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The Linux Story – The Free and Open Movement Pt 2

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Part 1 looks into the beginnings of the entire Free and Open Movement. This part looks at the story of Linux and how Linux helped the Free and Open Movement achieve a much wider base, and helped propel the entire community forward in a major way.

The Linux Kernel was one of the last things to fall into place for the movement, and this is where Linus Torvalds came in. Creator of the Linux kernel, Linus developed a kernel, that was working faster than Stallman’s version, and got it to work solidly. Linus initial goal was to run a similar environment in his computer as that of Sun OS (proprietary software vendor), and he could not find anything that suited that purpose.

From 1991 – 1993, Linux was in it’s was the infancy and this is when it was only in alpha or beta quality. At this time, Linux was somewhat “unstable” in its’ build. But even it’s “unstable” build, was more stable than some of its proprietary competitors.

Linus success came from the fact that he created a ‘monolithic’ entity. The Linux Kernel was one entity that composed the Operating System. Stallman’s design was different. He had chosen a design that was more advanced, in that it offered greater features, but the entire design was hard to debug. Stallman opted for dividing the OS Kernel, which was traditional one program, into smaller programs that would send messages to each other, asynchronously with each other. The problem with this kind of programming, was that it held a great deal of complexity and had the potential for more bugs being harder to solve. Because of it’s intricate complexities, it took Stallman and his supporters many years to get their program to run.

Linus stated that Stallman’s efforts and vision inspired his own, and there was a great deal of symbiosis between Linux and the programs that the GNU team (under Stallman) built. One of the key programs out of their collaboration was the GNU C Compiler, that was added to Linux and this was the key program Linux needed to be the alternative free and open operating system that it is today. Without the GNU C Compiler, most of the progress would not have been possible. Linux also used the General Public License (GPL) that the GNU team had worked on.

Killer Application

However, for Linux to receive widespread appeal, it needed a “killer app” to put it to use. This came from the web server industry, with the creation of the Apache Linux Webserver. Before this, Linux had very little business applicability. When a business made a decision to go and build a server farm (a location that houses many, many servers), it was much more cost effective to build it on Linux and Apache, rather than IAS and NT. The tag-team combination of Apache and Linux resulted in large Internet Service Providers and e-commerce companies jumping on board with them rather than adopting solutions provided by Microsoft and Windows.

Internet Service Providers really liked Apache because of it’s flexibility, and it allowed for more freedom than commercial web servers. One such ability was in being able to host more than one website on a single box, and this makes sense for an ISP that might have 40,000 users that all wanted to have their own websites.

Also, if you were to examine the adoption curve of the growth of the internet, and the adaption curve of the growth of Linux, you would realize that they happened at the same time. This is important because it demonstrates just how important the Apache Webserver was for Linux to grow and thrive.

Table 1: Global Server Operating System Market Share
Platform 2000 2003 2006
Windows NT/200X Server 14.0 mil (58%) 16.0 mil (53%) 18.0 mil (50%)
NetWare 3.5 mil (14.6%) 1.6 mil (5.3%) 1.0 mil (2.7%)
UNIX (all) 2.8 mil (11.7%) 2.3 mil (7.7%) 2.0 mil (5.6%)
Linux (Servers) 1.5 mil (6.3%) 5.2 mil (17.3%) 11.0 mil (31%)
Total 24 million 30 million 36 million
Note: The above Global Server Operating System Market Share figures are estimates based on a number of private and public sources. Any use of these number should be done in light of other published figures such as the IDC survey reports.

 

The beauty with Linux was that programmers were able to create extremely high quality software, even while violating the standard rules of software engineering and business.

According to a highly respected and valuable paper by Eric Raymond titled: The Cathedral and the Bazaar There were 2 opposed styles of development; one is the closed style, called the “Cathedral” style where there is a tight specification of objectives, and small project groups run in a hierarchical manner, and long release intervals. On the other hand, in the Linux world there was more peer to peer, “Bazaar” market style, with short release intervals, and constant solicitation of feedback from people who are outside the project. This was an intense peer review process and Raymond felt this peer review process was the most important, and the single greatest advantage the Bazaar style of development had over the Cathedral style.

 

Raymond described his experiences best when he wrote, “I believed that the most important software (operating systems and really large tools like the Emacs programming editor) needed to be built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time. Linus Torvalds’s style of development – release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity – came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here – rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches…the facct that this bazaar style seemed to work, and work well, came as a distinct shock.”

Indeed there was a shock in the technological community at the time, and this shock transferred into the business community, and with venture capitalists. This was apparent numerous times when Linux based companies such as VA Linux Systems approached venture capital firms seeking to build the next Sun Microsystems for an open source development style. However, the venture capitalists at the time were foreign to the “bazaar” model of development, and did not understand, nor appreciate it’s advantages. Venture capitalists were slow in their support and funding for Linux based companies because of their predisposition towards “conventional” business growth models of software development.

Linux, brought with it a host of new business opportunities as well, with the creation of companies that have specialized in the distribution and support of Linux, such as Red Hat, Debian, OpenSuse, and others. These companies have tweaked and improved upon the original Linux. Out of all the successful businesses, Red Hat has become the most successful to date.

 

The strength of the bazaar decentralized style of development can easily be seen in the amount of productive growth the Linux community achieved over the years. According to Forbes Magazine:

Linux progression:

In 1991 – Version 0.01 of Linux had 10,000 lines of code and one user.

In 1992 – Version 0.96 of Linux had 40,000 lines of code and 1,000 users.

