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The Future Of Open Source

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A system without a display, for example, could discourage the development of

graphical applications, or if it were difficult for several people to interact with the

same application this could discourage some educational uses. Moreover, Fano noted

that after a system starts to develop in a particular direction, work in this direction

is preferred and it accelerates the development in this direction. As a result, "the

inherent characteristics of a time-sharing system may well have long-lasting

effects on the character, composition, and intellectual life of a community" (cf.

Tuomi, 2002: 86).

The modern concept of proprietary software emerged in the 1970s, when the computer-

equipment industry began to unbundle software from hardware, and independent

software firms started to produce software for industry-standard computer platforms.

Over the decade, this development led to the realization that software was associated

with important intellectual capital which could provide its owners with revenue

streams. In 1983, AT&T was freed from the constraints of its earlier antitrust agreement,

which had restricted its ability to commercialize software, and it started to

enforce its copyrights in the popular Unix operating system. The growing restrictions

on access to source code also started to make it difficult to integrate peripheral equipment,

such as printers, into the developed systems. This frustrated many software

developers, and led Richard Stallman to launch the GNU project in 1983 and the Free

Software Foundation in 1985. Stallman's pioneering idea was to use copyrights in a

way that guaranteed that the source code would remain available for further development

and that it could not be captured by commercial interests. For that purpose,

Stallman produced a standard license, the GNU General Public License, or GPL, and set

up to develop an alternative operating system that would eventually be able to replace

proprietary operating systems.

Although the GNU Alix/Hurd operating-system kernel never really materialized, the

GNU project became a critical foundation for the open-source movement. The tools

developed in the GNU project, including the GNU C-language compiler GCC, the C-language

runtime libraries, and the extendable Emacs program editor, paved the way for

the launching of other open-source projects. The most important of these became the

Linux project, partly because it was the last critical piece missing from the full GNU

operating-system environment. Eventually, the core Linux operating system became


The Future of Open Source

combined with a large set of open-source tools and applications, many of which relied

on the GNU program libraries and used the GPL.

The first version of the Linux operating system was released on the Internet in

mid-September 1991. The amount of code in the first Linux release was quite modest.

The smallest file consisted of a single line and the longest was 678 lines, or 612

lines without comments. The average size of the files in the first Linux package was

37 lines without comments. In total, the system consisted of 88 files, with 231 kilobytes

of code and comments. The program was written in the C programming language,

which the creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds, had started to study in 1990

(Tuomi, 2004).

During the 1990s, the Linux operating system kernel grew at a rapid pace. The overall

growth of the system can be seen in Figure 1. The accumulated number of key contributors

recorded in the Credits file of the Linux system increased from 80 in March

1994, when they were first recorded, to 418 in July 2002, and 450 by the end of 2003.

The developers were widely distributed geographically from the beginning of the

project. In July 2002, there were 28 countries with ten or fewer developers and seven

countries with more than ten developers. At the end of 2003, the Credits file recorded

contributors from 35 countries (Tuomi, 2004).


Ilkka Tuomi

Figure 1 - Growth of Linux kernel, 1991-2000 (source: Tuomi, 2001).

Linux has become a particularly visible example of open-source software, as it has

often been perceived as a challenger to Microsoft's dominance in personal-computer

operating systems. Other important open-source projects, such as Apache, Perl,

MySQL, PHP, Sendmail and BitTorrent, have also considerably shaped the modern computing

landscape. In fact, the global Internet now operates to a large extent on opensource

software. Commercial concerns, such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, SAP,

Motorola and Intel, have become important players in the open-source field. Policymakers

from South America to Europe, China, Republic of



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