals. He simply used the term in a sentence on another topic -- just dropped it into the conversation to see what happened.... A few minutes later, one of the others used the term, evidently without noticing, still discussing a topic other than terminology. Todd and I looked at each other out of the corners of our eyes to check: yes, we had both noticed what happened...

Toward the end of the meeting, the question of terminology was brought up explicitly, probably by Todd or Eric. Maddog mentioned "freely distributable" as an earlier term, and "cooperatively developed" as a newer term. Eric listed "free software," "open source," and "sourceware" as the main options. Todd advocated the "open source" model, and Eric endorsed this... Eric Raymond was far better positioned to spread the new meme, and he did. Bruce Perens signed on to the effort immediately, helping set up Opensource.org and playing a key role in spreading the new term... By late February, both O'Reilly & Associates and Netscape had started to use the term. After this, there was a period during which the term was promoted by Eric Raymond to the media, by Tim O'Reilly to business, and by both to the programming community. It seemed to spread very quickly.

Peterson remembers that "These months were extremely exciting for open source," adding "Every week, it seemed, a new company announced plans to participate. Reading Slashdot became a necessity, even for those like me who were only peripherally involved. I strongly believe that the new term was helpful in enabling this rapid spread into business, which then enabled wider use by the public."

Wikipedia notes that Linus Torvalds endorsed the term the day after it was announced, that Phil Hughes backed it in Linux Journal, and that Richard Stallman "initially seemed to adopt the term, but later changed his mind."
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'How I Coined the Term Open Source'

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    The tag "Open" was already heavily used with regards to software with a published API that could be implemented without royalty payments to the copyright holder. For example, "Open Software Foundation" dates back to the mid-80s.

    Maybe this guy did come up with "Open Source". It reminds me of the Lamar Hunt, the owner of the KC Chiefs, who always bragged that he was the one who came up with the name "Super Bowl". But not the idea of having a world championship between the two big American pro football lea

  • by e**(i pi)-1 ( 462311 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @09:39PM (#56064205) Homepage Journal
    It is interesting. I would have thought it was much older than 1998. There is indeed a big difference between Free software (a term coined in 1985) and open Source software. The term"free software" was always a hard sell as people would associate it with "gratis" rather than "libre". The term "open source" has it better from from that point of view. Still, it is not the same. While one can not imagine free software without having the code open, it is possible that maybe through patents, open source is not free. The definition given by the Gnu foundation makes this clear: "Open source is a term for developers, while free software is an ethical imperative". It might be necessary keep both terms: Free and open source (FOSS). I for myself always understood "Free software" already as "free and open source software". But the addition "open" makes sense in order not to get the "cheap" association.
    • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @10:38PM (#56064411) Homepage Journal
      The term "open source" existed long before this point, but not in the realm of software. It's generally used in the realm of export regulation and national signal intelligence. You know the phrase "top secret"? The inverse extreme was public knowledge... if a bit of intel is discovered through simple research such as finding it printed in a newspaper or magazine, it's "open source."

      While this phrase was not bandied about in the press at the time, there is an example in PGP. The whole fight over encryption technology being exported centered on this distinction somewhat, as printed books had different regulation from encryption technology which was controlled like munitions. So they printed the source code to PGP in a book, published it, and used OCR in other parts of the globe to reconstitute it into computer software.

      Published by The MIT Press, 1995. ISBN 0-262-24039-4.
      (no longer in print)

      • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday February 03, 2018 @10:53PM (#56064463) Homepage Journal

        The term "open source" existed long before this point, but not in the realm of software.

        CALDERA. ANNOUNCES OPEN SOURCE CODE MODEL FOR DOS

        DR DOS. + the Internet = Caldera OpenDOS

        PROVO, Utah Sept. 10, 1996 Caldera. Inc. today announced that it will
        openly distribute the source code for DOS via the Internet as part of
        the company's plans to encourage continued development of DOS
        technologies and applications, further leveling the playing field for
        software developers worldwide. This effort, targeted to benefit both
        individual developers and industry partners, follows Caldera's
        commitment to embrace and fund an open software environment. Caldera
        also announced plans for internal development and marketing of DOS,
        including a new product called Caldera OpenDOS .

