A history of the Open Source movement

Posted by on Dec 17, 2011 in blog, copywriting | No Comments

Wikipedia defines Open Source culture as “the creative practice of appropriation and free sharing of found and created content…where participants in the culture can modify those products and redistribute them back into the community or other organizations.”

The concept of Open Source had its roots in ‘hacker culture’ and the “Free Software Movement” which was formed in 1984 to promote the idea of free access to information. The introduction of software such as Linux, developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991, set an precedent for the sharing of source code when its developer announced that it was an open code operating system and invited other developers to alter, improve and add to it. It was to be freely available on the internet for anyone to download and use.

The Open Source Initiative was formed to educate, advocate and oversee the dissemination and sharing of software and as an umbrella association to represent those in the ‘free software’ culture, which up till then had no structured organisation.

In 1997, Eric Raymond  published an influential paper in The Cathedral and the Bazaar which described the practices of the ‘free software’ community, including concepts like  distributed peer review. It is believed that Raymond’s presentation of this paper at the O’Reilly Perl Conference in September 1997 prompted the unprecedented decision by Netscape to make the source code of its browser, Netscape Navigator, freely available to the public in 1998.

The actual term ‘open source’ was coined at a strategy meeting of the Free Software movement in 1998, attended by influential roleplayers such as Todd Anderson, Chris Peterson (of the Foresight Institute), John Hall and Larry Augustin (both of Linux International), Sam Ockman (of the Silicon Valley Linux User’s Group), Michael Tiemann, and Eric Raymond. The meeting was called to come up with a strategy to get the corporate world to pay attention to the benefits of open source and the potentially superior products created through the multiple inputs of an open development process.

The newly named concept was then broadcast to the wider community and publicised through the news portals of its adherent organisations such as the Linux community.

Two of the attendees of the meeting, Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens became the presidents of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) which was officially formed towards the end of February 1998.

A month or so later, in April 1998, a summit was called to explore the possibilities opened up by the Netscape release and the buzz developing around the new label “open source”. This was attended by all teh big names in the Free Software community such as the founding members of Linux, sendmail, Perl, Python, Apache, and several other key projects, and representatives from allies including the IETF and Internet Software Consortium. The term ‘open source’ was universally adopted as well as the associated ideas around the concept being formed by the OSI.

Wikipedia states that: “Starting in the early 2000s, a number of companies began to publish a portion of their source code to claim they were open source, while keeping key parts closed. This led to the development of the now widely used terms free open source software and commercial open source software to distinguish between truly open and hybrid forms of open source.

According to the OSI, it was “conceived as a general educational and advocacy organization ..[ which would].. focus more specifically on explaining and protecting the “open source” label. The main instrument they adopted for this purpose was the Open Source Definition.”

The goal of the original OSI Board was to build a sustainable institution to represent the open-source community and exercise stewardship of the Open Source Definition. It was official recognised as a Nonprofit organisation in 2003.

The organisation itself maintains a fairly low profile and offers “background to reporters, policy suggestions to politicians, and business cases to executives.” In 2005, it became an international organization in 2005 with the accession of directors from Europe, South America, Japan, and India.

Since the concept’s introduction, it has now spread to other areas and is appliend in many different spheres, including:

Computer software

  • Programming languages, e.g.
  • Operating Systems, e.g. GNU Project, Linux, OpenSolaris and Symbian
  • Server software, e.g. Apache, Tomcat web server, MediaWiki, Joomla, Drupal and WordPress.
  • Client software, e.g. Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org, 7-Zip and many, many more.

Electronics (from Wikipedia)

Open-source hardware is hardware whose initial specification, usually in a software format, are published and made available to the public, e.g.:

  • Openmoko: a family of open source mobile phones, including the hardware specification and the operating system.
  • OpenRISC: an open source microprocessor family, with architecture specification licensed under GNU GPL and implementation under LGPL.
  • Sun Microsystems’s OpenSPARC T1 Multicore processor. Sun has released it under GPL.[22]



OpenCola — a cola soft drink, similar to Coca-Cola and Pepsi, whose recipe is open source and developed by volunteers.

Vores Øl beer — a beer created by students at the IT-University in Copenhagen together with Superflex, a Copenhagen-based artist collective, to illustrate how open source concepts might be applied outside the digital world.


Digital content

Such as that offered by the Wikimedia Foundation — Sites such as Wikipedia and Wiktionary have embraced the open-content GFDL and Creative Commons content licenses. These licenses were designed to adhere to principles similar to various open-source software development licenses.


The Open Source principles are also being applied in principle in some instances within the following disciplines:

  • Medicine (pharmaceuticals)
  • Science (The Science Commons, The Open Source Science Project)
  • Robotics
  • Digital communication protocols and data storage formats.
  • Open design (design of anything from furniture to architecture)
  • Teaching
  • Business information (methodologies, advice, guidance, practices)