Part 1: So Where Did Open Source Come From Anyway?

I’ll admit, I love Open Source Software (OSS) almost as much as a modern day hippy loves granola and not taking showers…almost. I mean, what’s not to love about it? OSS has something for everybody; whether it be cool free software that anybody can use, enterprise level software for companies that costs mere beans compared to their corporate counter parts, tools for IT Pro’s they can customize to fit their need, and various other tools for everyone else in between. Open Source Software (OSS) is a pretty big deal to us at Tech Corner, the technology industry as a whole and hopefully by the end of this series to you as well. So, where did this super bad mutha…Shut yo’ mouth Open Source initiative come from any way? Was it called down from Mother ship Xenu by Tom Cruise? Lawd no, the Cruiser couldn’t even call down a bag of ice from Paramount Pictures, much less the OSS Initiative…Now you’re just being silly…besides…everybody knows Xenu is an Apple ship, and we all know that nothing open comes outta there…yeah, now I’m being silly…back to the task at hand then. In order to answer this question fully we’ll need to spread it across a series. To start, we will need to turn back the clock. So guys roll up a pack of smokes in your t-shirt sleeve and gals put on your poodle skirts, because we start by heading back to the 1960’s. Let’s hop in the Valiant and get our journey started and….what’s that….well yeah I know it was a Delorian, but this is the 60’s man, we can’t be rolling up in a…you know what…just get in the car…geez…

When computers were still in their infancy they were extremely hard to program, and those early programmers ALL shared their knowledge with each other. This sharing of knowledge and ideas (Open Source) was the harbinger of the technology explosion. It was truly an era where the emphasis was on learning something new, and sharing with someone else. Whether the motivation was to further technology, or just to show off their new trick is irrelevant, the point is this was the beginning of, what would come to be known as, Open Source and technology never advanced faster. These early programmers came to be called “hackers”; while today that word conjures up imagery of demons running amuck all over your PC, messing up your Conway Twitty Mp3’s and deleting your Edward Twilight wallpapers…yeah…right they’re your daughters…mmhmm…anyway…Not important…The word “hacker” meant something entirely different in the 60’s, when to “hack” something meant to come up with a clever way to fix it. Yeah, that was the golden years for Open Source; technology was advancing and the open source concept was spreading like wild fire right along with it – moving on.

Ladies and gentleman, if you would look to your left at what looks like a small tank, because we are just in time to watch the computer transition from armored vehicle to something a little more suitable for people without reinforced flooring. Early computer companies; most notably Digital Equipment Corporation (or DEC – went on to become Compaq HP), would provide their source code “openly” with their customers when they bought one of these computers. Having the Open Source Code of the computers’ operating system (OS) was only part of the beauty; remember the early computers were very difficult to program, which also meant the consumers were forced to educate themselves in order to use this computer to its full potential; now we see began to witness open source spread to the general user…did ya’ hear that Apple and Microsoft…There simply wasn’t such a thing as someone who was, “computer illiterate”. Instead they could write their own programs, would fix their own problems, and share any new programs they wrote back to the companies. If this was always the way it was; today we could say with pride, even if there was a company called Microsoft; we would never have had to deal with Vista or ME. We would also have never laid eyes on that wretched Internet Explorer, because a nation full of programmers would have never let such a turd bomb go that long unfixed. And as for Apple, there would likely never be such a thing, as Stevie would’ve taken his iBall and went home. This may mean no iPhone and that’s a bummer, but I hold out hope that Android could get something decent for us with that kind of time.

Enter Microsoft

In the 1970’s new software developments, fueled by the Open Source mentality, led to faster and more complex systems. In fact the rate that technology was advancing was so fast it seemed to have no ceiling, and was only a matter of time before companies began to realize that software had value, and began charging for it. However, it was Bill Gates’ letter to the Homebrew Club that was the shot that critically wounded the Open Source Initiative. In his letter Gates proclaimed that the sharing of software was stealing. Now I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that Mr. Gates had a vested interest? Hmm…let’s see here, for 15 years technology advanced at a blistering pace, companies openly shared their source code enabling end users to program their own PC’s , and users were sharing new source code they adapted back to the companies who shared with them first. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, who makes their profits from providing….wait a minute….software…something smells fishy here…I don’t think this Bill Gates character is being completely honest here. Now, with that said let me add that I am not anti-Microsoft per’se; MS has contributed much to the technology industry…except for that retarded iPod they called a Zune…that was crap. However, we may have never moved into the desktop PC quite like we know it and still be keying in hard code. Plus, like him or not, Bill Gates has been a tremendous philanthropist – not real sure where he’s going with this poop recycling toilet, but a philanthropist nonetheless. So, I’m not totally against MS; not totally for them either, but not totally against them. I believe an early partnership between Microsoft and Open Source would have proven to be a tremendous thing for technology. Alas, while we would have exceptional technologies; Mr. Gates would be unable to have the ability to purchase 15 countries and give them to charity. So, there are ups and downs with that scenario. Regardless, the reality is the stance of Microsoft that software is a product to be sold; thus inventing the proprietary software, has established Microsoft as the international behemoth that it is. This is the same reason that anytime anyone mentions a computer the very first image in the majority of your minds is a PC with Windows installed on it.

Well we have reached the end for now. We haven’t fully answered the question of where OSS came from yet, but we now know where its essence began and flourished. While the 70’s was a very devastating decade for OSS, and seemingly the decade that delivered the death blow; we’re going to see that technically “Open Source” as the word implies has yet to be there’s some “6th Sense Twisty whizz for ya…during the 60’s there was no need to call it Open Source, Shared Source, Tito, Jermaine, or Michael, because it is just how it was. There wasn’t closed software, that required an “Open Source Software” to be defined. Though, next time we will see where Open Source was actually born, and that will land us in the 80’s. Between then and now I’ll get the Delorian washed up, because now we’ll be heading to the 80’s….it’s a good thing we’re too hip to be square, or things could get a little awkward. Until next time…keep it saucy…


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