Open Source Essay

Intro

Everyone knows what computers are and the software that works with the hardware itself. Both the hardware and the software are able to combine into what we see as a computer. Many people out there don’t really pay much attention to what goes in and out of the computer and how it ticks. Of course with computer hardware, you’ll need software to go with it, an OS (Windows), and some personal apps you want like a web browser (Edge/IE), games, graphics design programs (Photoshop), etc. There’s just one problem to this, most of these programs don't make the program easy to manipulate and make it your own, this is usually called proprietary software where they don’t wanna show what makes it work. This is cool and all but these companies might wanna charge money in order to use their program and it only works on one or maybe two OSes. Regular people pay for it and don’t bat an eye to it but others feel differently with this. Many computer experts asked “what if I don’t wanna pay? What if I wanna run it on different systems? I want people to have the freedom and be able to change and update the code we use and make it better and better.” This was where many of these developers started writing and distributing pieces of software that’s free and includes the source code. This is called Open source, when developers want to write software and share it for free with no extra charges or any catches. This soon sparked a new generation of software that was completely free, like the OS (Linux or FreeBSD), the web browser (Mozilla Firefox), games, graphics design programs (GIMP), etc. Although now this can give the power to not just the developers working on it, but also others who are in the community and want to help out with their software.

Where did this start?

Open source software can date back all the way to the 1950s and 1960s where computers and the software needed for them weren’t that easy for consumers to get their hands on. Computers like most of the IBM mainframes of the time had the source code bundled, ARPANET which would later become the Internet as we know it today, and much more. Unfortunately by the end of the 1960s IBM got in a lawsuit for bundling in the source code and software with the computer and the U.S. government believed that bundled software was anti-competitive. By the end of this case, free software was starting to decline and started selling their software for sale under a license. With Unix, AT&T’s new OS for some mainframes or workstation computers, for a while they did ship Unix for free but as the 1980s began, Unix started to charge patches and the OS itself. Software developers had adapted to licensing and selling the software they made for money and this was hammered down with Bill Gate’s Open Letter to Hobbyists essay(1). Some people didn’t want to write software for free and would rather pay customers to use it. Many people, mostly programmers, hated this including one person who despised this and wanted to change this, his name is Richard M. Stallman.

The GNU Project

Richard Stallman is a famous American programmer and activist for the free software movement who would usually go around the world to talk about free software and what they do. He started the GNU Project in September 1983 with a goal to make a Unix-like OS with fully free software(2). Stallman started the GNU Project out of the distaste of not being able to modify and study a program which was written by others. He viewed this as ethically wrong and so in response to this practice done by programmers of the time, the GNU Project was born. After this, they wrote several new programs including an Emacs editor with a Lisp interpreter (GNU Emacs), a debugger (GNU Debugger) and a C compiler (GCC) along with a bunch of others. With this they formed the Free Software Foundation. Richard also at the time of forming the FSF wrote a document asking people to support the GNU Project. With the FSF they specialize in teaching others about the free software moment and want their users to make their freedom a priority and to not use any proprietary software. Here they formed the GNU General Public License (GPL) which people can license their software under a license that allows it to be published for free. The only problem was that in order to create an OS, they needed a kernel and they have been developing one named GNU Hurd(3) but development was slow due to the fact they use a Multi Server Microkernel which was really hard to debug on and they noticed something else rise from the scene that’s a Unix-like clone, and worked better than GNU Hurd, and it was Linux.

