Open Source Software

Open-source software allows anybody interested to see and contribute to the creation of software, including the ability to spot bugs or security flaws. Dashiki wearing wild-eyed (and hair) Richard Stallman is the father of open-source.

Richard Stallman

Stallman’s theory is more eyes reduce the risk of quality problems. Consequently, people vote or reject changes to the software. Evidently, this community-based system counterintuitively reduces the risk of bugs and security flaws. Defects are spotted and fixed early before hackers can find and take advantage of them.

Stallman argued that software source code should be open. He holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard but dropped out of the MIT Ph.D. program. However, he all but continued to live in the MIT AI lab: he listed it as his legal residence for years.

Richard Stallman

In 1983 Stallman created GNU’s Not Unix (GNU). The name is recursive, an insider joke for computer programmers. GNU Unix is a free and open-source version of Unix. He also wrote many programs to go along with it, most notably EMACS and the GNU compiler. Stallman created the Free Software Foundation in 1985 along with the “copyleft” General Purpose License (GPL), the first open-source model software license.

GNU Varients

In 1987 developers from Berkeley created a different open-source Unix variant, called Berkeley Software Distribution, or BSD. In 1991 Finnish student Linus Torvalds and others created the popular Unix variant, Linux.

Stallman’s open-source ideas have become mainstream software companies releasing the source-code for inspection, albeit not for free. His GNU system is still widely in use, though not as widespread as Linux. Stallman remains an open-source advocate and activist.

Stallman maintains that Linux should be called GNU/Linux though, ironically, because nobody owns Linux (due to Stallman’s philosophy), there is nobody that can officially change the name. Torvalds himself was always uncomfortable with the name Linux, insisting it masked the team effort needed to create the system; since he did not name it he cannot change the name.

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