History of the Open Source effort

The prehistory of the Open Source campaign includes the entire history of Unix, Internet free software, and the hacker culture.

The `open source' label itself came out of a strategy session held on February 3rd 1998 in Palo Alto, California. The people present included Todd Anderson, Chris Peterson (of the Foresight Institute), John `maddog' Hall and Larry Augustin (both of Linux International), Sam Ockman (of the Silicon Valley Linux User's Group), and Eric Raymond.

We were reacting to the Netscape's announcement that it planned to give away the source of its browser. One of us (Raymond) had been invited out by Netscape to help them plan the release and followon actions. We realized that the Netscape announcement had created a precious window of time within which we might finally be able to get the corporate world to listen to what we have to teach about the superiority of an open development process.

We realized it was time to dump the confrontational attitude that has been associated with `free software' in the past and sell the idea strictly on the same pragmatic, business-case grounds that motivated Netscape. We brainstormed about tactics and a new label. `Open source', contributed by Chris Peterson, was the best thing we came up with.

Over the next week we worked on spreading the word. Linus Torvalds gave us an all-important imprimatur :-) the following day. Bruce Perens got involved early, offering to trademark `open source' and host this web site. Phil Hughes offered us a pulpit in Linux Journal. Richard Stallman flirted with adopting the term, then changed his mind.

The Open Source definition is derived from the Debian Free Software Guidelines. Bruce Perens composed the original draft; it was refined using suggestions of the Debian GNU/Linux Distribution developers in e-mail conference during most of June, 1997. They then voted to approve it as Debian's publicly stated policy. It was revised somewhat and Debian-specific references were removed at the origination of the Open Source Program in February 1998.

This story is continuing...

22 Jan 1998:
Netscape announces it will release the source code for Navigator.

5 Feb 1998:
Palo Alto brainstorming session coins the term `open source'. During the following week, Bruce Perens and ESR launch www.opensource.org and apply for the `Open Source' certification mark.

Early February:
Spirited debate within the hacker community: `open source' vs. `free software'. This terminological debate is understood by all parties to be a proxy for wider issues about the community's relationship to the business world. Meanwhile, the term begins to show up in trade-press articles relating to Linux and the upcoming Netscape release.

23 Feb 1998:
Netscape's February 23 press release referred to `open source', and the same day O'Reilly associates agreed to use the term in their press releases and on their web page.

1 Apr 1998:
Navigator source is released. Within hours, fixes and enhancements begin pouring in off the net.

7 Apr 1998:
Tim O'Reilly's "Freeware Summit Conference" brings together 18 of the movement's leaders. The term `open source' and accompanying economics- and self-interest-based arguments are endorsed by a vote.

14 April 1998:
Salon magazine interviews ESR on open source. The message is starting to get out to the mainstream (non-technical) press.

April 1998:
References to `open source' begin to fly thick and fast in the trade press, with positive spin (see the graph below). Within the hacker community itself the terminological (and underlying ideological) debate winds down, with `open source' emerging as a clear majority choice. Use of the term `free software' begins a reciprocal decline.

7 May 1998:
Corel Computer Corporation announces the Netwinder, an inexpensive network computer that uses Linux as its production OS. This is the first major, conscious adoption of the widget frosting model by an established business.

11 May 1998:
Corel, parent company of Corel Computer Corporation and publisher of Word Perfect, announces plans to port WordPerfect and its other office software to Linux.

28 May 1998:
Sun Microsystems and Adaptec join Linux International -- the first two large established OS and hardware vendors to do so.

22 Jun 1998:
IBM announces that it will sell and support Apache as part of its WebSphere suite. The trade press hails this as a breakthrough for open-source software.

10 July 1998:
The Economist takes editorial notice of Linux, reporting Datapro's positive findings. The message is beginning to get out in the financial press.

13 July 1998:
Computerworld, perhaps the most influential of today's MIS magazines, publishes an interview with ESR on open source.

17 July 1998
Oracle and Informix announce that they will port their databases to Linux. (This follows similar, lower-profile announcements from Computer Associates and Interbase.)

August 1998:
The Forbes magazine issue with this date (actually out in late July) featured a major article on open source, with Linus Torvalds on the cover. The truly big-time capitalists are beginning to wake up!

10 Aug 1998:
Sun Microsystems, clearly feeling the pressure from open source, makes Solaris available under a free license to individual users, also to educational/non-profit/research institutions.

11 Aug 1998:
Revision 1.0 of the VinodV memorandum on open source (annotated here as the Halloween Document), is circulated inside Microsoft.

24 Aug 1998:
SCO reveals that it is making UnixWare 7 Linux-binary-compatible. This means a proprietary Unix vendor has judged the leading open-source OS a significant source of native applications!

26 Aug 1998:
Steve Ballmer, new president of Microsoft, admits "Sure, we're worried." about Apache and Linux -- and says Microsoft is considering disclosing more Windows source.

29 September 1998: Red Hat announces that Intel and Netscape have acquired a minority stake in the leading Linux distributor. Wall Street notices. Much speculation that not all is well between Intel and Microsoft ensues.

14 October 1998:
Microsoft issues a statement adducing Linux's existence as evidence that Microsoft does not in fact have an OS monopoly.

1 November 1998:
Publication of the Halloween Documents, documenting Microsoft's plans for dirty tricks against Linux and other open-source projects, ignites a week-long furore in the national media.

9 November 1998:
The Jay Jacobs clothing chain moves its point-of-sale systems to Linux and announces the fact in a marketing first.

Eric Rauch has done Lexis-Nexis searches to track the number of references to `open source' (coupled with `netscape', `software', or `linux' to avoid false hits) in American newspapers and magazines. You can see his plot, which shows a steady rise from zero in January 1998 (with a spike in April doubtless due to the April 1 Netscape release).

(Unfortunately, Lexis/Nexis rearranged its libraries in August, so later figures won't be comparable to those above.)

Eric S. Raymond <esr@thyrsus.com>