This short article will give you a insight into how something “free” evolved in a capitalistic society. The two most popular operating systems for computers were developed under different models – Microsoft DOS and Unix. The history of each reflects the philosophy of two different development philosophies.
Microsoft is a well known example of a company that has thrived under a proprietary development and licensing model. Unix is a multitasking, multi-user computer operating system originally developed in 1969 by a group of AT&T employees at Bell Labs.
Microsoft DOS was developed by a single company and a small handful of developers that kept their secrets to themselves and sold them for great success. Unix’ history is one of industry leaders, students, professors, and individuals that cooperated in a community to achieve the same type of success. The great thing about Unix was that it wasn’t kept secret. Universities loved it because it was “open” not proprietary. It also had no licensing fees. Universities and small companies could adopt at budget prices.
The proprietary model
In the early days of software development there was quite a discussion over what “should” be the way to develop software. Two philosophies evolved about the best way to get excellent programming developed. Originally software came from the biggest companies like IBM and DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) among others and was used to operate their own machines.
They spent a lot on development and charged a lot for licensing. If you wanted to work on the software you had work for the company or, at least an approved developer, and agree to keep everything secret. Big money up front for R&D and hiring the best in the business meant licensing fees as a way to recoup the investment. If you owned a machine from IBM for instance, you could run their software, but no others. Without purchasing a license for each machine, your computer was nothing more than a boat anchor.
Microsoft is a well known example of a company that has thrived under this development model. They wrote a Disk Operating System (DOS) and licensed it’s secrets to IBM for their machines in an exclusive arrangement. They were then able to use their money to invest in even more development. Simultaneously, Microsoft made computing available to millions by creating a standard that many hardware and software manufacturers could build upon. One of the big differences between Microsoft and others, is that their software could run on more than one type of equipment.
Unix as an open source example
But Microsoft wasn’t the only developer of a disk operating system. At about the same time, Unix was being developed.
Unix was actually a programmer’s workbench. Great for learning, great for testing, It had a lot of advantages and grew larger as it spread. As users needed a new feature, they just wrote it themselves, and allowed all their colleagues to copy it and use it freely. So a different philosophy for development was demonstrated. An open sharing model that let’s everyone contribute. It worked. Now we have Unix and it’s descendants FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and DragonFly BSD, plus unix-like systems for example, MINIX, Linux, Android.
The world now has several great operating systems, but for computers to be useful, they have to have applications. Microsoft Office is an example. But nobody was really in charge of making an “Office” for Unix, but there was a large community dedicated to the open development philosophy. And a lot of those people are students, professors and small companies with more time than money; So they banded together and through mutual cooperation they started developing applications for use with the “free” operating systems. It was fairly easy (for experts) because the code of these free operating systems was open – not encrypted or proprietary. They are now referred to as open source.
Open Source Software is software licensed under the GNU General Public License, and unencrypted. Anyone can make a copy and work on it, improve it and expand upon it as long as they adhere to the Open Source philosophy. You can read all about it at gnu.org
About the GPL
I borrowed this explanation from the WordPress Codex, which does a good job explaining it.“The GNU General Public License, or GPL, is an open source license. Open source doesn’t just mean that you can view the source code — it has political and philosophical implications as well. Open source, or “Free Software”, means you are free to modify and redistribute the source code under certain conditions. Free doesn’t refer to the price, it refers to freedom. The difference between the two meanings of free is often characterized as “Free as in speech vs. free as in beer.” The GPL is free as in speech.”
Development Communities have been created around specific applications, such as the Drupal Community, “The passionate volunteer Drupal community is on hand to give support via various vibrant IRC channels, in the forums, and face to face at Drupal events. The community has also created Documentation for Drupal, which covers major topics related to working with Drupal. The worldwide community drives the innovation that makes Drupal the preferred choice for web developers and site owners. Everybody can get involved and make a difference to Drupal.”
WordPress.org is another development community devoted to WordPress. These communities support their constituents in various ways including events and conventions.. “In addition to online resources like the forums and mailing lists a great way to get involved with WordPress is to attend or volunteer at a WordCamp, which are free or low-cost events that happen all around the world to gather and educate WordPress users, organized by WordPress users. Check out the website, there might be a WordCamp near you.”
Now we have Joomla, WordPress, Drupal, but there are more, like Open Office, and hundreds of applications built by volunteers sharing information. The overriding rule for these communities of developers is that the source must stay open – unencrypted, and shareable by everyone,.
WordPress, Joomla and Drupal grew out of this philosophy and are still totally free and open source software applications that originally ran on open source operating systems. There are versions that run on Microsoft servers as well. Both development philosophies have proved effective and profitable for those involved. At Open Source Training, our name tells you where our interests are. We are devoted to training people on using open source software, primarily Joomla, Drupal and WordPress.