Sebastopol, CA--Heavyweights of the Internet software community met
in an historic summit in Palo Alto on April 7 to explore ways of
expanding the use and acceptance of open source software
development, which relies on wide distribution of program
source code to spur innovation and increase software quality.
Organized by Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly & Associates, the
attendees included creators of underlying Internet services
such as the Domain Name System and email routing, as well
as web servers and browsers, scripting languages, and even
whole operating systems.
The meeting's purpose was to facilitate a high-level discussion of
the successes and challenges facing the developers. While this
type of software has often been called "freeware" or "free software"
in the past, the developers agreed that commercial development of the
software is part of the picture, and that the terms "open source" or
"sourceware" best describe the development method they support.
Open source software, or sourceware, was defined at the summit as
"software whose source code is available, so that users can customize
or extend it." This is in contrast to most software, whose source code
is not available to the public. Sourceware may be available for free or
in commercial packages.
Summit attendees also agreed on the most important aspects of open
1. Flexibility. Because the source code is freely available, any given
program may have hundreds or thousands of developers. Each open source
community has tremendous flexibility in modifying the program.
Developers can modify the software to suit their needs, or the needs of
their companies, customers or communities. Stability and consistency
for open source software is typically maintained by the creator or a
development team who controls the core release of the software.
Commercial entities generally can't afford to spend the resources on
niche markets, of which there may be thousands. But developers working
on their own can easily do so, then make their work available to others
for further modification and improvement.
2. Innovation. The development model encourages tremendous innovation.
When developers can see and modify source code, they receive rapid
feedback and a constant flow of ideas from other developers. Innovation
is also taking place with many companies creating new approaches to
business, successfully integrating sourceware and commercial efforts.
Many of the companies present at the summit freely distribute source
code, and earn revenue through offering services, support,
documentation, customization, or additional software products to
3. Reliability. With hundreds or thousands of developers testing,
inspecting, and fixing bugs for a given program, the quality assurance
program for open source software is far more reliable and efficient
than any commercial effort can afford to be. Massive, independent peer
review, similar to what takes place in the scientific community but on
a much larger scale thanks to the Internet, is a major strength.
4. Faster development time. With so many more testers, development
cycles can go much faster than in typical commercial efforts.
The group identified numerous ways that sourceware is already
mission-critical throughout industry, academia, and government.
The myth is that IT managers won't rely on free or open source
software. As Tim O'Reilly pointed out at the press conference following
the event, at least two of the open source programs whose developers
attended the summit, Bind and Sendmail, form the backbone of the
Internet infrastructure that all Internet-connected companies rely on.
Languages such as Perl, Tcl and Python are intimately involved in the
operation of virtually all major web sites, and Apache is the server of
choice for more than half of all web sites.
The attendees agreed that future collaboration would take place in
coming months, including workshops on open source business models,
project management and source code licensing issues, and coordinated
public relations efforts involving open source programs. There are tens
of thousands of developers worldwide who were not at the summit, but
who are integral to the development of open source software. Followup
meetings will focus on bringing together larger groups.
Spreading the word about the importance and value of open source
software was seen as vital to the group's efforts. O'Reilly noted,
"Until Netscape announced that they would release the source code to
Communicator, open source software received little attention in the
press. Now everyone wants to know about it. It's important to realize
just how successful and widespread open source development is.
Much of today's most innovative and important software has been built
using this model."
OPEN SOURCE SUMMIT ATTENDEES & AFFILIATIONS