Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Brief History of 'Open Source' Software in Modern Times

The 'spirit' of open source was in existence many millennium before the term officially emerged toward the end of the 20th century. In 'ancient' times, our ancestors shared knowledge about hunting, farming, cooking, herbal treatments, and many other topics and skills needed to survive. In 'modern' times, collaboration and sharing has taken on a whole new meaning, especially as it relates to the topic of free and open source software (FOSS). What follows is a brief history and timeline of 'Open Source' activities in modern times to help people new to the subject to better understand what has been happening in this arena over the past 50 years.

'Open Source' – History & Timeline

  • In the 1950's, almost all software was produced by computer science academics and corporate researchers working in collaboration. As such, it was generally distributed under the principles of openness and co-operation long established in the fields of academia, Software was not seen as a commodity in and of itself. See
  • Starting in the early 1950's, organizations such as SHARE and DECUS developed much of the software that computer hardware companies bundled with their hardware offerings. At that time computer companies were in the hardware business. Anything that reduced software costs and made more programs available enabled hardware companies to be more competitive.
  • During the 1960's, many key aspects of software development and innovation associated with the emerging Internet were done in academic institutions like MIT or Berkeley and in corporate research facilities like Bell Labs and Cerox Research Center.
  • ARPANET founded in 1968. It was the precursor to the Internet, allowing researchers to share code and information.
  • Unix is a multitasking, multi-user computer operating system originally developed in 1969 by a group of AT&T employees at Bell Labs. It was offered for free on college campuses and to research centers. The Open Group, an industry standards consortium, owns the UNIX trademark.
  • In 1969, the U.S. Department of Justice charged IBM with destructive businesses practices by bundling free software with IBM hardware. As a result of this suit, IBM unbundled its software, which then became independent products offered separately from hardware.
  • In the late 1960's, the Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System (MUMPS) was developed by Dr. Octo Barnett and his team at the Laboratory of Computer Science at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In the 1970's and 1980's, the MUMPS operating system and computer programming language was widely used by most clinical software applications. 

  • In 1971, the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) activated their MEDLINE system. It was an online version of the outdated Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS).
  • During the late 1970's, the influence of Unix in academic circles ultimately led to large-scale adoption of Unix by commercial startups, the most notable of which are Solaris, HP-UX and AIX. Among all variants of Unix, Mac OS X is the most widely used as the underpinnings of Apple's desktop and mobile phone operating systems.   Linux, another widely used variant of Unix, is used to power data centers, mobile phones, and embedded devices such as routers.  Other notable variants of Unix include Android and Berkeley Software Design (BSD) Unix descendants, e.g. FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD
    • Freeware - Computer software distributed without charge.
    • Shareware - Computer software distributed without initial charge, though users are encouraged to pay a nominal fee to cover support for continued use.
    • Open Source Software – Computer software that is made freely available to the public and can be shared, viewed, and modified by others.
    • Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) and/or Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS)  – Computer software that is 'liberally licensed' to grant users the right to use, study, change, and improve its design through the availability of its source code.
    • Public Domain Software - Computer software that has been placed in the public domain and for which there is absolutely no ownership. This unlicensed software can be freely accessed, used, changed, and shared by anyone.
    * The definition of these terms continues to evolve.
    • In the 1970's, many of the cooperative development efforts focused on the creation of an operating system that could run on multiple computer platform. The most successful example, such as Unix and the 'C' computer language were developed in Bell Laboratories. Unix was installed across institutions and research centers freely or with very less cost. Many of the sites where the software was installed made further enhancements, which in turn were shared with others.  
    • With the diffusion of Usenet in the late 1970's, a computer network was able to be used to link together the Unix programming community and source code sharing was highly accelerated. As a result, the number of sites using Unix increased from 3 in 1979 to more then 400 by 1982.  See 
    • By the late 1970's, computer vendors and software-only companies had began to charge for software licenses and imposed legal restrictions on new software products through the use of copyrights, trademarks, and leasing contracts.
    • The first efforts to formalize the rules behind the cooperative software development process began in the early 1980's. In addition, the concept of open source software licensing came into being. 
    • On the West Coast of the U.S., the Computer Science Research Group (CSRG) at the University of California in Berkeley was improving the Unix system, and building lots of applications which quickly became known as `BSD' Unix. These efforts were funded mainly by DARPA contracts and a growing community of Unix developers around the world helped to debug, maintain and improve the system.
    • In late 1983, Richard Stallman launched the GNU Project to write a complete operating system free from constraints on use of its source code.  GNU is a recursive acronym for "GNU's Not Unix!", chosen because GNU's design is Unix-like, but differs from Unix by being free software and containing no proprietary Unix code.
    • Soon after the launch, Stallman coined the term 'free software' and founded the Free Software Foundation in 1984 to further explain and promote the concept.
    • In 1985, Richard Stallman published the GNU Manifesto to outline the GNU project's purpose and to define and explain the importance of free software. 

