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A Brief History of the Free Software/Open Source World

Very instructive crash course published in reponse to a query on the Groklaw site

In reponse to a query on the Groklaw site, someone has posted a very instructive crash course in the history of the Free Software/Open Source world.

The original question had been, " I have been curious about the Free Software movement, GPL and similar movements, licences for some time. I would like to read more about its history, specifically any history or information concerning the conception and drafting of the GPL itself." 
 
Here is the response in full, posted today anonymously at Groklaw.net.

A Potted History

The Free Software/Open Source world has a *really* complicated history. I like to compare it to the French political culture: To an outsider it seems chaotic, excessively intellectual and abstract, unstable, and utterly confusing. And forks are common :) The people on the inside just shrug and note it keeps functioning suprisingly well. Other have drawn parallels to the Russian revolutionaries, which are interesting despite the negative connotations. Did I mention a penchant for abstraction and intellectualism?

There are arguably two major camps: the "free software" people, who include the GNU/FSF organization, RMS, Eben Moglen, and others. They've been around a lot longer, are often perceived as more ideological, and tend to argue for open source from a basis that a student of political theory would call "left-libertarian". Then there's the "open source" contingent, who came much later (the term was coined in the late 1990s, "free software" dates back to Stallman's writings a decade earlier). This group, which includes Eric S Raymond (ESR), Jon "maddog" Hall, and a lot of the Linux crowd, is perceived as more "business-friendly" and pragmatic, and often has more of a "right-libertarian" orientation. ESR once summed this divide up by pointing out that in the 1960s many radical groups agreed on their goals, but couldn't agree on the means to reach those goals. In the FOSS world, both sides agree on the means - public release of code - but disagree about the end they hope to reach.

Anyway, some resources off the top of my head which answer your specific queries. All of them are strongly pro-FOSS, simply because they tend to be easy to find online.

>would like to read more about its history, specifically any history or information concerning the conception and drafting of the GPL itself.

Here's a biography released under the GNU Free Documentation License about Richard Stallman, the founder of the FSF and iniatiator of the GPL. Of course, the GNU project's website provides a tremendous amount of material on their views. 

Coming from the other side of the same very loosely defined movement is the Open Source Initiative, which adopts a lot of 'opposite' positions. They have a section with their definition of "open source" and a collection of their positions. They also provide a collection of licenses that OSI considers valid "Open Source" licenses. The FSF provices a similar list of licenses they consider to be valid for "free software" here. Note that the symmetric difference of the two license sets is quite small.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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paulb 12/15/03 04:20:51 PM EST

we used to download free software from bulletin boards in the early to mid-80's in the UK. it was called Public Domain software, or PD for short.