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Internet

Evolution of a Net community

Software junkies have long traded tips, tricks, and even entire programs without fees. But in the 1980s, when the commercial software industry boomed with the advent of the personal computer, large, organized projects also sprang up to give dedicated developers a no-cost or low-cost alternative.

    Software junkies have long traded tips, tricks, and even entire programs without fees. But in the 1980s, when the commercial software industry boomed with the advent of the personal computer, large, organized projects also sprang up to give dedicated developers a no-cost or low-cost alternative. Called "freeware," "free software," or "sourceware," the unifying idea behind the different projects listed below (as well as numerous others not mentioned here) is to make the source code--the underlying structure of the program--open and freely available to all comers.

    Freeware timeline
    late
    1983
    Richard Stallman starts the GNU Project, an ambitious attempt to build an entire free operating system based on Unix. Stallman creates the GNU General Public License (GPL), which allows anyone to download, modify, distribute, and even charge a fee for the GNU source code, a process he calls "copylefting." The main stipulation is that any changes to the source code or any new software created with the code must be shared with the developer community.
    Dec
    1987
    Larry Wall posts to Usenet the first version of Perl, a Unix-based programming language he created to scan, manipulate, and print text files. The first version is released under a GPL, but Wall feels the terms are too restrictive and writes his own distribution rules, which he calls the "Artistic License."
    1989 University of Helsinki student Linus Torvalds decides to write an alternative to Minix, a stripped-down Unix variant used for teaching computer science. He wants his version to run on PCs. Linux is born.

    Cygnus Solutions forms to provide commercial customization and support for the GNU toolset.

    1992 Torvalds decides to "copyleft" Linux in honor of the work the GNU Project has contributed to his operating system.
    1993 As CD-ROMs gain popularity, for-fee distributors of free software become more prevalent.
    Dec
    1993
    FreeBSD 1.0, a derivative of a long-standing flavor of Unix developed at various points at AT&T, Novell, and UC Berkeley, is released to the Net and on CD-ROM. The user license, like the Perl license, does not require developers to submit their changes to the source code back to the community.
    Oct
    1994
    Bryan Sparks founds Caldera with start-up money from former Novell chief executive Ray Noorda. The privately held company, now with 50 employees, takes Linux and resells it with a variety of utilities and applications.

    Perl 5 is released with extensions, which give Perl programmers a much more flexible framework for adding new features.

    Jan
    1995
    A team of programmers decides to take the source code of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications Web server, update it, and release it to the public. It is renamed the "Apache" Web server because of all the patches used to upgrade it.

    FreeBSD 2.0 is released.

    Apr
    1996
    The source code for Apache is completely rewritten. Apache overtakes NCSA as the most popular Web server with 29 percent of the market. Like the GNU Project and Linux, the core source code is maintained and updated by a team of programmers. But the Apache license does not require users to submit changes in the source code back to the community.
    Aug
    1997
    The first Perl users' conference draws an estimated 1,000 attendees to San Jose. Wall delivers the keynote.
    Jan
    1998
    Acknowledging that it can no longer charge for its browser software due to Microsoft's competitive pressure, Netscape Communications announces it will release the source code of the upcoming Communicator 5.0 for anyone to download, modify, and redistribute. The market share for Apache and its derivatives tops 50 percent.

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