Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A potted history of open source software

This post provides some background history for the post about open source on the Internet development blog...


The open source approach has been around since the 1950s with IBM's operating systems and the 'SHARE' network. The internet was developed at the end of 60s via an open source / standards approach, with commercial usage and software starting in 1988. The following year the web was started as another open source project at CERN (recently in the news for its Large Hadron Collider). Due to these origins internet software has always been dominated by open source accounting for the majority of web servers, the protocols etc.

The 90s saw the hey day of commercial software challenging this position driven by its total dominance in desktop operating systems (OS) and documents. Whilst commercial software and web sites helped drive the explosion in internet usage in the 90s, they also introduced a proliferation of closed systems and a move away from common open standards due to commercial interests. Hence the founding of the W3C and more official labelling of the 'open source' movement to counter act these trends. One strand of this was the targeting of open source OS, eg. Linux, as alternatives to commercial desktop software and OS, eg. Windows.

With the arrival of Google's Linux based OS, Chrome, next year, things may yet change significantly in this market. Although perhaps more because the remorseless drop in hardware costs puts increasing pressure on the cost of a closed commercial OS. Apple was another main commercial OS and it chose to switch to an open source based Unix OS, Darwin in 2000, to mitigate these costs by leveraging open source development. For example its browser Safari uses WebKit which was based on Linux software, as does Chrome.

Present and future?

Now with the rise of the service driven charging model, cloud computing and the movement of documents to the web via web 2.0 apps, Google docs and the forthcoming Microsoft Web Office, things have moved on. As for the two iconic companies that have come to represent open vs closed source commerical interests, Google will soon match Microsoft financially with advertising replacing software revenue. Google's vision sees all hardware as always connected to the internet, hence all content resides in the service providers global server networks (ie the 'cloud'). A desktop OS is a browser and local documents go the way of the floppy disk.

Having said that the web itself was invented to replace locally stored bespoke documents and its taken 20 years for authorship to the web to be matching the level of authorship to local documents.

The cloud means that the goal posts have shifted for the open source movement. Commercial software will never dominate the internet and many believe it will increasingly lose its dominance elsewhere. So it is no longer seen as the main issue. The focus is now on challenging what companies like Google are doing in terms of holding content. Hence some founders of the open source movement reject the cloud out of hand, whilst others think open source should now be about enabling open cloud provision. The question remains how to do this since most cloud infrastructure already runs on open source, but the infrastructure provider still retains control of the content.

Site code, Google Apps integration and design - Ed Crewe 2011