Linux and Open Source

My aim here is not to prove Linux is better than Windows, or that Open Source is the only right solution. I'm certainly not trying to deny the fact that oil is a diminishing resource. But I do hope to prompt a bit of rethinking of some prevailing attitudes. Next, I'll be taking a look at the principles, values and practices of the Linux world and, who knows, we might even learn something from them.

Approaching the end of this introductory Part One it's probably a good idea to accept that some readers may never even have heard of Linux or the concept of Open Source. So, before proceeding any further, here's a short-and-sweet summary of the background to Open Source programming.
Average computer users believe, perhaps justifiably, that they have never used Linux. Most probably, they are using a Microsoft operating system called Windows together with other programs by Microsoft and a few other companies to handle their daily computing requirements. But indirectly all of us will have made use of programs produced by the Open Source community. The text you are reading right now has been written on a computer running on Linux, using a word-processing program called OpenOffice.

If you've used the Internet, you have definitely been in touch with a web server using the Linux operating system. More than 60 per cent of all website pages on the Internet are there thanks to an open server program called Apache. Most e-mails are passed on to their recipients through an open mail server program called Sendmail. These are all well-known Open Source programs. So, quite unknowingly, you probably use Open Source programs on a daily basis!

As I explained earlier, the usual practice in a programming company is for the source code of a computer program, the text the programmer writes, the work itself, to be kept secret. Usually, it isn't shown to anyone outside the company, and the finished program is distributed only in machine code, that is in the form in which the computer uses it. In practice, it is impossible for anyone to read a program in machine code. In addition to which, the use of the program in machine code is limited through various legal clauses to which the buyer of the program must agree before the program will download onto their computer. One such typical clause states that the buyer agrees to install the program from one CD onto one computer only. So, if somebody has two computers they should buy two copies of the program they want to use, even though there is no technical reason for doing so.

The Open Source community work to a completely different set of principles when producing their programs. The use of an Open Source program is not artificially limited in any way. The source code is available to all and sundry. It can, for instance, be published on the Internet. Not only is the source code freely available for other programmers to read but also for them to use in their own programs, even though the code has been written by others.

In recent years, these simple principles have become a serious challenge to the traditional programming industry. Even though this industry is still going strong, it has begun to seem that systems based on Linux and other Open Source programs are often both cheaper and qualitatively better. Lately, many big information-system projects have been based on Linux. And as I have already said, for web servers, using Linux is the rule rather than the exception.
That's as far as this text will go in presenting the history or technical background of Open Source programs. However, for those who may want to read more I would recommend the following books and links.

Rebel Code: Inside Linux and the Open Source Revolution
Glyn Moody, Perseus Books Group, 2001
A narrative history of Linux and Open Source, with first-hand accounts from more than fifty interviews of prominent leaders in Open Source.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar
Eric S. Raymond
Available as a book: O'Reilly, 2001
On the Internet: https://catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/
A seminal text of the Open Source movement, this essay presents the work culture and dynamics of the Open Source community. In the days when it was still necessary, this text played an important role in defending the financial viability of Open Source programs.

The GNU Project
Richard Stallman
Published in the book: Open Sources. O'Reilly, 1999.
On the Internet: https://www.gnu.org/gnu/thegnuproject.html
A look at the history of the Free Software movement by its founder.

The Open Source Definition
Bruce Perens
On the Internet: https://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php
Ten principles that the licensing of an Open Source program must fulfil.

Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary
Linus Torvalds and David Diamond. HarperCollins, 2001.
Autobiographical story of Linus Torvalds, which tells the history of Linux along with Linus' ideas on the meaning of life.

The Hacker Ethic
Pekka Himanen. Random House, 2001.
The Finnish philosopher's ethical take on the principles of the Open Source community.

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