        "DOS continues to meet the technical and financial requirements of a
        large portion of the computing industry, especially in the areas of
        network computing devices, specialized game devices and embedded
        systems," said Bryan Sparks, President and CEO of Caldera, Inc.
        "Publishing source code for DOS will benefit a large number of
        independent and in-house developers creating customized solutions
        based on DOS."

        Caldera plans to openly distribute the source code for all of the DOS
        technologies it acquired from Novell., Inc. on July 23, including
        CP/M., DR DOS., PalmDOS., Multi-User DOS. and Novell DOS 7.. Pending
        an evaluation and organization of the the technologies, the source
        code will be made available from Caldera's web site during Q1 1997.
        Caldera learned from its early investment in Linux technologies that
        the commercial market is now ready to embrace open technology
        standards for operating systems.

        Benefits of an Open Technology Model

        Caldera believes an open source code model benefits the industry in
        many ways.
        This model:
        * Increases competition, which historically leads to higher-quality
        and lower-cost products.
        * Decreases the time-to-market of innovative software.
        * Facilitates creation of customized solutions by developers,
        Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Value Added Resellers
        (VARs) for even the most highly-specialized computing
        environments.
        * Extends market implementation of mature, proven technologies
        historically de-emphasized by major software vendors who favor
        new, resource-intensive technologies. Empowers independent
        developers to influence future technology advancements.
        * Creates a large pool of individuals with broad knowledge of DOS,
        increasing availability of technical support and consulting for
        end users, historically at a lower cost and with quicker response

      • There's also a reference to "Open Source File" in 1993's BYTE magazine but it's unclear what it's referencing.

        • Unfortunately it's just part of an ad for Symantec MultiScope that features an image with callouts to various features including "open source file (wildcards allowed)". You can see it on page 13 of the January 1993 issue. [archive.org]

          Looks like Caldera's use of "open source" in the press release for OpenDOS is still the earliest use of the term in relation to software.

      • The term "open source" as used by the IC is a relatively recent phenomenon, postdating the software term by at least a decade. It was probably appropriated from the software sense in the way a music writer might unintentionally incorporate a melody he's heard before, but it probably did not arise independently, since there are plenty of technical folks in the IC who would have been using the software term about at work.

      • So they printed the source code to PGP in a book, published it, and used OCR in other parts of the globe to reconstitute it into computer software.

        There used to be a photo going round teh interwebs of it tattooed on some random bint's rump.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The term is much older, it goes back to the 80s. This woman is like Shiva Ayyadurai claiming he invented email.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > "gratis" rather than "libre"

      Yeah, that's the usual excuse. Paradoxically, I do hear this excuse over here in Germany too, dutifully translated into German *although the german "frei" doesn't have the English second meaning of "free of cost"*

      There must be other forces at work here. And yes, "free" in the sense of e.g. the FSF is downright scary for the software industry and the Web 2.0 industry, because it means *freedom for the users*

      If you want a good (albeit long) read on that: The Meme Hustler [thebaffler.com]. How

  • So the cost of developing software is distributed across the entire economy for use by the entire economy in order to substantially reduce the cost post development and avoid wildly inflated licence costs based around monopoly control of segments of the digital market place.

    This further extends into a properly founded education model. Where as students learn, they can contribute to existing open development software, to learn, demonstrates skill and gain employment opportunities. This is crippled by a lack

  • Are they arguing over who should get marketing props?

    I’m glad FOSS exists, regardless of the origin of the terminology.

    • Are they arguing over who should get marketing props?

