Open Source Decade: 10 years after the Free Software Summit

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Open Source Decade: 10 years after the Free Software Summit

Postby sk33t3r » Tue Apr 08, 2008 11:27 pm wrote:In the beginning...

One of the most significant moments in the history of the modern software industry took place in 1998 when Netscape announced plans to release the source code of its browser under a license that would freely permit modification and redistribution. That pivotal event represents the point at which software freedom extended its reach beyond the enthusiast community and began its ascent into the mainstream.

The "Open Source" term was proposed by Christine Peterson at a strategy session held in Palo Alto on February 3rd, 1998—one month after Netscape's announcement. The people present included also Todd Anderson, John "maddog" Hall, Larry Augustin, Sam Ockman, Michael Tiemann, Eric Raymond.

Soon after the Open Source Initiative (OSI) was formed by Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond, with Raymand as president. The Board of Directors included Brian Behlendorf, Ian Murdock, Russ Nelson, and Chip Salzenberg.

On April 7th, Tim O'Reilly held a so called "Freeware Summit" that brought together many free software leaders and developers: Linus Torvalds, Eric Allman, Kirk McKusick, Michael Tiemann, Eric Raymond, John Gilmore, Paul Vixie, Brian Behlendorf, Jamie Zawinsky, Tom Paquin, John Ousterhout, Phil Zimmermann, Rich Morin, Mark Stone, Greg Olson, Fred Baker, Larry Wall, Guido van Rossum.

During the event they discussed the problems with the term "free software", mostly related to the different meanings of the word "free". Eric Raymond proposed "Open Source" as an alternative. Michael Tiemann suggested "Sourceware". And then they voted: 9 votes went to "open source", and the other 6 votes went to "sourceware" or "free software".

The winner was announced with a press release and the term "open source" began spreading in the community.

Ten years after the vision of software freedom gave birth to the broader open-source software movement, the software industry is a radically different place. Today, open-source software can be found everywhere from cell phones to server rooms. Surveys show that the vast majority of software companies use open-source software in their development stack. The open-source Linux operating system is even used in a number of popular products like the TiVo and Amazon Kindle.

To celebrate the success of the past ten years and reflect on some of the challenges that the open-source software community will face in the future, we spoke to some of the pioneers who were there on day zero when revolution started. We want to share their perspectives on a wide range of issues, including software patents, the emerging challenges and opportunities created by cloud computing, open-source software on the desktop, the importance of interoperability, and the ongoing fight to bring software freedom to the masses.

Christine Peterson
Christine Peterson is credited as the inventor of the term "Open Source". She is the co-founder and president of the Foresight Nanotech Institute, the leading nanotech public interest group.

During these 10 years a lot of things happened in the Open Source world. What impressed you positively, and what negatively?

Christine Peterson: It's been great to see open source continue to spread, and to see more people realizing that software does not need to be all one way or the other, open source or proprietary. There is room for both kinds, and they can work together.

As for negative trends and possibilities, I would be much more comfortable with open source licensing on a rock solid basis in terms of protection for users. There have been a few cases where competitors try to undermine open source software using the legal system; we need to strengthen our foundations.

Is anything missing today in the Open Source world?

Christine Peterson: Not everyone agrees on this, but I feel that we need a stronger industry association to represent the open source industry and community in Washington, DC, and in other countries as well. Our legislators and even many -- probably most -- government agencies don't understand the potential role of open source in government, and they don't understand that there are areas where open source is the uniquely right answer. We need people representing our community who can also explain that open source is not anti-capitalist, and fits fine into a free-market system. It's odd that there can still be confusion on this point, but apparently there is, and we should nail that point down clearly.

The OSAIA (Open Source and Industry Association) is a start. Our community either needs to come together and support it more strongly, or try again. I suggest we do the former, but we should do one or the other.

What are your expectations for the next 10 years?

Christine Peterson: I'm a little nervous over the movement toward web-based applications that we don't/can't control or understand. It seems a step backward. We should insist on getting our data into formats we understand and can convert. Both businesses and governments need to understand and adopt this basic concept.

Overall, open source needs stronger legal representation, better education of users on when to insist on open source and when proprietary is okay, and greatly improved marketing and PR for the community and industry in general. Open source programmers sometimes look down on those who try to help with marketing and PR; this is a disastrous mistake. The community needs all the help we can get in these areas. Good code isn't enough.

Larry Augustin
Larry Augustin is the former chairman of VA Software, now known as SourceForge, Inc. He is a venture capitalist and member of the board of several companies.

During these 10 years a lot of things happened in the Open Source world. What impressed you positively, and what negatively?

