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Twenty years ago, on Feb. 3, 1998, in a conference room in Palo Alto, Calif., the term “open source” was coined. Michael Tiemann (now vice president of open source affairs here at Red Hat), Todd Anderson, Chris Peterson of Foresight Institute, John "Maddog" Hall and Larry Augustin, both with Linux International, Sam Ockman with Silicon Valley Linux User's Group and Eric Raymond were reacting to the announcement by Netscape that it planned to “give away” the Netscape source code by releasing it to the public. From there, adoption of both the term and concept moved quickly and today, the open source community has tens of millions of members and contributors.
At Red Hat, open source is our way of life. Our mission is to be the catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners creating better technology the open source way. Not only do we do this through a portfolio of products and services developed using an open and collaborative model, but more importantly, we do this through the people who carry out our vision every day to help make it a reality. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of open source, we asked some of our longest-standing Red Hatters to share what open source has meant to them throughout the years.
Chris Wright, vice president and Chief Technology Officer on how he first got started in the open source community:
Late 1995 or early 1996, I was out of university and working in my first “real” job. During school I had discovered UNIX and loved it. At work, our product was UNIX-based, and I was hungry to learn as much as I could about the programming language. Because of that, one thing was missing for me, and that was the ability to play with UNIX at home. UNIX itself was expensive, and even more expensive was the hardware it ran on. A friend of mine worked at an ISP, and he suggested I try Linux as a way to create a UNIX-like environment on a PC I had at home. So I dialed-up, connected to the internet, and began downloading over 50 floppy disks of Slackware, an early Linux distribution. The installation was tough, and configuring X for a graphical desktop was truly mysterious. But even this was interesting as I had to learn about Linux and my hardware to make it all work. Linux was still rough around the edges, but to me it was fun.
Between my Linux box at home and our usage of gcc and some tools from SunSITE at work, I was now a daily user of open source software. Along the way, I switched to CD installations of Red Hat Linux (perhaps version 4 or 5). By Red Hat Linux 6, I was running Linux at home on both x86 and SPARC (I got two cast-away SPARCstations from work and was using Linux as my primary development workstation at work). This was the time where gcc and egcs split, and I discovered that when compiling the projects that I was working on at work, I got much better compiler warnings with egcs on Linux than our old gcc. I also preferred the developer environment. Simple things like the shell (bash), the editor (vim), the mail client (pine) were there out of the box. No need to grab things off of SunSITE anymore. A colleague and I offered to set up team members with Linux workstations. We were the office Linux evangelists. Still, I was really just using open source software; I was not an active community member or contributor. However, I had begun looking under the hood to understand how things worked, I had read the GNU Manifesto, and I was excited by the idea of software freedom.
In 1999, I was working for Lucent on a unified messaging platform. I was responsible for the high availability of the platform, and I met a colleague who was working on a project called Linux-HA. He was an enthusiastic evangelist and encouraged me to check it out. I saw the potential and I got involved. I joined the mailing list, experimented with the software, and contributed to design discussions. It was thrilling! I found an itch to scratch of my own, and eventually I sent code to add a new feature. My involvement spanned more than one job, and I ended up doing some of it at home in my spare time for fun. This is where it all changed for me. This is when I got hooked on the feeling of collaborating with a community. I couldn’t believe that I could be directly involved, learning from really talented engineers, and sharing ideas to build something that was useful for anyone. It’s fun to write code and strive for technical excellence, but there’s another level of satisfaction knowing that you’re solving problems other people care about. I went from merely using open source software, to being a part of the open source software movement.
Stormy Peters, senior manager, Open Source and Standards team, on what open source has accomplished over the years:
The open source community has changed not only how software is developed but how companies collaborate. Almost every company in the world uses open source software, and many contribute to it as well. This ability to share common technology has enabled us all to build even greater technology. Just in the past two decades alone, I feel like I've gone from reading about things in science fiction books to using them in my everyday life. I have daily video calls with large groups of people, my phone tells me about traffic accidents without even asking where I'm going and I work with people around the world on a daily basis. Not all of these solutions are completely built on open source but they all are built and run on various pieces of open source infrastructure. I think that speed of innovation has only been possible because we are all cooperating at a tremendous level.
Nick Hopman, senior director, emerging technology practices, on where he thinks open source is headed in the future:
As my career and exposure to open source has progressed, I now view open source as much more than just a process to develop and expose technology. I now see it as a catalyst to drive change in every facet of society. Government, policy, medical diagnostics, process re-engineering, your name it. All these things and more can leverage open principles that have been perfected through the experiences of open source software development to create communities that drive change and innovation. I believe open source will continue to drive technology innovation, but I am even more excited to see how it changes the world outside in ways we have yet to even consider.
Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO, on the future of open source:
The future of open source is bright. We are on the cusp of a new wave of innovation that will come about because information is being separated from physical objects thanks to the Internet of Things. Over the next decade, I predict we will see entire industries based on open source concepts, like the sharing of information and joint innovation, become mainstream. We’ll see this impact in every sector, from non-profits, like healthcare, education and government, to global corporations who realize sharing information leads to better outcomes. Open and participative innovation will become a key part of increasing productivity around the world. As the nexus of innovation continues to move into open communities, and as open source becomes more ubiquitous, I believe Red Hat will become one of the iconic names in the technology world.
About the author
Red Hat is the world’s leading provider of enterprise open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to deliver reliable and high-performing Linux, hybrid cloud, container, and Kubernetes technologies.