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This page originally created by Isaac L. (2020-21)

Open source refers to any software for which the original source code has been made freely available to the general public to view, use, and redistribute. The definition of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) is considered the standard, recognized by leaders in open source software like AWS, Drupal Association, Creative Commons, Mozilla, Linux Australia, and The Perl Foundation. One of the guiding advantages of open source projects is that the contributions of multiple users will make the software more powerful and reliable. Note: The word “free” in “free software” does not mean free of charge.


Open source has a history essentially as long as software development itself. Researchers relied on a collaborative and open environment when developing the early internet and telecom protocols. Peer reviews and an open feedback process were encouraged by the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). Code was developed and shared by different user groups. The values of openness, collaboration, peer review, and communication were already embedded in the Internet's foundations by the beginning of the 1990s.

After Netscape released the source code for Mozilla in 1998, a group of people (Eric Raymond, Bruce Perens, Michael Tiemann, John Hall, and others) gathered together in Palo Alto on February 3rd, 1998. (2018) “The strategy session grew from a realization that the attention around the Netscape announcement had created an opportunity to educate and advocate for the superiority of an open development process.” They believed that code released illustrates a valuable way to engage with potential software users. They wanted to create a community that improves and creates new software. Christine Peterson coined the name Open Source.

When we call software “free,” we mean that it respects the users' essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer.” - Richard Stallman, GNU Project Lead


The Open Source Institution was founded by Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens in late February of 1998. Raymond became the first president, and Perens became his vice president. The board of Directors was made up of Brian Behlendorf, Ian Murdock, Russ Nelson, and Chip Salzenberg. As the steward of the Open Source Definition, the set of rules that defines open source software, the Open Source Initiative facilitates the development of open source software. The nonprofit corporation is exempt from taxes since it is for public benefit. As defined by the Open Source Initiative, open source software consists of a human-readable source code that can be run, reviewed, altered, enhanced, and modified by the users.


In the 1980s, programmer Richard Stallman, or RMS as he is known by in the hacker community, began working on the GNU Operating System. He launched the free software movement with the announcement of the GNU Project: a project set out to make a free Unix-compatible software system for everyone to use. In his announcement, he wrote that it was planned to have a kernel and utilities to run programs written in C, a programming language. RMS also mentions his philosophy of free software: that he will share programs that he likes and will not knowingly sign a nondisclosure agreement, keeping his software free to all. RMS and the community started work on the utilities first. This project marked the start of a new wave of free software activism.

(Note: "GNU" stands for "GNU's Not Unix." Having a self-recursive name for your operating system was an in-joke among hackers at the time.)

There is an important distinction to make between GNU’s free software and open source. According to RMS, the values of open source directly fight the message of free software. Under an open source model, developers of proprietary, yet powerful and reliable software are rewarded by open source activists. Their software will still be utilized, although it is not using the open source business model. Under free software, the proprietary software will be rejected because freedom is valued more than the functionality of the restricted software.


Independently in 1991, Linus Torvalds, a Finnish American programmer who was studying at the University of Helsinki, created an early version of the Linux kernel. At the time, GNU still lacked a central kernel, so the early Linux kernel was utilized by the GNU Project in 1991 to complete the GNU operating system. Linux is open source, meaning that Linux can be used and redistributed. At the time, it was also called free software. Torvalds still works on the Linux kernel today, alongside a massive community of independent developers.


Name Website
Apache License 2.0
MIT License
GNU General Public License
ISC License

Well Known Organizations[edit]

Although some of these organizations may not release consumer-level software, they contribute valuable platforms and resources for collaboration on a larger scale. For example, Red Hat Software, a pioneer of open-source business models, provides software to enterprises.

Organization Website Open Source Software
Google Android, TensorFlow
Red Hat Software Fedora
Mozilla Foundation Mozilla Firefox
Microsoft Visual Studio Code
VideoLAN VLC Media Player


Google Open Source sponsors a variety of events across open source. They strive to support collaborative and welcoming spaces. Google constantly releases code under open source licenses for everyone to use. They use open source to innovate and release it to share their innovations. One of their biggest open-source projects is Chromium OS. Chromium is an open-source project that aims to build an operating system to provide a better experience for people who use the web often. To obtain their source code and contribute you can open their design docs.

Red Hat Software[edit]

Redhat is currently the largest open source company in the world. The company was founded 29 years ago on March 26, 1993. It received its name from the founder Marc Ewing who wore a red Cornell hat given to him by his grandfather. For decades Red Hat has helped organizations navigate technological changes. Communities can form around solving problems or developing new technologies.

Mozilla Foundation[edit]

Mozilla was born and remains part of the open source and free software movement. The Mozilla Open Source Support (MOSS) created Firefox. Thousands of people from all over the world created the web browser Firefox in 2004. As of 2020 the applications due to COVID. They hope to accept more people in the unforeseeable future.


Microsoft lets many people participate in open source. It became more of an open source company in 2014. It is one of the biggest open source contributors in the world. Their web browser, Microsoft Edge, is a closed source operating system. The company used to be against open source software, however in the 2010s they changed their perspective. They considered it a threat to the business and many executives spoke against it. When Satya Nadella became the new CEO of Microsoft he led the company towards open source adaptation. Microsoft’s Azure cloud revenues nearly doubled shortly after the new system was adopted. Microsoft acquired GitHub for $7.5 billion in 2018, which was a high-priced deal, however the value of GitHub doubled.


VideoLan is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework. It started off as a student project in France in1996 but later opened up to developers worldwide. Over 40 developers from various countries are now part of this worldwide project.

Open Source Software[edit]


  • Used by web servers for stability and reliability
  • Highly customizable through distributions, or "distros"
  • Red Hat offers support for enterprises
  • Licenced under GPLv2


  • Based on Linux kernel
  • Operating system of many mobile phones
  • OS choice of popular phone manufacturers like Samsung, Google, and LG
  • Licensed mainly under Apache License, Version 2.0


  • Platform for machine learning
  • Developed by Google Brain Team
  • Licensed under Apache License, Version 2.0


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