Linux

Linux first began development in 1991 created by Linus Torvalds, a programmer and Finnish-American immigrant, while at the University of Helsinki. It was a replacement for MINIX which Linus hated the license for(4) and just wanted Unix at home. Out of this dire need and no good alternatives that were free, Linus took it to himself to write a Unix-like kernel. The reason why Linux was a lot easier to debug than GNU Hurd is that Linux uses a Monolithic Kernel instead of Hurd’s Multi server Microkernel. Most of Linux heavily relies on GNU components to work like a C compiler, a debugger, etc. Version 0.01 of the Linux kernel stated that GNU software is required in order to fully use Linux, later on with 0.12, Linus released Linux under the GNU GPL(5). GNU has been a big part of combining together all of the things necessary to make a free and open source operating system. This has gotten to the point where the FSF would like if people would start to call Linux, “GNU/Linux”(6) as most of the OS is made up of or is GNU components and Linux is just the kernel, many have debated on this if this is right or wrong(7). Nonetheless, the OS became a big hit among computer geeks of the time and some developers, even to this day, many use Linux ethier on purpose or some might not even know that they’re using it. Linux was the last piece of the puzzle to what GNU wanted to accomplish. Soon after Linux had become a world wide name and started to become a real alternative to Windows which has dominated the OS market of the time and when many of these Linux corporations went public and had their IPO rise up to about 200% or even 600% or more(8). Although Linux didn’t become that popular to regular consumers since they might have found it too difficult or already had Windows since many computer manufacturers didn’t ship computers with blank hard drives for putting a different OS until after Windows Refund Day. Windows Refund Day was an event on February 15th 1999 where a bunch of people in the Linux and open source community gathered around Microsoft headquarters and protested about their unused copies of Windows that they didn’t want.(9)

BSD

In the mix of Linux and Unix, There was also BSD which has been brewing since 1977 and is usually used as an alternative to Linux now. Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) is an OS based off of Research Unix originally developed by Computer Systems Research Group which was mainly used for workstations of the time. BSD originally was developed as an add-on to Version 6 Unix instead of being a complete OS and only 30 or so copies were sent out but soon after with 2.9BSD, they made it a complete OS which was just a modified Version 7 Unix. Unfortunately for the BSD team, they soon got involved in the Unix wars where many Unix vendors wanted to find a standard for Unix which would be known as POSIX or Portable Operating System Interface. Later Berkeley Software Design got sued by UNIX System Laboratories for using copyrighted Unix code(10). USL claimed that BSD infringed USL’s copyrights of the Unix OS but argued that USL didn’t copyright UNIX/32V until 1992, long after the release by AT&T in 1978, and so had no valid copyrights to it. In July 1993, USL was bought by Novell and finally reached an agreement in February 1994 that they would remove all of the copyrighted code from their OS and would release their last version of BSD, 4.4BSD-Lite Release 2, and soon after most development of BSD at Berkeley had faded away. This didn’t mean that the BSD line of OSes were over, after the release of 4.4BSD-Lite Release 2, many developed clones of BSD which started which 386BSD, a version of 4.3BSD Net/2 ported to the 386 line of CPUs, this then sparked different clones of 386BSD like FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD. FreeBSD is the most popular one which is used by many companies like IBM, Nokia, Netflix, WhatsApp, etc. It’s even shown in many game consoles’ System Software, like the PS3(11), PS4(12) and the Switch(13). Some also might be using BSD systems without knowing it, the macOS (Mac OS X) uses the Darwin kernel which uses BSD and the Mach kernel. Darwin is based off of NeXTSTEP’s Mach kernel and a BSD subsystem and built the bases for many of Apple’s products like macOS, iOS, watchOS, tvOS and iPadOS.(14)

SCO vs. the Linux community

The SCO Group wasn’t very fond of Linux’s success but many of them thought that the Linux kernel contains copyrighted SCO source code. Of course, many in the community were furious about this, because the Linux source code is easily accessible, some of those claims can be counter and dismissed as just being out right false. Nevertheless SCO later sued IBM, Novell who owned SuSE at the time, AutoZone, Red Hat, and DaimlerChrysler, all of which had the same claims and points that all of them used Linux and therefore to them, they were using copyrighted SCO code. It’s also known via a leaked email that Microsoft has been funding SCO in this lawsuit(15) and the reasoning for it was that Microsoft was competing against Linux and in the way Microsoft does it the best way possible, tries to cut them right off and helped them with this to kill off Linux but fortunately that didn’t happen. The irony of it is that in the SCO v. Novell, It was shown that in fact Novell was the owner of Unix and UnixWare copyrights(16) and instantly had most of SCO’s claims denied and the case was closed. Soon after these cases, the SCO Group would later filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy but would later convert it over to Chapter 7 and the entire collection of cases would finally die out with the last of them, the SCO v. IBM case being dismissed in 2016 but are still arguing about this to this day(17). SCO would soon become a laughing stock and a complete joke among the Linux community for their attempt to kill off Linux when their claims were completely wrong and this was hammered down with the creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds, saying that “In other words, I think we can totally _demolish_ the SCO claim that these 65 files were somehow "copied". They clearly are not. Which should come as no surprise to people. But I think it's nice to see just _how_ clearly we can show that SCO is - yet again - totally incorrect.(18)

