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No matter how hard people or companies like SCO try, nor how muchothers believe they know the commercial market, open source will never die.

It's only since 1992, with the arrival of Linux into the operating system game, that the general public have been introduced to the concept of Open Source. In February 1989, the Free Software Foundation released the first version of the GNU General Public License (GPL), which helped the open source movement take hold. This license agreement allows any and all source code to be freely distributed and modified, on the proviso that subsequent modifications are also released with the same terms under the same license. Source code cannot be copied and put into commercial closed source programs.

Linux, with the help of GNU software, has risen to a point where it is a legitimate threat to the throne of Microsoft. Microsoft's only goal is to have a version of the Windows operating system on every desktop, in every portable device, in every appliance -- essentially every device with a computer chip -- all over the world. Anything short of that and their job is incomplete.

Meanwhile, SCO have just recently tried to take everyone who uses Linux, and their penguins, to court. Despite continued net losses in the millions every quarter, and declines in revenue, they continue to wage a futile war against Linux and Open Source.

There's a big corporate game being played, and every user of Linux, and every advocate of Open Source, watches events such as these unfold with great interest. The temerity of SCO was seen as a Microsoft plot by some, and as a complete waste of time and money by everyone else. Rumours of Microsoft's involvement with investment company BayStar go back to 2004, and BayStar have invested enough money into SCO to pull at least one third world country out of poverty. In a way, the Open Source community should be flattered that so much time, effort, and money is being pumped into squashing it. It goes to show how much of a threat it has really become. Or perhaps, rather, a perceived threat. But it also goes to show the complete lack of understanding of the culture of Open Source.

Before the corporate conspiracies, and before the litigious Americans began suing everyone over software patents and intellectual property, there was a time when innovation was encouraged and fruitful.

This really started happening in the late '60s. UNIX hackers used to make games and tools for themselves and their college buddies; they even came up with a method of communicating via computers that eventually became email for the common man. They generally messed around with anything and everything; making their own lives easier and more enjoyable at the same time.

AT&T's Bell Labs created UNIX in the '60s, but they weren't legally allowed to make any profit from this side-line business (communications being their primary business), so they eventually released the source code for free. This prompted hackers and universities to begin playing with the code, and from AT&T's code sprang BSD -- a derivative created at the Berkeley University, Xenix, and others.

The ball really started rolling for the great unwashed masses in 1982 with the introduction of a personal home computer called the Commodore 64. The Commodore Amiga propelled it to the next level, but for the general public, the C64 was where it began.

And it began with demos.

Programmers, musicians, and artists combined their skills, and using their Commodore 64s, they produced art. Scrolling text, star fields, waving plasmatic colours, bouncing and morphing graphics, and some even had basic 3D objects. Computers like the C64 generating three dimensional objects was quite something back in the early '80s. Their demonstrations, or demos, were simply demonstrating their abilities.

Typically consisting of teenagers, most demogroups were based in Europe. Using a complicated array of computer Bulletin Boards (BBSs) and mail traders, the demogroups would spread their work around the globe. Some traded demos with other demogroups. Rivalries began. They all tried to outdo each other. And they often did.

Parties were held, at first with dozens of people, but by the early '90s, they would bear 2-3000 people. Demogroups would get together, drink a lot of alcohol, and they would create demos for days at a time. At the end of the parties, competitions would be held, mouths would stand agape, and somebody's status would be raised a few notches.

These days, few demo groups still exist. Demoparties still happen, but have evolved to host LAN games among other things. They are now just big gaming parties with a little coding still going on, or the parties are used as release days for code that was prewritten. Occasionally, C64 and Amiga demos are still produced at these parties, which is kinda cool. Sometimes these demos are a tip of the hat to the good old days, but there are some people who prefer to code for these electronic dinosaurs as their primary machines. Old habits die hard, I guess.

But back in the days of the Amigas and the C64s, and even the old Atari and Apple computers, the operating system did less for you. Hacking at the hardware level was how things were done. All code was assembly language -- the lowest level of programming you can do without resorting to writing your software in 1's and 0's to be directly readable by the CPU.

Even when the developers of the Amiga operating system tried to make it as easy as possible for democoders to legitimately control the graphics and sound chips by providing library calls for Assembly and C, the 'legit' ways were still too slow and clunky. The democoders bypassed the whole operating system and wrote their demos direct to the hardware. Effectively, they wrote their own basic operating systems to host their software. Of course, this was easier in the days when most software came on bootable floppy disks because hard drives were a rarity. On the C64s, hard drives were non-existent. In fact, the practice of writing your own host OS to run a program was last done to some degree by iD Software on the PC to run Doom and Doom II.

Democoders, however, didn't just write demos. They wrote utility programs that helped them make their demos. Some wrote their own Assemblers, some wrote their own music programs, graphic programs, disk copiers, and crunchers. A cruncher is software that compressed programs and included code that would decompress them into memory before running them. It was very common to have to wait for a program to load while watching lots of random colours bounce around the screen. This display was indicative of the program being unpacked, or decrunched. Most of these programs were released as source code to the community at large. One group would make changes to suit themselves, and subsequently release their version's code for later groups to modify further.

