A Brief History of FOSS Practices

A little peek into some facts from FOSS History.

We focus a great deal on Linux and Free & Open Source Software at It’s FOSS. Ever wondered how old such FOSS Practices are? How did this Practice come by? What is the History behind this revolutionary concept?

In this history and trivia article, let’s take a look back in time through this brief write-up and note some interesting initiatives in the past that have grown so huge today.

Origins of FOSS

The origins of FOSS go back to the 1950s. When the hardware was purchased, there used to be no additional charges for bundled software and the source code would also be available in order to fix possible bugs in the software.

It was actually a common practice back then for users with the freedom to customize the code.

At that time, primarily academicians and researchers in the industry were the collaborators to develop such software.

The term Open Source was not there yet. Instead, the term that was popular at that time was “Public Domain Software”. As of today, ideologically, both are very much different in nature even though they may sound similar.


Back in 1955, some users of the IBM 701 computer system from Los Angeles, voluntarily founded a group called SHARE. The “SHARE Program Library Agency” (SPLA) distributed information and software through magnetic tapes.

Technical information shared, was about programming languages, operating systems, database systems, and user experiences for enterprise users of small, medium, and large-scale IBM computers.

The initiative that is now more than 60 years old, continues to follow its goals quite actively. SHARE has its upcoming event coming up as SHARE Phoenix 2019. You can download and check out their complete timeline here.

The GNU Project

Announced at MIT on September 27, 1983, by Richard Stallman, the GNU Project is what immensely empowers and supports the Free Software Community today.

Free Software Foundation

The “Free Software Movement” by Richard Stallman established a new norm for developing Free Software.

He founded The Free Software Foundation (FSF) on 4th October 1985 to support the free software movement. Software that ensures that the end users have freedom in using, studying, sharing and modifying that software came to be called as Free Software.

Free as in Free Speech, Not Free Beer

The Free Software Movement laid the following rules to establish the distinctiveness of the idea:

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

The Linux Kernel

How can we miss this section at It’s FOSS! The Linux kernel was released as freely modifiable source code in 1991 by Linus Torvalds. At first, it was neither Free Software nor used an Open-source software license. In February 1992, Linux was relicensed under the GPL.

The Linux Foundation

The Linux Foundation has a goal to empower open source projects to accelerate technology development and commercial adoption. It is an initiative that was taken in 2000 via the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) which later merged with the Free Standards Group.

Linus Torvalds works at The Linux Foundation which provides complete support to him so that he can work full-time on improving Linux.

Open Source

When the source code of Netscape Communicator was released in 1998, the label “Open Source” was adopted by a group of individuals at a strategy session held on February 3rd, 1998 in Palo Alto, California. The idea grew from a visionary realization that the Netscape announcement had changed the way people looked at commercial software.

This opened up a whole new world, creating a new perspective that revealed the superiority and advantage of an open development process that could be powered by collaboration.

Christine Peterson was the one among that group of individuals who originally suggested the term “Open Source” as we perceive it today (mentioned earlier).

Evolution of Business Models

The concept of Open Source is a huge phenomenon right now and there are several companies that continue to adopt the Open Source Approach to this day. As of April 2015, 78% of companies used Open Source Software with different Open Source Licenses.

Several organizations have adopted different business models for Open Source. Red Hat and Mozilla are two good examples.

💬 So this was a brief recap of some interesting facts from FOSS History. Do let us know your thoughts if you want to share in the comments below.

About the author
Avimanyu Bandyopadhyay

Avimanyu Bandyopadhyay

Tech Nerd at It's FOSS | Doctoral Researcher on GPU-based Bioinformatics and author of <a href="https://www.packtpub.com/product/hands-on-gpu-computing-with-python/9781789341072">'Hands-On GPU Comput

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