Larry Augustin: On the positive side, Open Source has made incredible progress into all parts of software. Not only are there now open source alternatives for virtually every part of the enterprise software stack, but those layers are widely adopted and have significant (sometimes even dominant) market share. If 10 years ago you had predicted that open source would be competitive in ERP, CRM, Business Intelligence, Messaging, etc. I don't think anyone would have believed you. Open source has grown from a concept understood mostly by the hacker community into a well understood and accepted way of building enterprise software. If you step back and compare then to now the industry truly has been transformed.

On the downside, I'm disappointed by the lack of progress in consumer software. The acceptance of open source in the consumer market still lags. Probably more troublesome is that I don't think anyone really understands yet how to change that.

Is anything missing today in the Open Source world?

Larry Augustin: We're still struggling with the desktop market, and related to that the consumer market. Firefox has been a big win in that market, but we need more. OpenOffice has made huge strides. If open document formats and subsequently OpenOffice can reach double digit market share in the next few years, the Microsoft desktop monopoly could be broken. Ironically, the Apple Mac may be the best vehicle for that. I say ironically because while Apple makes great products they are a very closed company. Consider Safari. Wouldn't it make more sense for Apple to throw their support behind Firefox? Yet they continue to use their resources to compete in the browser market.

What are your expectations for the next 10 years?

Larry Augustin: One nice thing that you're seeing now is the emergence of the next generation of leaders. People that are building successful open source businesses today that are going to be in a position to mentor the next generation. People like Marten Mickos and Marc Fleury. Marc just started advising a young company called Appcelerator. That's his first post-JBoss involvement with a company. I've been doing that kind of mentoring for several years now, but there aren't many of us and it will be exciting to see what happens as the next generation of open source entrepreneurs becomes successful and spawn even more open source success stories.

We're also seeing a generation of technologists growing up with open source. It's not just limited to a few universities as it was when I was learning to code. Kids are using Linux and other open source in high school now. A whole generation is learning to expect the source code. Ultimately, it may be that generational change that enables open source success on the desktop. One thing is certain: it's going to be darn exciting to see what the next generation comes up with.

Michael Tiemann
Michael Tiemann is the president of OSI (Open Source Initiative), and vice president of Open Source Affairs at Red Hat.

During these 10 years, a lot of things happened in the open-source world. What impressed you positively and negatively?

Michael Tiemann: The positive is that the term "open source" was received well by the business community, growing both the market for commercial open-source software and also increasing awareness of the importance of software freedom. Open source convinced many people that free software was good, and the success of free software projects like Linux proved that open source was profitable.

Is anything missing today in the open-source world?

Michael Tiemann: The biggest challenge facing the open-source world today is twofold: (1) proper enforcement of anti-trust legislation, without which there cannot be fair or free market competition, and (2) a change in patent policy that makes it clear once and for all that software patents are wrong and should be abolished as soon as possible, which is now supported by theories that recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics (see this blog for more info).

What are your expectations for the next 10 years?

Michael Tiemann: 200 years ago, literacy and knowledge of arts and sciences were considered the exclusive realm of the elites. 100 years ago, fewer than 10% of Americans had a college degree. Today, we take literacy for granted, and most in the G25 nations expect their children to graduate from college. In the next 10 years, I believe that we will expect virtually all 18-year-olds to be as computer-literate as their parents were textually literate. And I believe it will be open-source software (possibly coming from the XO laptop, possibly from other sources) that makes this true.

Russ Nelson
Russ Nelson is the founder of Crynwr Software and a founding board member of the Open Source Initiative.

During these 10 years, a lot of things happened in the open source world. What impressed you positively, and what negatively?

Russ Nelson: I've always seen the wider adoption of open source as inevitable, so I can really only think of the negative things. Personally, I was disappointed that HP walked away from the Linux iPAQ that Compaq owned outright. I'm also disappointed in the rate of adoption of desktop Linux. Linux is a perfectly fine desktop.

Is anything missing today in the open-source world?

Russ Nelson: There is no "Open Source Journal" like there was a Linux Journal. In some respects, that is the Open Source Journal. I think it's also time for OSI to step up and take a larger role as leader of the community.

What are your expectations for the next 10 years?

Russ Nelson: More desktop users! More people who aren't hackers, whose contribution is financial. More hardware support by the manufacturers of the hardware.

Paul Vixie
Paul Vixie is the author of various RFCs and UNIX tools such as cron and BIND. He co-founded ISC (Internet Systems Consortium).

During these 10 years, a lot of things happened in the open-source world. What impressed you positively and negatively?

Paul Vixie: Positive: f/l/oss has become commercially respectable. Redhat and Novell, especially, have made deep inroads into the fortune 500 and have built an ecosystem on par with Microsoft's or, before that, with IBM's or Oracle's.

Negative: I've been disappointed in the continued growth of GPL licensing, since it means people don't really want to share, they want to control others. I'm using the BSD license since what I really want to do is share my code.

Is anything missing today in the open-source world?