One of the more well-known programs to come out of this open source culture was Sound Tracker. It was developed in 1987 by Karsten Obarski on the Amiga. This was released and changed by demogroups such as DOC, Fairlight, Exolon and others. What started as a music player that created MOD files and could play 15 instruments, by 1993 revisions and re-releases could play 128 instruments, and in a variety of file formats all derived from MODs. MOD music files were so popular and so well conceived that commercial games began using them as their soundtracks. The MOD composing scene exploded and became another movement not unlike free software.

In a similar twist on modern music, Peter Gabriel has been releasing sound packs for all the songs of one of his old albums (The Real World - 1982 [www.realworldremixed.com]) and asked everyone to remix the songs for a competition he ran. At the competition's close, there were over 700 entries. Other artists who are releasing "open source" sound packs are Nine Inch Nails and Brian Eno. Not only does this allow people to legally mix songs that they love, but it also gives new musicians and mixers the ability to access some high quality sounds that they can mix with their own music for something the world has never heard before. Just like demo coders who use old tried and true routines (such as star fields, or morphing cubes, or scroll text, or whatever) and mix them with new routines, or modify the tried and true in new ways that people haven't seen before.

Todays demo coders primarily exist in the Windows/PC space. Linux, Mac OS X, and even Gameboy Advance demogroups are out there, but the scene is by and large a shadow of its former glory.

Another difference is that the groups of today tend to code in C/C++. Hardcore (old school) demo coders tend to be detractors of these languages and say that a demo can only truly be called a 'demo' if it is written in Assembly and it talks to the hardware directly.

While I agree to a point, the world has changed and people have adapted, and this is just a way that demos have adapted. Most are showing off OpenGL graphics that had to be literally hand coded in Assembly Language before.

These early hackers, code wizards, uber-geeks, whatever you want to call them paved the way for the code hackers of today -- those guys who write software for free, just because they love doing it. The Eric S. Raymonds, the Linus Torvalds', the Alan Cox's, the Richard Stallmans, the Weitse Viennas, and the other countless hordes who code free software. They give their source code away for free so that others can improve on what has already been done, and so that others may learn from it.

Of course, commercial software has its place, but regardless of how much people like those at Microsoft hate the Open Source movement, nothing will ever make it go away.

Today's hackers are the Linux and Open Source coders. Their goals are exactly the same as the old UNIX hackers and the demo coders of the '80s and early '90s to make quality software that is free to the world. Underlying motives may vary, such as just wanting the code to be free to political reasons like being able to see what the programmers are doing, but ultimately, there will always be people writing free software.

And in fact, it's not just software that's demanding to be free, other DIYers are coming out of the woodwork in cultures resembling open source. Podcasts could be seen as open source radio shows and Youtube has popularised what may be described as open source videos, including documentaries, stand up comedians, and more. Youtube created a community that responds to videos with other videos, either by way of tribute, or in some cases by enhancing the original or adding to it -- much like open source software.

The Internet is opening the world up to the infinite possibilities of what can be done with your data. More and more people are starting to realise, or come to the conclusion, that data should be free. Locking things up and keeping them secret is contrary to the ideal of the Internet.

Coders are always going to write free software. No matter who doesn't like it.