Conclusion

Linux or GNU/Linux has become a massive product and one among millions of developers wanting to set each other free and away from these jails that companies put us in and can control us. Linux soon would dominate the mobile and embedded systems space but as of 2020 still hasn’t taken over the desktop and Linus very much knows about it, “I started Linux as a desktop operating system. And it's the only area where Linux hasn't completely taken over. That just annoys the hell out of me.”(19) Even then Linux has a great and vast community of computer nerds, people who want out of the Windows or Apple ecosystem, or just wants to have fun with an alternative OS and is growing my the second with thousands upon millions of users downloading and installing different Linux distributions or distros like Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Manjaro Linux, Fedora, Debian, Arch Linux, etc. If you’re on the fence about Linux, I urge you to at least try it out on a USB stick or a CD/DVD and see if you like it. If you’re having trouble, because of the large community, you’ll get help very quickly. The Linux community is very welcoming and willing to help and get more into Linux and just wants to see the community grow and flourish. Have fun and Happy hacking!(20)

Sources:

(1) https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/library/cyber/surf/072397mind-letter.html
(1) https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/14/Bill_Gates_Letter_to_Hobbyists.jpg
(2) https://www.gnu.org/gnu/thegnuproject.html
(3) https://www.gnu.org/software/hurd/
(3) https://www.gnu.org/software/hurd/hurd-and-linux.html
(4) http://minix1.woodhull.com/faq/mxlicense.html
(5) https://mirrors.edge.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/Historic/old-versions/RELNOTES-0.12
(6) https://www.gnu.org/gnu/why-gnu-linux.html
(7) https://linuxinsider.com/story/to-gnu-or-not-to-gnu-that-is-the-question-75073.html
(8) https://www.thestreet.com/investing/va-linux-smashes-ipo-record-soaring-almost-700-836955
(9) http://marc.merlins.org/linux/refundday/
(9) https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/library/tech/99/02/biztech/articles/16windows.html
(10) https://www.oreilly.com/openbook/opensources/book/kirkmck.html
(10) https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/832/790/1428569/
(10) http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20041126130302760
(10) https://www.freebsd.org/doc/en_US.ISO8859-1/articles/explaining-bsd/why-is-bsd-not-better-known.html
(11) http://doc.dl.playstation.net/doc/ps3-oss
(12) https://doc.dl.playstation.net/doc/ps4-oss/
(13) https://www.freebsdnews.com/2017/03/08/nintendo-switch-runs-freebsd/
(14) https://opensource.apple.com/
(15) http://www.catb.org/~esr/halloween/halloween10.html
(15) https://web.archive.org/web/20060106163301/http://www.infoworld.com/article/03/08/08/31OPcringely_1.html
(16) http://www.h-online.com/open/features/SCO-vs-Linux-The-story-so-far-746448.html
(16) https://www.theregister.com/2010/06/11/sco_novell/
(16) https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-10th-circuit/1115203.html
(16) https://casetext.com/case/the-sco-group-inc-v-novell-inc
(17) https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/10/appeals-court-keeps-alive-the-never-ending-linux-case-sco-v-ibm/
(18) https://lwn.net/Articles/64207/
(19) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MShbP3OpASA
(20) https://stallman.org/articles/happy-hacking.html

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