      They are, and it's pathetic, because they are ignorant at best [hyperlogos.org]. My particular dog in this fight is not wanting the OSI to be in charge of what you can call Open Source. They wanted to be in charge of it before, their legal counsel advised them against it, and they decided against attempting to establish such a trademark. Hopefully that bird has already flown the coop, but self-aggrandizement like this could lead to actual attempts. I'm not trying to make myself look great, I'm trying to prevent a hijacking.

      • Interesting... I didn’t know that about Caldera.

        Also that mention of (the real) SCO from back in the day made me rather sad.

        • Also that mention of (the real) SCO from back in the day made me rather sad.

          As usual, I'm just wistful that I wasn't born sooner. I participated in geek culture in Santa Cruz and thus knew a bunch of SCO employees who were in the social scene, and still keep up with a few of them. SCO was once one of the classic Unix shops, with a diverse and developed culture. Open-access SCO systems gorn (The Planet Gorn) and Deep Thought (which still exists!) were, alongside some of UCSC's hardware and a few of the local BBSes, cornerstones of the local nerd community. But I was born years after

  • Hate to say it, but the linked article paints Stallman as an idiot.

    Makes it seem like he reads "open" as sealed behind glass. Not "open" as in freely accessible.

    I can understand there being a prevalence of confusion around the term "open", as source code was often available in the Unix and BSD worlds. However it does ring truer for me than "free". "Free" has never meant public domain, nor "open" during my life. "Free" has always meant "free as in beer".

    Even more so, it isn't the software that is free
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

      However it does ring truer for me than "free". "Free" has never meant public domain, nor "open" during my life. "Free" has always meant "free as in beer".

      Well, guess what? Free Software does not mean "public domain", nor does it mean "open" in the sense that Unix was using it since the eighties at least — that is, interoperable. It means that the software itself cannot be suppressed. Public Domain software does not have the same user-protecting properties as Free Software.

      If the only meaning you can think of for "free" is "free beer", then you're living in a position of privilege. There is also "Free at last, free at last, free at last."

      • Free as in freedom doesn't really click when it comes to software. What does it mean for software to be "free"? What can software do when it is free to do whatever it wants?

        The phrase doesn't make any logical sense, and so is quickly dismissed by my brain. "Free as in freedom" is for living creatures, or systems which can do more, not code which is fairly static. Perhaps from the author or publisher's viewpoint the code has been set free, but from an end user perspective, I'm looking to cage it up again f
        • Free as in freedom doesn't really click when it comes to software. What does it mean for software to be "free"? What can software do when it is free to do whatever it wants?

          It can do whatever the users can make it do, and they can distribute the results, too — because no one is in control of those results. Therefore, the software has been freed from interference. This has the most positive ramifications for the user.

          • That is what the term is intended to convey. And perhaps the expression "I set the code free" conveys that. However, the phrase "free software" does not convey that.

            We are arguing about terminology and interpretation, not the intended meaning. It is about how it will be received, not what it expresses. "Free software" may express one thing, but the other party hears something else entirely. This is why Stallman said they needed to "shock" recipients, or use additional language.

            The biggest problem is tha
            • That was a lot of line breaks I forgot to insert using HTML:

              In the order I was introduced:

              Nintendo

              Windows

              "Free Software": Freeware/Shareware

              MacOS

              Linux

              Open Source Software

              Closed Source Software

              Servers

              Unix/BSD

              "Free Software"

              MacOS X

              iOS (iPhone)

              Android

              iOS (Cisco)

              "Open" Software

          • Free as in freedom doesn't really click when it comes to software. What does it mean for software to be "free"? What can software do when it is free to do whatever it wants?

            It can do whatever the users can make it do, and they can distribute the results, too — because no one is in control of those results. Therefore, the software has been freed from interference. This has the most positive ramifications for the user.

            That's why it should be called Freedom Software, that way you removal this "free as in freedom, not free as in free beer" confusion altogether.