 
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Comments about this article
Beautiful
writen by: rsolimeno on 2006-10-31 06:35:12
Spiro, You have done a beautiful job with this article. Bravo! Perhaps somebody has already made this (fairly obvious) comparison - It seems to me that there is a parallel between the Free and Open Source Software community and the Scientific community. In each, peers review the work that is eventually "published" and it continues to undergo scrutiny by the community. Others improve on what has been done, and there is also competition between research groups to be the first to discover something new or extend what is already known. Thank you Spiro for an interesting history lesson that I was completely unware of: the demo groups. I've been part of the "computer user community" for nearly 25 years, and had never heard of this phenomenon before.
RE: Beautiful written by rsolimeno:
Absolutely Beautiful Article!
writen by: linnerd40 on 2006-10-31 19:44:23
Wow, this is one of the BEST articles I have read in a while! You really espress the roots of Open Source and [i]why[/i] people code open source/ free software. I blogged this post @ [url=http://www.justanothertechblog.blogspot.com]www.justanothertechblog.blogspot.com[/url] , just wanted to spread the word. And... you've been dugg!
RE: Absolutely Beautiful Article! written by linnerd40:
you can't be serious
writen by: james on 2006-11-01 01:56:22
demos as a driving force for open source? yeah, right.
RE: you can't be serious written by james:
Would you like to see us all out of job?
writen by: Joe on 2006-11-01 02:00:22
Would you like to see us all out of job? If not plz stop now. Stop all the open source movement. You're not only destroying Microsoft, but you are also putting the thousands of programmers out of jobs and creative micro independent software vendors out of business. What do you gain at the end? Your little ego boost and recognition? Come on guys, have you ever seen open-cars, open-handphones, open-watches, etc? Why open-source then? If this continues, the there will be no more creativity and innovation in software industry.
RE: Would you like to see us all out of job? written by Joe:
thanks
writen by: spiro harvey on 2006-11-01 02:02:10
Thanks for the comments. I'm glad you enjoyed and I am writing more stuff for Linux Forums as fast as I can. :)
RE: thanks written by spiro harvey:
No, just you!
writen by: Penguin Pete on 2006-11-01 03:05:35
I'd LOVE to see you asstroturfers in the welfare line! Microsoft has been the mafia of the computer world for too long. As compared to the six billion people put out of business by Redmond, it's time we took technology back. It's the REST of our turns to have a job; you MSCEs and Winduhs coders have inflicted your phoney snake-oil long enough! From now on out, to work in software you're gonna have to actually KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING, and not just hide behind a cubicle wall, a patent, and an EULA. If people like you had it your way, we'd be suppressing the invention of the automobile so blacksmiths could stay in business making horseshoes!
RE: No, just you! written by Penguin Pete:
Out of a Job? LoL
writen by: CaffeineAddiction on 2006-11-01 03:09:07
RE: Out of a Job? LoL written by CaffeineAddiction:
Yes, even open source cars!
writen by: Steve G on 2006-11-01 03:25:28
> Come on guys, have you ever seen open-cars, open-handphones, open-watches, etc? http://www.theoscarproject.org/
RE: Yes, even open source cars! written by Steve G:
not quite
writen by: anonymous democoder on 2006-11-01 03:51:01
by the way, the demoscene is still going strong - dont write it off just yet. (http://awards.scene.org/awards.php?year=2005) the main difference is that nowadays it mainly consists of skilled and talented professional programmers, musicians, artists and designers who also write the games you play, and applications you use, the movies you watch and the adverts you see all around you for their day jobs, then write demos on the side. basically, we grew up.
RE: not quite written by anonymous democoder:
Yes, actually.
writen by: Nick on 2006-11-01 04:55:45
RE: Yes, actually. written by Nick:
OSS spells opportunity.
writen by: Skip on 2006-11-01 09:23:52
RE: OSS spells opportunity. written by Skip:
Not talking to you
writen by: Joe on 2006-11-01 10:30:09
RE: Not talking to you written by Joe:
No, I mean small software vendors
writen by: Joe on 2006-11-01 10:49:03
RE: No, I mean small software vendors written by Joe:
Brainless idiots?
writen by: Philip Linde on 2006-11-01 14:30:25
RE: Brainless idiots? written by Philip Linde:
Mr
writen by: Steven Yaskin on 2006-11-01 19:32:28
I disagree - the open source movement's goal is NOT to put people out of jobs; the opposite happens. The software is promoted to the point when anybody can get it for free. However, the services, customizations, support, maintenance, anything you need to make it YOURS is where the efforts should be focused. The age of "best of breed" software has gone. Now everybody has best of breed, meaning - everybody has THE SAME grade of software, no advantages, no competition for business. The open source movement is taking this and giving to the people to extend it, make it better and then support it.
RE: Mr written by Steven Yaskin:
I completely agree
writen by: Brian on 2006-11-01 20:59:44
I think it's completely true that open source software projects will be impossible to stop, and I also think that they are just the beginning. I wrote an in-depth article talking open source as well. Specifically, I talked about the political ramifications and the way it will change the rest of the world. You can find that article [url=http://japanologist.blogspot.com/2006/08/democracy-20-or-how-i-learned-to-stop.html]here[/url].
RE: I completely agree written by Brian:
Oops!
writen by: Brian on 2006-11-01 21:00:30
Failed to post the link properly. Here it is: http://japanologist.blogspot.com/2006/08/democracy-20-or-how-i-learned-to-stop.html
RE: Oops! written by Brian:
Yes, I have to worry about...
writen by: Joe on 2006-11-01 23:57:29
RE: Yes, I have to worry about... written by Joe:
Don't you know how to program?
writen by: Joe on 2006-11-02 00:02:34
RE: Don't you know how to program? written by Joe:
thanks joe
writen by: spiro harvey on 2006-11-02 02:58:06
RE: thanks joe written by spiro harvey:
we will lose our jobs
writen by: dude on 2006-12-29 20:00:48
RE: we will lose our jobs written by dude:
Read the GPL
writen by: Iude on 2007-08-10 06:26:07
Under the GPL, only software which is developed using or incorporating other software covered by the GPL, is subject to its provisions. So if any company was truly innovative and did something on their own, they would still maintain the IP to that software. The reality is that it is unlikely that any company will produce anything so revolutionary that people would be willing to pay for it for long. On the other hand, programmers will always be required to customise all the OSS to company needs, as no two companies are the same. So throw out your MCSD and join the revolution.
RE: Read the GPL written by Iude:
Well then..
writen by: Pyotr on 2007-11-04 19:54:16
RE: Well then.. written by Pyotr:

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