October 1, 2020

History of open Source, What is open Source?

Software, it is hard to believe, was once just a free add-on from a hardware manufacturer when new computer systems were delivered. The manufacturers earned only from the number of “tin boxes” sold.

That’s why no manufacturer had a problem with being able to look at every single command line in the software. The programmers (those with the square eyes) thought it was great because they could adapt these programs to their needs at will. Many interesting additional programs or even real applications were created. This was all so until the mid-1960s.

Then, however, the large hardware manufacturers, such as IBM , began to “sense” the opportunity for a new business field. The source code (that is, the entirety of the individual command lines) was no longer shipped with the mainframe operating system – and software became an independent source of income. The birth of a new, lucrative industry had heralded.

The source codes were changed so that they were no longer legible and became the best-kept secret in the new industry. This is how the model, which is known to this day, was created, with the help of license agreements and the associated restricted right of use for the customer to secure happily bubbling sources of money. The distribution of software was either severely restricted or prohibited entirely.

Already at the beginning of the eighties there were practically no freely available source programs. Hardware and software had long since established themselves as separate industries and software was only produced behind hermetically sealed laboratory doors.

For the computer users, the outlined development meant that they always had to turn to the software manufacturer in the event of program errors or requests for changes, who paid lavishly for every handshake.

And so, in addition to bewilderment, a considerable degree of dissatisfaction quickly spread.

Probably the most dissatisfied of them was a certain Richard Stallman from the renowned MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). This Mr. Stallman started a project in 1984 called GNU (GNU is not Unix) with the aim of creating a “free” Unix-like operating system.

Stallman’s goal was to enable open collaboration between software developers, as he himself had experienced it in the late 1960s, through the GNU project. Stallman saw it as his natural right to share his programs with his friends and colleagues. For the benefit of all computer users, source codes should be allowed to be copied, modified and distributed.

In order to preserve and promote his ideals, Stallman and friends founded the Free Software Foundation, or FSF for short, in 1985 . The FSF is the institutional framework for GNU today and developed a formal licensing procedure with which the freedom of the software could be preserved and at the same time the copyright was secured. You may come across this under the name GNU General Public License (GPL).

A user may, in accordance with GPL , software GPL is -lizenziert, modify, copy and distribute – assuming that his “derived” Software again under the GPL is released. License restrictions of the “own”, original GPL software are prohibited.

However, the companies did not trust such a construct and did not accept it.

As the years passed, the software industry developed splendidly, and Microsoft began to take control of a small hardware system called a PC through its software. Sometimes you heard something about “GPL software”, but rarely. The GNU project had grown to a considerable size over the years, but it lacked the most essential element, an operating system.

This problem began to be solved with an email from a young Finnish student on the likewise young Internet. In 1991, Linus Torvalds presented the prototype of a self-developed Unix-like operating system on the Internet, called the whole thing Linux and asked for numerous comments and suggestions for improvement. He got it and a new operating system developed at breathtaking speed, developed via the Internet.

Suddenly Mr. Stallman also revived and saw his goal achieved. With the appearance of Linux, the last missing element for the GNU system was available and thus a completely free “GPL large system” was available.

Linux achieved a popularity and distribution in a very short time that was previously unknown in free software. Many users chose Linux. With Linux, free software also moved back into the focus of the commercial world. More and more commercial software was ported to Linux, and the boundaries between free and non-free software became more fluid. Stallman didn’t like this development at all because he was concerned about the involvement of commercial companies in the Linux phenomenon. In particular, the new approach of being able to “sell” free software led to considerable differences, among others with software expert Eric Raymond.

He had examined the development method of the Linux kernel community and was enthusiastic about the efficiency and economy of open software development. In 1998, Raymond proposed to designate software with open source code as open source software and to develop a license model that freed itself from the restrictions of (commercial) use. Linus Torvalds also helped define the new open source model.

This model is still subject to change today, but the core idea remains unchanged: free software!