    Back in the early 1980’s, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) developed and  implemented an enterprise-wide hospital information systems known as the Decentralized Hospital Computer Program (DHCP). In the 1990’s, the VA DHCP system was renamed Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA). The VA VistA has continued to be enhanced with the addition of a Master Patient Index (MPI), a Health Data Repository, the My HealtheVet Personal Health Record (PHR), and the Federal Health Information Exchange (FHIE) system.  Wireless technology and mobile systems were also widely deployed. The VistA software was in the public domain and is completing the transition into an open source licensed solution that is being implemented by numerous health care organizations around the world.  Read the history of VistA & the Underground Railroad.
    • Perl is a high-level, general-purpose, interpreted, dynamic programming language. Perl was originally developed by Larry Wall in 1987 as a general-purpose Unix scripting language. Perl is an open source solution dual licensed under both the Artistic License and the GNU General Public License.
    • In the late 1980's, BSD Unix software was finally distributed under the 'BSD License'', another one of the first open source software licenses. At that time, every user of BSD Unix also needed an AT&T Unix license, since some parts of the kernel and several important utilities were still proprietary.
    • The Python programming language was also conceived in the late 1980's. Python runs on Windows, Linux/Unix, Mac OS X, and has been ported to the Java and .NET virtual machines. Python is free to use, even for commercial products, because of its OSI-approved open source license. The Python Software Foundation holds the intellectual property rights behind Python.
    • In 1989, the first version of the GNU General Public License was published. The GNU General Public License (GPL) was created to ensure that the software produced by GNU would remain free and lead to the production of a growing body of free software. As part of General Public License (GPL), users had to agree not to impose licensing restrictions on others. The use of licensing distinguished open source from shareware and public domain software.
    • In 1989, the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) was officially established and has since become the most prominent international coordinating body for health informatics. The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) was also formed that year.
    • During the early 1990's, the open source software movement continued to develop. UseNet and the Internet were used to help coordinate transnational software development efforts and build strong user communities.
    • In 1991, Tim Berners-Lee, a British physicist at CERN released a hypertext system for public use. The system, which he called the World Wide Web, ran across the Internet. 
    HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the predominant markup language for web pages.  In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee wrote a memo proposing an Internet-based hypertext system.  He then specified HTML and wrote the browser and server software in late 1990.  In early 1994, an IETF created HTML Working Group started work on HTML 2.0, the first HTML specification intended to be treated as a standard against which future implementations should be based.  Since 1996, the HTML specifications have been maintained, with input from commercial software vendors, by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) . In 2000, HTML became an international standard (ISO/IEC 15445:2000).
    • In 1991, a new programming language called Java was developed by a team at Sun Microsystems. Java was subsequently adapted for use on the Internet. A key to Java was its portability – the ability for programs written in Java to run without modification on a wide range of computer systems.
    • During 1991-1992, Bill Jolitz completed a completely unencumbered version of BSD Unix (free of AT&T copyrighted code). It included not only a kernel, but also many utilities, making it a complete operating system. The work was covered by the BSD license, which also made it a completely free software platform.
    • The GNU Project kernel, later called 'GNU Hurd', was completed by 1991. Some of its components, especially the GNU Compiler Collection, had become market leaders in their own right. The GNU Debugger and GNU Emacs were also notable successes.
    • During this same time period, Linus Torvalds, a computer science student in Finland began developing the first versions of the Linux kernel in collaboration with many other people. They added many utilities to complete the GNU/Linux 1.0 operating system in 1994. The Linux kernel has continued to evolve and is used in many GNU/Linux distributions e.g. Slackware, Debian, Red Hat, Suse, Mandrake, and more.
    • The XFree86 Project is a global volunteer organization which produces the freely redistributable open-source implementation of the X Window System continuously since 1992. XFree86  provides a client/server interface between the display hardware and the desktop environment. Also visit the X.Org Foundation
    • In 1993, Debian GNU/Linux became the first complete free-software operating system.  Begun by Ian Murdock in 1993, is noteworthy for being explicitly committed to the GNU and Free Software Foundation (FSF) principles of free software.
    The naming of Linux remains controversial. The Free Software Foundation (FSF), and many other individuals and organizations, advocate the use of the term 'GNU/Linux' as a more accurate name for the whole operating system.
    • By 1993, both GNU/Linux and BSD Unix were reasonably stable platforms. BSD Unix has evolved into a family of BSD based operating systems. When the USL v. BSDi lawsuit was settled out of court in 1993, FreeBSD and NetBSD were released as free software. OpenBSD subsequently forked from NetBSD in 1995.
    • In 1994,  development of MySQL, an open source relational database management system (RDBMS) was started. It was initially released in May 1995. A Windows version was released in January 1998.  The MySQL development project made its source code available under the terms of the GNU General Public License. MySQL was owned and sponsored by the Swedish company MySQL AB which was eventually acquired by Oracle Corporation. It is now available in two different variants: the open source MySQL Community Server and the commercial MySQL Enterprise Server solution.
    • A penguin character called Tux is the official mascot of the Linux kernel.  Tux was originally created by Larry Ewing in 1996 and submitted as an entry to a Linux logo competition. Tux is the most commonly used icon for Linux. The concept of the Linux mascot being a penguin came from Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux.
    • During the remainder of the 1990's, many other open source projects sprang up resulting in a plethora of  high quality, useful open source software products, e.g. Apache, Perl, GNOME, KDE, Mozilla.
    • PHP was originally created by Rasmus Lerdorf in 1995. PHP is a general-purpose server-side scripting language originally designed for web development to produce dynamic web pages. The main implementation of PHP is now produced by The PHP Group. PHP originally stood for "Personal Home Page".
    • Ruby is a dynamic, open source programming language that originated in Japan during the mid-1990's and was first developed and designed by Yukihiro "Matz" Matsumoto. Version 1.0 of Ruby was released in December 1996.
    In 1995, Bob Young acquired Red Hat Linux from Marc Ewing and merged it with ACC Corporation, naming the new company Red Hat Software.  In 1996, Red Hat opened its corporate headquarters in Durham, North Carolina. In 1999, Dell becomes the first major computer vendor to factory-install Red Hat Linux on servers and workstations. Later that year Red Hat went public and expanded its European presence, opening offices in the United Kingdom and Germany. It also started expanding its operations into Asia. At the end of 1999, Red Hat acquired Cygnus, creating the largest open source company in the world. In March 2002, Red Hat introduces the first enterprise-class Linux operating system - Red Hat Linux Advanced Server.  In 2006, Red Hat acquired JBoss. It also continued its global expansion, moving into Argentina and Brazil. For more detail, see Red Hat's history page.
    • KDE was founded in 1996 by Matthias Ettrich. He proposed a new, easy to use desktop environment. Ettrich chose to use the Qt toolkit for the KDE project. At the time, Qt did not use a free-software license. Members of the GNU project became concerned with the use of such a toolkit for building a free-software desktop environment.
