20 years of open source: Its world-changing history in brief

Today, open source powers servers, computers, devices, and all manner of software. But two decades ago, it was a fringe, radical idea that seemed destined to remain academic

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Simon Phipps

Roots in the free software movement

The free software movement was started by Richard Stallman 35 years ago. OSI cofounder Bruce Perens explains that “open source is the proper name of a campaign to promote the pre-existing concept of free software to business, and to certify licenses to a rule set.”

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Netscape Navigator launched Mozilla

In 1998, Netscape cut Netscape Navigator adrift rather than hosting open development itself, leading to the Mozilla project. It became clear that many businesses would adopt free software if only there was an objective rather than an ideological approach to it.

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Foresight Institute

The term ‘open source’ is coined

The term “open source” was first applied to software at a strategy session held at the VA Linux Systems offices on February 3, 1998, in Mountain View, California. The term “open source” itself was coined by Christine Peterson, president of the Foresight Institute, a think tank focused on nanotechnology.

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The Open Source Initiative provides governance

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) was founded as steward of the newly coined “open source” term in late February 1998, with Eric Raymond as its first president, Bruce Perens as vice president, and an initial board of directors that included Brian Behlendorf, Ian Murdock, Russ Nelson, and Chip Salzenberg. The OSI logo, which alludes to both the letter O of “open” and to a keyhole for unlocking source code, was created by Colin Viebrock.

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The birth of the open source software license

In 1999, Bruce Perens, the author of the Debian Free Software Guidelines, adapted them into an objective definition of how a software license can be identified as open source—the Open Source Definition (OSD).

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Simon Phipps

The license review process that unleashed developers

The genius of OSI was the license review process using a public, open discussion to decide which licenses are open source. This ended arguments about who had the right to make the rules and thus unleashed developer confidence.

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Too much of a good thing as open source licenses proliferate

By the middle of the new decade, open source was so popular that license proliferation was becoming a problem. Between 2004 and 2006, the OSI ran a public consultation to deal with the issue.

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Simon Phipps

Java goes open source, marking a major new chapter

Despite inspiring Richard Stallman in 2004 to write an essay, “The Java Trap,” about its evil, the Java platform went open source in 2006.

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Simon Phipps

The debut of the open source affiliate

By the end of the decade, there were so many open source nonprofits that the OSI switched to an affiliate-led model and also introduced individual membership, allowing new initiatives.

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Simon Phipps

Microsoft (mostly) stops fighting open source

Under new leadership and facing the inevitability of open source for building cloud solutions, Microsoft ended public hostilities against open source—although it continues patent wars against embedded Linux.

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Simon Phipps

Big-stack open source is the norm

Today is the era of big-stack open source, with all the ingredients of every cloud platform traced back to an open source charity or trade consortium.

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Patrick Masson

Happy 20th birthday, open source!

Today, new initiatives go straight to open source. Open source has gone from a threat to opportunity, from cancer to cornerstone, from derivative to innovative, all in just 20 years.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.