  • by OctobrX ( 2726 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @10:22PM (#56064367) Homepage

    I remember when the guys (Larry, Eric, etc..) came out of the room from this meeting. Eric was telling me about this newly coined phrase "Open Source". Chris DiBona and I'm not sure if Joe was there... several other guys too. It was really a great time to be alive and for me, being a fly on the wall.... it was amazing. The Feb 98 meeting is the first time I heard the term "Open Source" and I'm inclined to believe that was it's birth. Not sure about anything else.

    • There is actually a nice section on this in the movie Revolution OS ... well worth watching

    • Eric was telling me about this newly coined phrase "Open Source".

      That's probably not what happened. No one ever says: "We just came up with a totally new term to describe what we're doing."

      No, it usually goes more like: "Hey, we're thinking of replacing 'free software' with 'open source'. What do you think? Do you think that term is going to be more understandable to people?"

      And then someone else probably chimed in and said: "Yes, it makes perfect sense! I also love the fact that former government officials and CEOs will be thinking of 'second sourcing [wikipedia.org]' when thinking of

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @10:25PM (#56064369) Journal

    I'm the one who first coined the term, "RAM" to describe random access memory. It took me weeks to come up with it. Finally, after drinking half a bottle of absinthe, one night I had a dream about having sex with a sheep and...VOILA!...it came to me. RAM. Yep, that was all me.

    • That's unpossible, since a) memory is accessed pseudorandomly, at best, and b) that wasn't a dream. You said you would call me, asshole!

  • I prefer the term "open software".

    The term "open source" on face value only implies "source available". But I believe the most important feature of open software is that it allows people to create and distribute modified versions. "Open Source", as defined by OSI, should be capitalized, which it isn't in this summary.

    Yes, the term "Free Software" on face value only implies that one can use it without payment, which it does under its Freedom 0. This freedom is I believe is less important than the freedo

    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday February 03, 2018 @11:08PM (#56064501) Homepage Journal

      I prefer the term "open software".

      Absent explanation, the term "open" in computing means interoperable. Since the eighties, Unix systems have been described as "open" due to their conformance to published standards.

      The term "open source" on face value only implies "source available".

      Yep. And that's all it means.

      But I believe the most important feature of open software is that it allows people to create and distribute modified versions.

      Nope. All it means is source code access. It doesn't imply the freedom to redistribute changed binaries, only patches.

      "Open Source", as defined by OSI, should be capitalized, which it isn't in this summary.

      The OSI does not get to define the phrase Open Source [hyperlogos.org], because they did not invent it (not even, as they claim, pertaining solely to software!)

      Yes, the term "Free Software" on face value only implies that one can use it without payment,

      That's only if you hear "free" and automatically think "I don't have to pay". Some people hear "free" and think "not in bondage". In some countries, Free Software is called Software Libre, which suggests freedom. But "Open Source" is, frankly, an even worse term. You can construe that to mean basically anything — and the OSI is trying.

      There are ways to licence software that, while its source can be viewed, modified, and re-published, requires payment for production use. I'd still call such packages "open software",

      You can call them whatever you want, but if the users can get the sources, then they're Open Source by definition. Whose definition? The people who were using it as such before the OSI even existed. In fact, the people that the leading lights of the OSI certainly heard the phrase from, before they claim to have invented it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Mandrel ( 765308 )

        Absent explanation, the term "open" in computing means interoperable. Since the eighties, Unix systems have been described as "open" due to their conformance to published standards.

        Few think that "open" means "open standard". Proprietary software that's interoperable because one can interface with a published API certainly isn't called "open".

        The term "open source" on face value only implies "source available".

        Yep. And that's all it means.

        Uncapitalized and on face value yes. But the OSI definition [opensource.org] includes the full libre criteria, and most developers now associate the uncapitalized term with this definition (even in this article).

        But I believe the most important feature of open software is that it allows people to create and distribute modified versions.

