Can you imagine if twenty years ago a group of mavericks had not developed a plan to accelerate the adoption of free and open software? We’d probably still be logging into AOL or browsing a warped version of the Web with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Yikes.
Today, February 3rd, marks the 20th anniversary of the name “open source”.
Choosing a name
Faces of Open Source participant Christine Peterson, who coined the name, recently posted her first-hand account of how the open source label came to be. If you like tech history, Christine’s piece is a must-read.
How old is open source really?
In reality, open source is a lot more than 20 years old.
For example, Linus Torvalds created Linux in 1991 – the very same year that the BSD operating system was first freely distributed. Also, the X Window System and Richard Stallman’s GNU project both began in the 1980’s.
The roots of open source might even be traced back to the 1970’s when the Unix team at Bell Labs would “snail mail” source code to anyone who asked for it.
Suffice it to say, open source is standing on the shoulders of giants who were creating and sharing open source software long before 1998. They were just calling it by another name: “free software”.
However, by the 1990’s, that name was starting to become problematic.
For one, the word “free” was confusing. Richard Stallman, who started the free software movement, would often clarify that free was short for “free speech” and not “free beer”. This explanation helped, but not enough for businesses to get over their fear of adopting “free” software.
And so, a group of free software advocates found themselves in a conference room twenty years ago searching for a new label to explain free software.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, free and open source software permeates our modern way of life, playing a foundational role every time billions of people send email, visit a website or pick up their smartphones.
Whose shoulders are those?
If you ask me, the broader open source revolution might be the single biggest tech catalyst of the 21st century! And yet, outside of the technology industry, those responsible for open source remain largely unknown.
I find this inconceivable and it’s what drives me to document the Faces of Open Source. If you feel the same way, this 20th anniversary of the open source name is a great opportunity to help spread the word.