In 1993 — Version 0.99 of Linux had 100,000 lines of code and 20,000 users.

In 1995 — Version 1.2 of Linux had 250,000 lines of code, and 500,000 users.

In 1997 — Version 2.1 of Linux had 800,000 lines of code and 3.5 million users.

In 1998 — Version 2.110 of Linux had 1.5 million lines of code and 7.5 million users.

Open Source Movement

Eric Raymond, CEO of VA Linux Systems, knew that there was a problem with calling Linux OS as “free software” as was commonly used to describe any such software or program in that era. The term ‘Free Software’ and the name to describe Linux had to change. Businesses associated “Free” with, “free of charge” and this gave businesses the perception that money could not be generated with it. The Linux based businesses wanted to get across the idea that the software was open, and that the source code was available.

This is how the “Open Source” name came about, with Linus even being consulted on the decision. Once Raymond and others received his blessings, the name used to describe these systems was changed from “Free Software” to “Open Source”.

This left those following the open source development at a kind of odds with the original Free Software Movement headed by Stallman. As emphasized in Part 1, Stallman stated that, “the Open Source Movement focused on practical advantages that you could get by having a community of users that would cooperate on interchanging and improving software.“On this note,  Stallman agreed completely, however on a philisophical level, Stallman’s quirk with the Open Source Movement depended upon looking at the bigger picture behind it all. As Stallman had publically said, “That freedom to cooperate with other people, to cooperate with unity, is important for having a good society for people to live in.” To him, free software was more important than even having powerful and reliable software.

So there has been an ideological and philosophical difference between the two camps, however they both fundamentally support similar objectives. Author of Open Source Definition, Bruce Perens, was a supporter of the Open Source Movement, with the belief that some commercialization had a positive benefit for the community at large. This is because commecialization would bring the software towards a more mainstream public, where it would receive more attention and adoption. This can definitely be seen with the immense interest that has been generated on Ubuntu’s distribution of Linux which has been quite popular amoung mainstream users.

 

The 9 Rights of the Open Source Definition

Perens wrote the Debian Free Software Guidelines which were published by Debian as their official project policy. Debian is yet another Linux distribution that took upon the work of the Open Source Definition of Bruce Perens. Debian Guidelines state that Open Source software gives you 9 “rights” which is in the open source definition

—-The 9 Rights—

1 – Free Redistribution. The emphasis of ‘Free’ in this respect has no relation to the price, but to Liberty. Thus, you have to be free to redistribute your software to someone else, and price is not a side-effect. This means that it is possible to charge for that redistribution, however, it must also come with the Source Code included.

2 – Source Code Available. This allows for the person that bought the program to have the ability to maintain it. An example of this would be  if a user wanted to go from a PC to a MAC. They would retain the ability to change the software to accommodate that.

3 – Derived Works Permitted. This means, that if someone has improved on the original program, then they should be able to distribute the result. There is a provision about the Integrity of the Author’s Source Code.

4 – Integrity of the Author’s Source Code. This states, that the author can maintain their honour, and if a change is made, the alterer may have to change the name of the program, or mark a change very clearly, so that the alterer’s change doesn’t reflect on the original author

5 – No discrimination against people or groups. Best example of this, is that a distributor cannot prevent an abortion clinic or anti-abortion activist from using the software. Thus it must remain “open” to all

6 – No discrimination against fields of Endeavors. This states that a software must be made usable in any situation, whether it is in a business, or a school

7 – License has to be distributable. In other words, if the licensee sold a program, then that program must contain that same license for someone else, and that license then  should work if they give that to yet another, third, person.

8 – License must not be specific to a product. In other words, if the user distributes the software on a Red Hat system, then license cannot discriminate against that specific system. An example would be, the license cannot say, “you can’t distribute this on a Suse or Debian system”

9 – License must not contaminate other software. So if an individual distributes the license software on a CD/DVD with another program, the license must not claim that other program must be free in order to distribute the license. This rule was placed in order to circumvent any legal loophole  before it could be exploited

Grass Roots Linux Community

The beauty of the Linux was that it allowed for social networking of its own. This was many years before the emergence of social networking giants such as Facebook! Linux had its own organic, independent community that was called the Linux Users Groups. These people became familiarized with issues affecting Linux systems, and Linus acted as a support network for people that did not have ability to pay for commercial network support. So the Linux Users Groups had “install fests”, and these were places people could go to, for trouble shooting their Linux systems or installations. These people were able to bring their machines into the Users Group meetings with people that would be willing to help them with the problems that they had.

By 1998, Linux had become a target painted on by Microsoft. 20 States in the U.S. filed Antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft and one of Microsoft’s arguments with federal regulators were that Linux was the actual threat, since Linux could potentially drive them out of business, thus they needed to seek protection. This claim of course was unfounded on the reality and lacked any kind of credibility and the judge presiding in the case did not support the claims made by Microsoft’s lawyers.

The Linux Story serves to demonstrate just how connected Linux has remained within the community and it continues to grow every year as it becomes a more popular and credible alternative to the dominant two operating systems for consumers on the market: Windows; and OSX.

The Free and Open Movement has only begun to grow, encompassing multiple branches such as the Free Software Movement, Open Source Movement, Creative Commons, and more. As long as there is swift and strong opposition held against federal regulations to exert control on the internet, the strength and future for the movement looks very promising indeed.

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  1. Pingback: Prudent Press | Humble Beginnings - The Free and Open Source Movement

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