A Brief History Of Open Source
Richard Stallman, the Free Software Movement, and the beginnings of Open Source
Collaboration was king in the software world when Richard Stallman joined MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1971 as a freshman at Harvard University.
Just as ‘sharing recipes is as old as cooking’, software development at the lab was a communal effort amongst colleagues. Stallman fit like a glove with the hacker ethos of the lab, and worked on TECO, early Emacs, and the Lisp machine operating system (among other things) during the 1970s.
Unfortunately, good times at the AI Lab wouldn’t last forever. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, manufacturers increasingly copyrighted their technologies, withheld source code, and required licensed use of software. Proprietary software took over market share in the world of technology.
By the early 80’s, the MIT AI Lab would shut down. NDA’s had become commonplace, collaboration dwindled, and the lab lost many talented developers to private companies running proprietary software.
Richard Stallman was not pleased.
He asked himself a simple question. What does society need?
What does society need? It needs information that is truly available to its citizens — for example, programs that people can read, fix, adapt, and improve, not just operate. But what software owners typically deliver is a black box that we can’t study or change.
Society also needs freedom. When a program has an owner, the users lose freedom to control part of their own lives.
And, above all, society needs to encourage the spirit of voluntary cooperation in its citizens. When software owners tell us that helping our neighbors in a natural way is “piracy”, they pollute our society’s civic spirit.
This is why we say that free software is a matter of freedom, not price.
— Richard Stallman, Why Software Should Not Have Owners
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