Paul Vixie: Discipline and perspective. There are too many code forks, too much dilution and duplication of effort. For example, it is still not possible to write portable asynchronous libraries on unix, since everybody who needs a framework beyond posix just develops their own. Microsoft's portable functionality, and thus the number of integratable third party modules for Microsoft is far greater than Linux's, even though Linux has far, far more third-party software and far more functionality overall.

What are your expectations for the next 10 years?

Paul Vixie: I expect DRM in all its forms to die like an obsolete dinosaur and for significant consumer backlash against "lock-in" in all its forms. I hope this backlash will bring on its coattails some privacy awareness.

Consumers have been sheep-eating whatever Microsoft and Apple feed them, letting themselves be milked as a recurring revenue source based on habit and coolness factor and inertia rather than on competitive value. Noting that the current generation of teenagers is lost, I can hope that those who come of age in 2015 will be aware of all the tradeoffs they make of their freedom and privacy for bling and "in-ness", and that there'll be a nonviolent revolution. On that day, my original 1984 hopes for f/l/oss will finally be realized.

Marshall Kirk McKusick
Marshall Kirk McKusick has worked on BSD since the 80s and now is a FreeBSD developer. He is member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the ACM Queue.

During these 10 years, a lot of things happened in the open-source world. What impressed you positively and negatively?

Marshall Kirk McKusick: Positive: Open source is now legitimate in the corporate world. This in turn has lead to a lot more high-quality open source becoming available.

Negative: Some key pieces have become "success-disasters," notably Linux, which grew in size and popularity so quickly that it has had trouble assimilating all the changes in a coherent way.

Is anything missing today in the open-source world?

Marshall Kirk McKusick: There is still a lot of uncertainty about the GPL, especially the latest GPL version 3. Software patents are also creating a lot of uncertainty on the viability of open-source software. For example, if you build a highly successful product around a piece of open-source software, can some patent holder come sue you for some algorithm contained in the software base that you are using?

What are your expectations for the next 10 years?

Marshall Kirk McKusick: I expect the open-source desktop market to expand, but only modestly. I expect that there will be a major patent-based shakedown of a major player that will either result in patent reform or a pullback from open-source software.

Rich Morin
Rich Morin founded and operated Prime Time Freeware. He has written more than 200 columns and articles for technical magazines.

During these 10 years, a lot of things happened in the open-source world. What impressed you positively and negatively?

Rich Morin: Although I attended the [O'Reilly's] gathering, I was there mostly as an observer. I have distributed free software and written about it for magazines, but I am not a major developer.

One of the things that drew me to Unix 20-plus years ago was my perception that it was a distributed laboratory for computer science research. Today's free and open-source software (FOSS) community shares that charter.

John Gilmore says that "free software reduces the transaction costs of collaboration". Coupled with the Internet, this puts FOSS in a very strong position. A single developer or small group can create the nugget of a tool, release it, and see it grow to become an industry mainstay.

Is anything missing today in the open-source world?

Rich Morin: The weak point of FOSS is that development tends to be driven by the interests and needs of the developers. So, non-technical end users may not have their needs met very well. Even technical folks may appreciate the polish that can come from more focused development.

A clear case in point is the desktop operating system environment. Like many Unix hackers, I have moved to Mac OS X. As the mantra goes, "it just works". I also pay small amounts of money to use innovative, polished tools such as Scrivener and TextMate.

What are your expectations for the next 10 years?

Rich Morin: Several years ago, Linus Torvalds was asked about his goals for Linux. "World domination" was his response. As silly as this may have sounded at the time, I believe that it was prescient.

If Linux and its fellow FOSS offerings aren't stopped by patent restrictions or other barriers, I expect them to take over larger and larger portions of the developing world's software market. No single company, Microsoft included, can be "all things to all comers". However, FOSS can adapt to local needs, take advantage of (and help encourage) local programming resources, etc. So, I believe that it will prosper greatly.

Philip R. Zimmermann
Philip R. Zimmermann is the creator of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). He is now working on a new project called Zfone to build a secure VoIP telephony system.

During these 10 years, a lot of things happened in the open-source world. What impressed you positively, and what negatively?

Philip Zimmermann: I'm happy to see that open source has become a mainstream concept in corporate circles, as the LAMP bundle—especially Linux—has gained momentum. And now, Linux is poised to become the dominant platform in the mobile market, including phones. The idea of mobile phones breaking out of the walled garden is exciting, and open source is accelerating that trend. Also, Linux is finally, after all these years, getting within striking range of becoming useful to humans on the desktop, especially the Ubuntu distro.