        Nope. All it means is source code access. It doesn't imply the freedom to redistribute changed binaries, only patches.

        I'm not talking about terms and definitions here, but calling out what I see as the most important aspect of Free Software.

        "Open Source", as defined by OSI, should be capitalized, which it isn't in this summary.

        The OSI does not get to define the phrase Open Source [hyperlogos.org], because they did not invent it (not even, as they claim, pertaining solely to software!)

        OSI did invent the term "open

        • OSI did invent the term "open source" as a more descriptive term than "free software" for MIT- and GPL-type licences.

          They don't get to do that, because they don't own the term Open Source, which predates the OSI.

          The article to which you linked found an earlier use of "open source" that only meant "source available".

          Yes, you've got it in one. The OSI is attempting to redefine a term which was already in common use at the time they created themselves in an attempt to control it.

          The ambiguity of "free" in English was a major reason for the introduction of the "Open Source" term by the OSI.

          They didn't introduce it. People (including me) were using it before the OSI even existed.

          • by Mandrel ( 765308 )

            We agree that the use of the term "Open Source" for libre licences is misleading. But it's now impossible to reclaim its original source-available definition.

            I really do think that "open software" is good term for libre software licenses that allow anyone to view the source, build the software, modify it, and release modified versions — but not necessarily not having to pay to run either the original or a modified/expanded version (gratis software).

  • I think more people need to at least give open source (or whatever you want to call it) projects a try. I've tried a number of projects over the years. Not all open source projects are created equal, but I certainly don't regret trying things like Libre Office. Is it for everyone? No. Should people at least try it and decide for themselves? Yes. It doesn't have to be a whole OS. Small apps work fine.
  • The really fascinating part of the story is the inner workings of a subtle campaign to defang the Free Software movement of its social component: meme engineering, "education", and publisher-Wikipedia feedback loops: https://thebaffler.com/salvos/... [thebaffler.com].

    A long read, but worth every minute.

  • The intelligence community has been using "open source" for decades to describe any unclassified information that can be publicly obtained, e.g. newspapers, books, stuff in plain view, etc. Reasonably similar meaning, given open source software means the code is public.

  • by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt.nerdflat@com> on Sunday February 04, 2018 @01:31PM (#56066687) Journal
    I first heard of the term "Open source" in the late 1980's in connection with a freely available dos game at time called Moria. To the best of my knowledge, it was the original author tgat used the term "open source" to describe the project and he was supposedly not involved in the project anymore by the time I heard of the game (1988 or so). I expect that the origins of the term might go back even further.
  • I attended UC San Diego from 1981 to 1986, where we used GNU (not Gosling) Emacs and pre-release versions of GCC to hack on BSD 4.1-4.3 in several of my classes. Even then the strain between the many dimensions surrounding software development and use were evident: closed vs. shared source, free vs. commercial distribution, public domain vs. rent vs. own licensing, and so on, most of which persist to this day. Back then, the issues were made evident by the standoff between AT&T (UNIX) and DECUS (DEC

  • Of course, there are a number of accounts of the coining of the term, for example by Eric Raymond and Richard Stallman, yet this is mine, written on January 2, 2006. It has never been published, until today.

    Yeah? Well I landed on the moon in 1967, but my camera broke down.

  • I would gather the Intelligence Community had been using the term for decades hitherto.

    I remember an unclassified "Open Source" mini-convention in D.C. some years back.  Some programmer attended thinking it was something else and complained about how "evil" they were, collecting Intel from "open sources".

  • I'm positive I first heard the term "open source" in the 1980's associated with a specific software product that I have mentioned elsewhere in this thread, but I can find absolutely no reference to the term at all that I can positively prove today that the term was actually in use (with respect to software) at the time. What if we're all completely wrong, and we just think we are right for some weird reason?

    If no evidence of this can be produced in the present, how do we know that we are not, in fact,

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