- Image by @BB via Flickr
I have been researching the origins of open source recently and realized that I had missed an important anniversary last year.
On a very rainy day in early February 1998, a group of people very familiar with free software met at the Palo Alto home ofChristine Petersonof the Foresight Institute. Many in the free software movement felt that they were on the verge of something very big. Netscape had just announced that it would make its source code freely available. Influenced by an article by Eric Raymond called the Cathedral and the Bazaar, the management at Netscape came to the conclusion that this was the way to build software. Chris invited Eric, Michael Tiemann, Larry Augustin, John Hall, Todd Anderson and Sam Ockman to session to discuss the unique opportunity of publicity this would create and how best to present the free software movement to business as a whole. Chris’s living room provided a venue to brainstorm on new ways to brand free software.
The heavy presence not in that room was Richard Stallman – RMS. Richard Stallman provided a Patrick Henry-like defense of free software in a “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” sort of way. Although the group agreed and aligned with the principles of free software – free to share, free to choose, free to reuse, free to distribute, RMS’s uncompromising stance on the term “free software” inhibited business users from taking up free software. Although business users of free software, particularly younger, early adopters, could agree and sympathize with these principles, they were suspicious of anything free. The term was too closely related to freeware or shareware that was usually a one-man outfit that relied on the contributions of those who liked the software. Freeware did not mean that the source code was freely available, so meant that there was generally no one else to work on the product to improve or fix it. RMS felt that this called for education, not stepping away from the term free that emphasized the principles of freedom.