Tech Corner: Open Source breaking business-as-usual

Louis Arias
In Motion Staff Writer

LouisOn Aug. 25, 1991 a 21-year-old Finnish student at the University of Helsinki began his post with “Hello everybody out there using minix — I’m doing a (free) operating system…  ”  In the weeks that followed, Linus Torvalds would go on to write the Linux kernel, the defining component of software operating system distribution that would be ported to more platforms than any other operating system.

He never suspected he had begun a revolution, the end of which may well move well beyond the tech industry.

Pablo Picasso once said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” When Torvalds posted the source code from his very first Linux kernel on the Internet and made it freely available for anyone to download, he broke the corporate software development model of his time.  Then he did something even more amazing: he invited other programmers to modify and improve on his code.  So, community-based technology was born.\

Tux, the Linux mascot was inspired by fairy penguin on a visit to the National Zoo in Canberra, Australia.
Tux, the Linux mascot was inspired by fairy penguin on a visit to the National Zoo in Canberra, Australia.

Back in 1983, Richard Stallman already begun his GNU project and two years later he started the Free Software Foundation.  In 1989 he then wrote the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL).  After Torvalds published version 0.99 using the GNU GPL, GNU components were integrated with Linux and it became a fully functional and free operating system. Torvalds later admitted, “Making Linux GPL’d was definitely the best thing I ever did.”

Many of today’s most promising new enterprise technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (Google’s Tensorflow), Containers (Docker Swarm and Kubernetes), Big Data (Apache Spark, Akka and Apache Kafka) are based on free, open-source technology.  Open-source software licenses give developers and users freedoms they would not otherwise have.  Its source code is freely available to anyone.  Therefore, it can be modified and distributed without requiring attribution, payment or anything owed to the original creator.

Commenting on open source’s wide acceptance within today’s computer industry, Dr. Ronald D. Eaglin Chair of Daytona State’s School of Engineering Technology, says, “It’s all open source now.  I build all my classes on open source software.”

Eaglin believes that although there will always be room for proprietary software, open source will continue to dominate because it offers practically unlimited support from the developer community and the fact that the software itself is free. The combination of better support and price is hard to beat.

Speaking of, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction,” in 2004, a team of a thousand Apple employees began to work on the highly confidential “Project Purple,” with the idea of putting entertainment content on phones.

Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone to the public on Jan. 9, 2007 and mobile technology came of age. With GPS, threaded messages, Internet access, selfies, and a slew a new possibilities, the phone call and the iPod were on their way out.

Since then, technologies that enable voice and data services via cellular connectivity put devices more powerful than supercomputers were a few years ago in the hands of billions of people.  The implications of having billions of minds connected by the Internet cannot yet be fully grasped.  Yet, millions them are developers.  They code all over the planet.  They are making a difference.

The software industry has realized that small groups of individuals, working in collaboration over the Internet can create products that rival and often surpass those of giant corporations. Microsoft is planning to open its proprietary SQL Server to Linux and Docker users this year in order to increase its competitive edge.  This reflects a radical change from the corporation’s position 15 years ago.

In a June 2001 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, then CEO Steve Ballmer said, “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.”

To embrace something new that works better usually requires letting go of something old.  Key players like Microsoft and Apple have realized that the ability to collaborate, once a competitive advantage, today has become a necessity.

Long-term success is never an accident.  Open source communities are not unrestricted entities with members making changes at will.  In some cases, the companies that created the original versions accept patches, revisions and improvements they consider beneficial and provide a clear vision for where they think the technology should go.

Every act of creation is first an act of destruction, even for non-geeks. Open source is one of the most significant cultural developments of the last decades.

At its core, it is a model for innovation driven by cooperative competition toward a common ever developing and expanding goal.

Open source is not centered on protection of intellectual property, but on a community’s collective belief in synergy — the combined effort of individual contributions is far greater than the sum of its parts. It changed the software industry.

It reduced costs. It birthed innovation.

Under the right conditions, it can work in other industries that require lower cost and greater innovation.  The future of enterprise may well reside in proprietary businesses built on top of communal technologies.