On the negative side, open source has not led the way with the most innovative products. Mac OS X is a much nicer user experience than Linux, for example. Photoshop and Apple's Aperture are nicer to use than GIMP. It seems the raw Darwinian profit motive is the best way to get innovation. Open source then has to catch up. I wish we could do the same in the open-source world. Maybe it's because commercially-developed products like Apple's are centrally managed with a strong vision. Microsoft Windows is a negative example of the Cathedral, but it's hard to find Insanely Great products like the iPhone at the Bazaar.

What are your expectations for the next 10 years?

Philip Zimmermann: For the years ahead, I'm hoping we are seeing the decline of Windows hegemony. The smell is in the air. More and more governments are defecting from the fold, which emboldens others to do the same. And Ubuntu is gaining ground on the desktop. And Mac OS X, even though not purely open source, plays its part in breaking the Windows spell, which will benefit other open-source operating systems.

I think we will have patent reform. The damage to the software industry has been so great that the pressures to change things will prevail.

Wikipedia has had an amazing impact. We will see more of this, for example the Encyclopedia of Life. Projects that would have been too ambitious for a single company or institution can be achievable by the collective efforts of society, growing organically over time, without deadlines for quarterly profits. This is open source at its finest. We will see a growing mass of human knowledge collected in this fashion. YouTube is not quite in the same lofty category, and is less open source, but is still socially useful and disruptive of the status quo. It's had an amazing impact.

John Ousterhout
John Ousterhout is the creator of the Tcl scripting language and the Tk toolkit. He is the founder and Chairman of Electric Cloud.

During these 10 years, a lot of things happened in the open-source world. What impressed you positively and negatively?

John Ousterhout: The most positive development has been the sheer number of open-source projects. When I made my first open-source release in the early 1980s (VLSI chip design tools from Berkeley), there were probably less than five open-source projects in the world. By the time of the first O'Reilly conference, there were dozens; now there are probably thousands. Also, open-source software has received substantial mainstream acceptance. 10 years ago, people were suspicious or afraid of it; now it is widely embraced.

There are three problems or limitations that I have seen over the last 10 years. The first is that it's hard to make money off open-source software, which means there aren't very many successful companies based around open-source software. I started a company around Tcl in 1998, but it became clear within a year or two that we couldn't create a very large business. In order to create a business around an open-source package, there needs to be a truly huge user community (in the millions), such as Linux or MySQL. Tcl had a community of hundreds of thousands, but that wasn't enough for a business. If it were easier to make money from open-source software, then it will be possible for more people to work on it.

The second problem I have seen (really more of a limitation) is that open-source software hasn't broken out of the "tools and systems" arena. Almost all the successful examples of open-source software have been things that software developers use: editors, compilers, Web servers, databases, etc. It's hard to find successful examples of higher-level applications that are open source. I think this is fundamental in the nature of open-source software and will never change: open-source software comes about when developers build things that they themselves want to use. Things that aren't used by developers won't be implemented in open-source fashion; there is no incentive for anyone to do this. Eric Raymond and others predicted that open-source software was going to take over the world and cover all interesting applications, but I don't think that has happened, or ever will happen. Open source will continue to grow and thrive, but it will do this in the world of tools and systems for developers.

The third thing that has negatively impressed me is that open source is often used as a desperate last-ditch effort for loser software. If a product is doing poorly in the marketplace, sometimes companies release it as open source, hoping that will somehow magically revive it and make it widely used. This almost never works. Almost all of the successful open-source projects were open source from the beginning. If a once-proprietary package suddenly becomes open source, I assume there is a problem and that this is being done from a position of weakness, not strength.

Is anything missing today in the open-source world?

John Ousterhout: I don't think so. The open-source community is a vibrant one where interesting new ideas can come to fruition quickly. It couldn't hurt to have more leaders producing more new ideas, but I think that will happen naturally. I would not want to see a coalescing around a single leader, since I think that might reduce innovation. Let a thousand flowers bloom!

What are your expectations for the next 10 years?

John Ousterhout: I don't see anything radical happening. Open source will continue to thrive, and there will be lots of new ideas that enter mainstream use through open source. At the same time, the limitations I mentioned above will continue to apply; I don't see anything changing those over the next decade.


The open-source software movement has a rich history and promising future. The legacy of Netscape's early vision lives on today in Mozilla Firefox, which is one of the most highly visible and widely used open-source software applications in existence. The rapidly climbing market share of the Firefox browser is a reflection of the growing viability of open-source software on the desktop.

The open-source pioneers who shared with us their perspectives on software freedom predict many things for the future. Some see the limitations of the model as an intractable impediment to broader adoption, and others see those same limitations as problems that can be solved. Many of them express concerns about software patents, an issue that the open-source community has mobilized to address.

In keeping with the spirit of open source, we want to expand the questions asked and answered in this article into an open dialog. Now that we have heard from some of the founding voices of the open-source movement, we pose the same questions to you. Let us know what you think, and share your thoughts about the past and future of open-source software in the discussion thread.
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