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Open Source; Apache, Linux and IBM

How open source has changed the way the Internet infrastructure functions and operates.

How open source has changed the way the Internet infrastructure functions and operates.

The evolution of the open source movement has been one of the most amazing phenomenons to emerge in computer technology over the past twenty years. Its development and what it's meant to the Internet in terms of its applications and operating systems have changed the way in which systems will be created in the future. The introduction of Linux played a key role in this, as its introduction and evolution would help kick-start the open source movement in the early 1990's. The Apache Web Server, developed on this platform, evolved into the most popular Web server in a span of two years after its release, and still is well over ten years later. In this article, I'll examine the relevance of the open source movement, driven by systems such as Linux and Apache; how they have impacted the overall market, as well as the strategic direction of IBM in Linux and open source technologies.

Background

There were several significant steps during the innovation period of Linux, the open source movement, Web servers as a whole and the evolution of the Internet. To provide the necessary background, the history of these services should be briefly discussed. Linux would essentially start with the GNU (GNU is Not UNIX) Project, launched in 1984 to develop a UNIX operating system (OS) that would be free. Richard Stallman created this group, which essentially started the open source movement as we know it today. His biggest technical innovation was the creation of the GNC C Compiler, which at the time was considered one of the best compilers ever written.

The creation of Minux would be a critical step in the evolution of Linux. Minux was created by Andrew Tananbaum and was designed to run on Intel PCs. His vision was to create a micro kernel, but the development cycle just took too long. That's where the final step took hold, which was the actual creation of the Linux kernel, by Linus Torvalds, a student and one time hacker. With the help of thousands of developers all over the world - writing, testing and enhancing code - Linus would continue to be the caretaker of the Linux kernel that would see the kernel through many versions and enhancements throughout the years. Traditionally, from an OS perspective, OSs were developed in a very highly structured way, with carefully engineered sub-projects that involved much analysis, design, and many stages of testing and debugging, all filled with highly complicated source code control mechanisms. The Linux model followed a completely different model, which became known as the open source model.

With the help of the movement, an entire operating system based upon UNIX, was essentially developed from scratch using this new model. Linus Torvalds used the Internet as a communications and collaboration tool that would enable him to deploy his model. He used chat rooms and newsgroups to help recruit the masses to support the project. The knowledge that was demonstrated by the open source community to resolve issues and bugs showed a very powerful form of sharing. This was clearly shown in the way that Linux has been able to upgrade and improve on its features (i.e., 16-bit to 32-bit) substantially faster then Microsoft could have ever done. Linux was possibly the largest project to fall under open source development and the GNU Public License, which allows anyone to modify and revise source code. Version 1.0 of Linux would be released in 1994, which was licensed under the GPL.

In 1995, Internet usage would start to grow from the thousands to the millions, as Congress would pass a law allowing for the commercial use of the Internet. In 1997, the overall popularity of Linux and the open soft movement would also explode. Originally developed to run on commodity PCs, today Linux can run on IBM mainframes (System z9 and zSeries) as well as pSeries/System p and iSeries/System i midrange servers.

While Linux certainly was an important part of the open source movement, the open source movement is so much more. When Stallman created the open source movement in 1985, he created a large part of software in addition to the C compiler. The software included GDB (debugger) and Emacs (text editor), as well as many other tools. At this time he also created the Free Software Federation, which would announce support for the GNU Project and establish the GNU public license. The license was created to make sure his code would always be freely modifiable and distributable, key elements in the open source movement. In his famous essay, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," Eric Raymond came up with a model for open source, known as the Bazaar Model (Raymond, 1999). Unlike the traditional cathedral method, where development takes place in a very centralized way - where roles are clearly defined in terms of programmers, architects and testers - the Bazaar method would be not as clearly defined. His method is based on concepts such as:

  • Users should be treated as code-developers, where they have access to source code and have the means to fix them.
  • Early releases of software versions, so co-developers can be found quickly.
  • Frequent integration, to avoid the overhead of fixing large numbers of bugs at the end of a project life-cycle, and integration that can be done almost daily.
  • Several versions, one including a buggier version, the other the more stable version. In this way, the users can continue to act as co-developers, fixing bugs and enhancing the systems, while the stable version provides less features and bugs.
  • High modularization, which allows for parallel development of software.
  • Dynamic decision making structure, which is the forum for making decisions, based on changing user requirements and other factors.

Ken Milberg, PMP and IBM CATE, is the president and managing consultant of PowerTCO and an IBM Champion. He can be reached at kmilberg@powertco.com.


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Open Source; Apache, Linux and IBM

How open source has changed the way the Internet infrastructure functions and operates.

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