The activities of a distributed and unorganized band of scholars led to the conceptual revolution that produced the modern world. For example, Copernicus (1473-1543) observed the heavens and recorded his measurements. In 1563, Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) noted that Copernicus' figures weren't quite right, so, from 1577 to 1597, Tycho recorded extraordinarily accurate astronomical measurements. In 1599 Tycho moved from Denmark to Prague, where Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was his assistant, until he succeeded him in 1601, when Tycho died.

Copernicus established heliocentricity. Tycho found that circular orbits just didn't work, and devoted decades to better measurements, which Kepler later used to determine that the orbits were ellipses, not circles. (In 1610, Galileo [1564-1642] pointed out that one could observe phases on Venus, and that therefore Venus must be nearer the Sun than the Earth was.) And, Newton (1643-1727) showed us the force (gravity) that held everything in place.

Poland. Denmark. Austria. Italy. Germany. England. Despite the Papacy, the 30 Years' War, turmoil in the Netherlands, in France, and in England, thought moved in print and in correspondence. Though countries were at war and religions were in conflict, scientific exchange of ideas and sharing of data persisted.

During the Renaissance it could take months for findings to reach those interested in other countries. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries lengthy epistles between scholars were distributed to others beyond the addressees. Scientific journals followed. Thanks to the progress of communications media, it now takes seconds where it once took decades for an idea or a discovery to proliferate. The fact is undeniable: Invention and scholarship have been the motor driving the development of civilization and culture.

The revolution of knowledge has led us to exploration and discovery. The computer, the Internet, and the Web have led to a similar revolution. While certainly no computer user, Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Isaac McPherson (13 August 1813), wrote:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it.

My aim is to show how the advent of the computer and the Internet have given rise to the expansion of the academic/scholarly notions of sharing, and how this in turn has brought us free and open software, which will bring about a major change in the way we do business.

This effort is more than a history of Linux, of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), the Internet, software licensing, and myriad other topics. It will contain a number of histories within it, which (I hope) will serve as an antidote to the cloud of FUD stirred up by those who fear that change will mean that their businesses will fail (certainly more a sign of lack of imagination and flexibility than of anything else).

On the contrary: change yields opportunity. But change also requires adaptability. We are embarking on a new business model, which will change the way we do business as much as mass production and global electronic communication did over the 19th and 20th centuries.

Since 1990, there has been an insistent drumbeat of anti-FSF FUD. Since 2000, this has focused on Linux. Some examples of this are:

  • On June 1, 2001, Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, told the Chicago Sun-Times: "Linux is cancer."
  • On October 15, 2002, Darl McBride, CEO of The SCO Group, said: "We are more committed to Linux than ever before."
  • On March 4, 2003, Blake Stowell, SCO director of Public Relations, said: "C++ is one of the properties SCO owns."
  • On May 14, 2004, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution issued a press release in which it revealed that its Director, Ken Brown, had discovered that Linus Torvalds had not "invented" Linux.
  • On August 26, 2004, Kieran O'Shaughnessy, director of SCO Australia and New Zealand, told LinuxWorld: "Linux doesn't exist. Everyone knows Linux is an unlicensed version of Unix."

The remarks are noise. But though ludicrous, statements like these make businessfolk fearful. They then hug Windows the way a different Linus clutches his blanket. My goal here is to show a wider audience just what went into the creation of open source and its worldwide network of contributors and users over the past 50 years.

Over four centuries have passed since our static heliocentric universe was replaced by a dynamic one. Today, the business model that has persisted since the late eighteenth century is being replaced. Here's how it's happening

Chapter 0. 1968 and 1969

  1. In June 1968, the Federal Communications Commission's "Carterphone" decision compelled AT&T to allow its customers to connect non-Western Electric equipment to the telephone network. [FCC Docket Number 16942; 13 FCC 2nd, 420].

  2. In July 1968, Andrew Grove and Gordon Moore founded Intel.

  3. In August 1968, William G. McGowan established Microwave Communications of America [MCI] and the FCC ruled that MCI could compete with AT&T, using microwave transport between Chicago and St. Louis.

  4. In December 1968, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency let a contract to Bolt, Beranek and Newman of Cambridge, MA, for just over $1 million. The contract was for a packet-switching network of four nodes.

Four more events of importance followed the next year.

  1. In August, humans landed on the moon.

  2. Summer saw the invention of UNIX.

  3. In the autumn, those first four nodes of the ARPAnet went up.

  4. And, in December, Linus Torvalds was born.

Had anyone asked, I would have thought the first of these events was the most important. Outside of his immediate family, I seriously doubt whether anyone even knew about the last of these.

As of the outset of the Twenty-First Century, the moon landing has taken us nowhere. The other items in this list though are the stuff of revolution.