    • In the mid-1990's, the Debian organization was set up to disseminate an early version of a Linux system known as the Debian GNU/Linux Distribution. Debian was to be built entirely of ‘free software’.  Because there were a variety of licenses other than the GPL which professed to be free but had their own singular characteristics, there were problems defining precisely the intellectual property rights and licenses around different parts of their software package. After soliciting widespread comment, a new and more flexible licensing procedure emerged which allowed the bundling of free software with proprietary code.
    • In August 1997, two projects were started in response to KDE: the Harmony toolkit (a free replacement for the Qt libraries) and GNOME (a different desktop without Qt and built entirely on top of free software).  GTK+ was chosen as the base of GNOME in place of the Qt toolkit.
    •  In 1997, former Debian project leader Bruce Perens helped found Software in the Public Interest (SPI), a non-profit funding and support organization for various free-software projects.
    • The GNOME Project was started in 1997 by two university students, Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena. GNOME is now used by millions of people across the world and has become the most popular desktop environment for GNU/Linux and UNIX-type operating systems. Since 2000, the GNOME Foundation has acted as the custodian of the project.
    • In the mid to late 1990's, when many web-based companies were starting up, free software became a popular choice for web servers. Apache HTTP Server became the most-used web-server software, a title it still holds today. 
    Systems based on a common 'stack' of open source software with the Linux kernel at the base, Apache providing web services, the MySQL database engine for data storage, and the PHP programming language for providing dynamic pages, have come to be known as LAMP systems.
    • In 1997, Eric Raymond published The Cathedral and the Bazaar, a reflective analysis of the hacker community and free-software principles. He subsequently published a book of the same name in 1999. 
    • In 1997, the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) made Medline, the most comprehensive index to medical literature on the planet, freely available in the form of PubMed. Usage of this database increased tenfold when free and 'open access' was provided.
    • In early 1998, Netscape Communications Corporation  released their popular proprietary Netscape Communicator Internet suite as free software in an attempt to counteract their loss of market share to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser software.
    The Netscape Communications Corporation was originally founded under the name, Mosaic Communications Corporation, in April 1994. It was subsequently renamed Netscape Navigator in November 1994 to avoid trademark ownership problems with NCSA.  Netscape was eventually acquired by AOL/Time Warner.  In January 1998, Netscape started the open source Mozilla organization and project.  To compete more effectively in the market, it subsequently released the source code of Netscape Communicator 4.0 and placed this code under the Netscape Public License, which was similar to the GNU General Public License.  In March 2008, AOL ended their support for Netscape Navigator and recommended that users download the Mozilla Firefox browser that used Netscape technology.
    • On February 3, 1998, the label 'open source' was invented at a strategy session held in Palo Alto, California. The conferees decided it was time to shift from the moralizing and confrontational attitude that had been associated with many vocal 'free software' advocates and sell the idea based on pragmatic, business-case arguments. They brainstormed about tactics and a new label. 'open source' was proposed.
    • On February 8, 1998, Eric Raymond issued the first public call to the growing collaborative software development community to begin using the new term. The formation of the Open Source Institute (OSI) followed shortly thereafter. Two of those present at the Palo Alto meeting would later serve as presidents of OSI.
    • In April 1998, at Tim O'Reilly's 'Free Software Summit', a gathering of free software community leaders met and voted to promote the use of the term 'open source' and the new rhetoric of pragmatism and market-friendliness that Raymond had been developing.
    Richard Stallman and the FSF strongly objected to the new approach by OSI and its narrow focus on source code. They felt OSI was burying the philosophical and social values of free software and devaluing the issue of computer users' freedom. However, Stallman still maintained that users of each term were allies in the greater fight against proprietary software.
    • By summer 1998 both Oracle and Informix, two of the largest and most influential independent software vendors for corporate applications and databases, announced that they would port their applications to Linux. Over the next several months, other first tier independent software vendors, like SAP and Sybase, made similar announcements.
    • XML Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a markup language that defines a set of rules for encoding documents in a format that is both human-readable and machine-readable.  Initially defined in 1998, XML 1.0 is based on W3C open standards.  XML-based formats have become the default for many office-productivity tools, e.g. MS Office, Office Open, Apple's iWork.
    • In the first half of 1999, IBM began focusing on Linux as the operating system for its servers. Other major hardware vendors also made major commitments to the use of Linux, e.g. Compaq, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Silicon Graphics, and Intel.
    • In August 1999, Sun Microsystems released the StarOffice office suite as free software under the GNU Lesser General Public License. The free software version was renamed OpenOffice.
    In 1993, a company called VA Research was founded and began selling computers with Linux pre-installed. In 1999, it decided to launch a web site called SourceForge to host the work of open source software developers. The site would offer a web-based source code repository and a  full box of tools to help manage and control open source software development projects. In December 1999, the company took its stock public and was renamed VA Linux Systems.  The company  was eventually renamed SourceForge Inc. in 2007.  Finally, in November 2009, SourceForge became Geeknet, Inc.   Read the SourceForge Story.
    • In 1999, the Apache Software Foundation was incorporated as a membership-based, not-for-profit corporation in order to ensure that the Apache projects continue to exist beyond the participation of individual volunteers.  Apache projects deliver enterprise-grade, freely available software products that attract large communities of users.
    • Finally,  during the 1990's a number of major companies also made strategic decisions to embrace this evolution toward 'open standards'.
    • Starting in the early 2000's, a number of companies began to publish a portion of their source code and claimed they were open source, while keeping key parts of their code closed. This led to the development of new terms such as commercial open-source software, and hybrid open source.
    • In March 2000, Freedesktop.Org was founded by Havoc Pennington from Red Hat. Both KDE and GNOME now participate in this organization's efforts related to Unix desktop standardization and interoperability.
    • On July 15, 2003, America On-Line (AOL) announced that it would close down its Netscape browser division. On that same day, the non-profit Mozilla Foundation was officially created. Several of the Mozilla Foundation's flagship products like Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird were based on software from Netscape. 
    • Since 2003, increasing efforts have been focused on mandating 'open access' to published findings by those funding research initiatives, e.g. government, non-government organizations, and universities. See Open Access Overview.
    • Ubuntu is an open source computer operating system first released in October 2004. It was based on the Debian Linux distribution. The system is named after the Southern African philosophy of Ubuntu which means 'humanity towards others'.  Ubuntu is designed primarily for use on desktop or personal computers (PC), although a server edition also exists.
    OpenMRS, a free and open-source electronic medical record (EMR) system, was born as an informal collaboration between Regenstrief & Partners In Health back in 2004. In 2006, OpenMRS began to be deployed in several countries around the world. In 2007, all contributors to the OpenMRS code base formally signed over rights for their code to the OpenMRS community.  In that same year, the OpenMRS name was trademarked and the OpenMRS Public License 1.0 was created.

