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The open-source model was invented by Richard Stallman, an exceedingly brilliant MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) computer scientist not known for his love of ideological compromise of corporate profits.
In response to the fragmentation of the Unix operating system into the proprietary, incompatible dialects, Stallman resigned from MIT in 1984 and started crusade. He began work in an anti-Unix operating systems called GNU, which stands (recursively, of course) for GNU Not Unix. He created the Free Software Foundation to distribute that work and the idea of an open-source licence to govern it.
Although Stallman is rather doctrinaire in his antipathy for business, the world is indebted to him.
In 1991, when a 21 year-old Linus Torvalds wrote the original Linux “kernel” – the part of an operating system that controls a computer’s hardware – for his personal computer, Stallman’s ideas informed his decision about how to distribute it.
Torvalds is a quietly confident, consummately practical man who has proved to be an impressive leader and manager as well as developer. His creation attracted interest from other programmers, who began to contribute improvements, with Torvalds informally coordinating their work.
In the mid-1990s, Linux benefited from two potent forces. The first was the internet, which enabled electronic software distribution and decentralised collaboration among many programmers working independently. The second force was growing frustration at the limitations imposed by proprietary software vendors – particularly Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.
And so Linux entered the commercial use. Its first, and still most successful, niche was web servers; for at least five years, the majority of the world’s web servers have used open-source software. Then several years ago, IBM started to contribute money and programmers to open-source efforts. IBM, Intel and Dell invested in Red Hat Software, the leading commercial Linux vendor, and Oracle modified its database products to work with Linux.
In late 2005, Novell announced its purchase of SuSE, a small German Linux vendor, for more than US$200mil. IBM invested US$50mil in Novell. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell began to sell hardware with Linux preinstalled. IBM also support the Mozilla Foundation, developer of the open-source Firefox browser, and with Intel, HP and other companies recently created the Open-Source Development Labs (OSDL), a consortium promoting the business use of Linux, which has hired Torvalds and other open-cource developers.
Now Linux is runningon everything from US$80 routers to cellphones to IBM mainframes, and is much more common on desktop PCs. Red Hat is a highly profitable US$200mil company growing 50% per year, and commercial open-source vendors serve many important software markets. For instance, for databases, there is MySQL, which now has annual revenues of about US$20mil, doubling everu year. In application serversm there is JBoss, and in web servers, Covelant.