Subject: Re: Microsoft: the genesis of Open Source software
From: Peter Wayner <>
Date: Fri, 9 Nov 2001 08:45:58 -0500

At 10:32 AM +0000 11/9/01, Ben Laurie wrote:
>Hmmm ... cunning - no to _or_ reply-to to the list...
>Keith Bostic wrote:
>>          Gates also took some credit for the genesis of open-source
>>          software. He said Microsoft made it possible by standardizing
>>          computers: "Really, the reason you see open source there at all
>>          is because we came in and said there should be a platform that's
>>          identical with millions and millions of machines," he said.
>The obvious response to this is that early open source software was, in
>fact, almost universally cross-platform (there being no standardised
>platform at the time) and the vast majority still is, in marked contrast
>to Gates' offerings, and that Gates' idea of "identical" is obviously
>radically different from mine, judging from the vast and growing pool of
>device drivers I see for the PC platform - not to mention exceptions for
>CPU types and steps, motherboard chipsets, PCI bridges, yadda, yadda.

This does a better job of saying what I said on another list. I'm 
only reposting it here in case anyone is interested in the yadas. 
Perhaps there some even better points to be made.



Calling the so-called uniform, standard PC  one of the reasons for 
the success of open source is not only self-serving, but basically 
wrong for any number of reasons:

*) Richard Stallman frequently says that software was freely shared 
when he first started programming. People helped each other because 
the machines were big, expensive, and unwieldy. Open source was the 
state of nature back then and his campaign is really a quest for the 
innocence of his youth. This all occurred long before IBM conceived 
of the PC.

*) Before MS came along, people shared software early and often. 
Magazines like Creative Computing printed games in their entirety. 
People who wanted to play them typed them in by hand. Sometimes they 
modified them. Sometimes they didn't. Many cite Bill Gates for 
pushing to end this tradition. He wrote a long and very convincing 
letter explaining how software writers needed the protection of 
copyright to make their living. Gates had to fight for respect to end 

*) There were still many computer manufacturers during the early 
years of Stallman's campaign. Software like GNU Emacs, GNU CC, and 
the GNU C library were very popular because they were designed to 
port easily from one machine to another. There were many hot RISC 
chips during the mid 80s and GNU stuff ran everywhere. People loved 
the tools because they were stable, cheap and available on all 
platforms. The UNIX world was fragmented but the GNU world kept it 

*) Cygnus, one of the great profitable examples of open source 
development, made much of its money by porting GNU tools to different 
chip architectures for the embedded marketplace. Chip manufacturers 
with a new product would pay Cygnus to move GNU tools to their chip 
in the hope that developers would follow.

*) The various BSD ports coming out of Berkeley in the 1990's ran on 
many machines. Sure 386BSD and FreeBSD became dominant, but there's 
still a very strong tradition of supporting different architectures. 
The NetBSD fork still runs on 16 different architectures! FreeBSD may 
be famous for running on the so-called standard Intel boxes 
celebrated by Gates, but large portions of it morphed into Apples OS 

*) Linux began on a PC, but it quickly embraced other architectures. 
DEC helped the process by giving Torvalds an Alpha box. Porting the 
OS to this new architecture helped strip away all of the PC-centric 
features. After that, it really spread. Today it runs on old IBM 

If you add together all of these points, it's clear that a simple, 
stable, consistent platform had little to do with the success of open 
source platforms. Access to the source code was the primary 
motivation. People who wanted their project to find fallow ground 
wrote clean code with plenty of comments so that anyone on any 
machine could use it.