eWEEK at 25: Open Source Has Proven a Remarkably Fertile Platform

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2009-11-05 Print this article Print

PC Week's (now eWEEK's) birth year-1984-was a busy one for technology. One platform that began to take shape at that time was focused not on hardware or software but on licensing. Richard Stallman quit his job at MIT to start the GNU project, an effort to produce a clone of the Unix operating system to be distributed under a license that would ensure users' freedom to run, modify and redistribute the software. The open-source model has since driven much innovation in enterprise technology.

Twenty-five years ago, this publication began chronicling the ecosystem that had sprung up around IBM's PC. It was a platform that proved remarkably fertile, owing not only to the "business-approved" blessing that came with the IBM brand but also to the platform's open architecture.

PC Week's birth year-1984-was a busy one for technology, one that saw, among other things, AT&T divest itself (temporarily, at least) of its local telephony holdings to take a crack at monetizing its own remarkably fertile, open architecture platform, Unix. However, where innovation on the PC platform quickly spread beyond IBM's control, AT&T chose an opposite course for Unix, attempting to tighten its grasp on the previously freewheeling platform.

Fortunately, a third platform began to take shape in 1984-one not principally of hardware or software but of licensing. It was that year when Richard Stallman quit his job at MIT to start the GNU project, an effort to produce a clone of the Unix operating system to be distributed under a license that would ensure users' freedom to run, modify and redistribute the software.

By the time I started at PC Week Labs (very soon to be eWEEK Labs) in 1999, IBM's PC, AT&T's Unix, and Stallman's GNU toolchain and GPL license had-with the keystone addition of Linus Torvalds' Linux kernel-emerged as a serious challenger in enterprise computing and the prime example of the newly coined "open-source" model of development.

In the 10 years that I've been a part of eWEEK Labs, I've seen Linux-based operating systems progress at an astonishing rate, moving from light-duty, edge-of-network tasks to the heart of enterprise data centers.

On the desktop, my experiences with Linux have gone from painful, in 1999, to workable, in 2002, to satisfying, in 2004. Since about 2006, when Ubuntu Linux hit its stride, I've been convinced that a tipping-point-type flip toward Linux isn't a matter of if but of when. That may sound absurd, but the velocity of innovation we've seen on Linux during the past 10 years couldn't paint a clearer picture.

Outside of the relatively mature server and desktop fields, the footprint of Linux and open-source software is even more dramatic. Cloud computing and Web 2.0 wouldn't exist as we know them today without Linux and open source, and every time some new appliance or gadget hits the market, there's a good chance that it's Linux that's driving the hardware.

Beyond the quick pace at which it progresses, one of my favorite things about open-source software is the way that it-like the personal computer itself-can dramatically broaden access to technologies previously available only to large organizations.

As an eWEEK Labs analyst, I've come into contact with many products and services priced wildly out of reach for an individual entrepreneur. The example that always comes to mind for me is Blue Martini, an e-commerce suite that my former colleague Tim Dyck reviewed about six months after I started here. The product was priced at (raise pinkie finger to mouth) $1 million-plus consulting charges.

As open source has spread into the realm of enterprise applications, it's become possible for an individual or a department within a larger organization to adopt or try out an e-commerce suite like Blue Martini-or a database, CRM suite, data integration tool, you name it-set in a free, community-supported incarnation before stepping up to a formally supported version (or not, depending on the user's needs).

It's impossible to know where technology will lead us in the 25 years to come, but I'm confident that open source will be the engine that will get us there.

Executive Editor Jason Brooks can be reached at jbrooks@eweek.com.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. Jason's coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.

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