    • In May 2007, Sun Microsystems released the Java Development Kit as OpenJDK under the GNU General Public License.
    • Wine is a free software application that aims to allow computer programs written for Microsoft Windows to run on Unix-like operating systems. Bob Amstadt and Eric Youngdale started the Wine project in 1993. Wine version 1.0 was officially released in June 2008, after 15 years of development. Wine is an acronym for WINdows Emulator.
    Open Source Today
    Over the past 40 years, the small band of software developers working on the first open source software projects have evolved into a sophisticated movement and global community of  software developers that have produced some of the most stable and widely used software packages ever produced. According to a 2010 Centic Report on  International Use of Open Source Software, open source software is experiencing significant growth in Information Societies around the world. 
    Government administrations, universities, companies, and other organizations of all types around the world are opting for open source solutions. Open source software has obtained a significant share of several markets, such as web servers, server operating systems, desktop operating systems, web browsers, databases, e-mail and other IT infrastructure solutions. See COSI Open Solutions for examples.
    A major driving force behind the adoption and growth of high quality, open source solutions in the U.S. has been the emergence and growth of open source software product and service providers with a profitable, sustainable economic model. Witness Red Hat, Novell, Apache, IBM, Oracle, Sun, MySQL, Google, Canonical, Black Duck, OpenStack, Ingres, Collabnet, MedSphere, KitWare, Ubuntu, Mirth, OpenBravo, SugarCRM, and many other highly successful companies providing open source solutions. See Wikipedia's list of open source products.

