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Closing the Gates

Back in the dawn of computer history all software was open source. When I was at school I had access to the source code for the operating system, the compilers, and just about anything else. Of course, they were on magnetic tape and I needed to find the IBM product code, the library tape number, request and schedule mounting the tapes, write a program to read the tape and print it, and schedule my ``job'' so it ran while the tape and the tape drive were available. CPU time was charged by the microsecond [5], memory was charged by the number of bytes used times the time of use, disk space was charged by the sector, tape mounts were charged by the minute, programs were charged by the punched card and the printouts were charged by the page. But the source code was free and open source.

Around the time the ``Personal Computer'' was being developed the idea of charging for software. It wasn't entirely novel (University of Waterloo charged for the Watcom compilers) but it was not pervasive until the PC arrived. Bill Gates didn't invent charging for software. (He did invent making his software required as far as I can tell). However, the PC really opened the market for proprietary software. There was a booming market in paid software. Which led to a booming market in ``cracked'' software. Which led to a booming market in anti-copy software. Which led to a booming market in ``cracking software''. It was a regular technology arms race. (sound familiar?)

Richard Stallman [2] tells the story of trying to fix a printer driver around this time. He couldn't get the software which annoyed him. Eventually he decided that software should be free. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So now we are in a situation where the world is beginning to see the value of free software. In some sense it is like the value of free science.


next up previous contents
Next: Opportunity Up: Open Source Sea Change Previous: Internet Effects   Contents
root 2004-02-10