    Recent 'Open Source' Statistics
    •, the popular open source forge site, currently hosts over 260,000 projects developed by 2.7 million developers.
    • The open source Firefox web browser developed by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation is used by over 30 percent. of  web users.
    • According to IDC, demand for Linux servers continues to grow and represented 17.5 percent of all server revenue, up 2.6 percent from last year.
    • According to a December 2010 Netcraft Survey, the open source Apache web server holds 59.4% of the web server market share, followed by Microsoft with 22.2%.
    • Red Hat, the world's largest open source company, reached over $1 billion in revenue in 2011. It was the first open source-focused company to break the billion dollar barrier.
    • According to Endudemic, it is projected that by 2016 open source software will be included in mission-critical software portfolios of 99% of Global 2000 portfolios. 
    • According to a recent Gartner report, by the end of 2011, the open source Android software solution will move to become the most popular operating system (OS) worldwide and will build on its strength to account for 49 percent of the smartphone market by 2012
    • According to a Gartner report, open-source database management systems continue to lead in adoption rate among open-source software projects, according to Gartner survey respondents over the past five years.

    Selected Links
    • COSI Open Solutions – A non-profit web site providing links to Collaborative, Open Solutions & Innovation (COSI) projects, organizations, and related resources.
    • Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) -  Promoting free and open access to scientific and scholarly journals.
    • Eclipse Open Health Framework (OHF)An Eclipse project formed for the purpose of further expediting healthcare informatics technology, standards, tools, etc. 
    • Open Health News (OHN) - The premier news site for the Open Health community. 
    • Open Health Tools (OHT) - Dedicated to improving the health of people around the world through the transformative power of health information technology.
    • Open Source Software Licenses - A list of approved open source licenses and their definition maintained by the Open Source Initiative.
    • Open Source for America (OSFA) - Raising awareness and use of collaborative, open source software solutions in the U.S. government .
    • Open Source Lab (OSL) -  Housing a growing number of high-impact open source development communities.
    • Open Source Software Institute (OSSI) - Promoting the development and implementation of open source software solutions within U.S. federal, state and municipal government agencies and academic entities.
    • Open Source Magazine - An online magazine addressing issues, trends and technologies like JAVA, Eclipse, Linux, Open Source, Open Web 2.0 and more.
    • Open Source Enterprise Magazine (O3) - Focused on the use of Free & Open Source (FOSS) software in Enterprise and Business environments.
    • Open Source.Com News - News from one of the leading vendors distributing and supporting Linux and other open source software tools and how  open source solutions are being deployed by companies in key industries.

    We look forward to your suggested additions to this brief history and timeline of the open source software and the associated open source movement that continues to grow and unfold.


    eduberry said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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