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April 27, 2017updated 26 Jul 2022 10:18am

10 Pioneers taking open source to the next level

CBR lists the top 10 pioneers who have and are still taking open source software to the next level.

By Hannah Williams

Open source changed the software game, introduced in the mid-1980’s but really making an impact in the late 1990’s and introducing a free, collaborative approach to software development.

What was first only adopted by a small community has now been embraced by the biggest in the business, with giants like Microsoft now tapping the innovation created by open source’s affordability, flexibility, transparency and interoperability.

Open Source has been driven by a many great minds, with innovators establishing open source practices and culture across business and industry.

CBR looks at the innovators and pioneers who have fuelled the exponential growth and success of open source, who have brought software to the masses.

Linus Torvalds

You could not have a list of open source pioneers without Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux Kernel. The man behind the kernel for operating systems such as Linux, Android and Chrome, Torvalds first started tinkering with with ideas for an operating system in 1991, when he was a 21-year-old computer science student at the University of Helsinki.

Describing the project at the time as ‘just a hobby’ which ‘won’t be big and professional like GNU’, the Linux Kernel quickly gained developers and users via the MINIX Community who contributed code and ideas to the kernel. From its initial 1991 release, the Linux Kernel has received contributions from thousands of programmers and companies, including some of the biggest software and hardware vendors in the world.

Interestingly, Torvalds wanted to call the kernel ‘Freax’ – a combination of free, freak and the letter x to indicate it was a Unix-like system. His friend, who was the admin for where the kernel was initially hosted for download, named Torvalds directory linux.

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Believing “open source is the only right way to do software,” Torvalds is also credited with the creation and development of the Git distributed revision system and planing software Subsurface. The Finnish native has been honoured with many awards and accolades in respect to his work with in open source, including the 2014 IEEE Computer Society Computer Pioneer Award.

Today, Torvalds works for the Linux Foundation, a non-profit technology trade association which aims to support the “greatest shared technology resources in history.” Torvalds remains the authority on what new code can be incorporated into the standard Linux kernal and also holds the Linux trademark.

Mark Shuttleworth

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, founded the company to support and promote free software projects such as the Ubuntu operating system. Also recognised as a space tourist, who was the first South African citizen to travel to space.

Shuttleworth began his career starting in the 1990s, when he got involved as one of the developers of the Debian operating system.

He then moved towards free software by funding the development of Ubuntu, which is a Linux distribution based on Debian. This was funded through his company, Canonical.

Ubuntu is a Linux-based operating system designed for network servers, either on physical or virtual servers. Many big proprietary vendors are also found to have embraced Ubuntu following its development onto servers and smartphones.

Using Ubuntu as a core point of call, Shuttleworth has levelled up with several developments to the server offering and other additional requirements.

Ubuntu is known widely for its free desktop operating system offering, whilst Canonical is known for its server software and OpenStack cloud infrastructure to data centres delivery.

Mark Shuttleworth is also known to play an important part in the OpenStack ecosystem with his offerings of Canonical and Ubuntu, which enables members of the community to partake from. This is especially as Ubuntu is classed as the most popular operating system for OpenStack in the world.

Read more: Open Source Hippie to Software Standard: Ubuntu CEO signs off on a decade at Canonical
Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is also known as a computer programmer from a young age. This has also implemented into his interest in open source.

Zuckerberg began writing software during middle school, and his father taught him Atari BASIC Programming in the 1990s.

He built his first software programme, called ‘ZuckNet’ at home, and was known as a primitive version of AOL’s Instant Messenger when it came out the following year.

Zuckerberg also created an early version of the music software Pandora, which was named Synapse. Companies such as Microsoft and AOL expressed their interest to buy the software and also offered to hire him before graduation but Zuckerberg declined.

Zuckerberg attended Harvard university and during his time there he launched Facebook in 2004, from his room, which he then moved to an office later in the year with Peter Theil who invested in the company.

Over the years, Zuckerberg has elevated the social media site Facebook into a lot more than just social media, as for one it can be identified as the largest open source software company across the world without even selling software.

As argued by many, although Facebook does not sell open source software, the social media site in itself is open-sourced throughout and may not exist if it did not use open source.

This is noticeable in its use of open source across a wide variety of platforms, one being the basis that Facebook open sources everything such as software and hardware.

For instance, in terms of hardware, Facebook made a public decision to open source its data centres and also launched the Open Compute Project which is an organisation of a range of companies who participate in sharing data centre designs amongst themselves.

Following this, Facebook also revealed that it has over 1,000 contributors to its open source projects who are all part of its open source family. Therefore, based on the effect Zuckerberg builds to enable Facebook to develop a strong foundation of open source software and hardware, its place in the industry stands strong.

Dave McAllister

‘Open source geek,’ Dave McAllister who is currently the Director of Developer Engineering at Solace, has been recognised as a hierarchy for open systems and open source from the early days of Linux.

His most popular roles include working at Adobe and Red Hat for open source-related platforms. Most effectively, McAllister joined Red Hat, provider of open source software, to lead its Gluster and Big data community initiatives in the Open Source and Standards (OSAS) group.

According to McAllister, when asked why he chose Red Hat as the best change from his eight years in Adobe’s open source industry he said: “Working with folks who helped create open source in to the choice for innovation as well as development, who help lead work in Linux, in storage and a cloud, is a challenge I’m looking forward to.”

Since then, McAllister has noticeably taken on other roles which will effectively show his skills in open source.

Bill Laing

Former Corporate Vice President of Microsoft, Bill Laing, can be classed as one of the key people involved in Microsoft’s turnaround to open source, particularly after its former CEO referred to Linux as “a cancer” 15 years before it joined Linux Foundation.

Former CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, made this statement which said: “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches,” during an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in 2001.

Over the more recent years however, Microsoft has embraced open source with a wide selection of innovations, such as its ‘Data centres at cloud scale.’

An example of its transformations includes its joining into the Open Compute Project, which Laing described as a platform which is to be used to contribute Microsoft’s cloud server specification. This, being just one of Microsoft’s initiatives in this platform, is a wide set of design specifications for advanced hardware servers that will be deployed in its data centres.

Bill Laing confirmed during the announcement of the company’s transformation that, “Microsoft will not only lift the veil from its secret server designs. It will ‘open source’ these designs, sharing them with the world at large.”

Again, this shows Microsoft’s efforts to make use of open source at full force.

What about the other open source pioneers? 
Christine Peterson

As we discuss the pioneers of open source, it is only right to refer to the person who coined the term, Christine Peterson, futurist and lecturer in nanotechnology.

In 1998, as part of a concerted effort to make source code sharing more appealing to commercial software developers, Peterson came up with the term to be used when in connection with software.

Peterson was part of a group who worked together to come up with the term, however at a meeting in 1998, Peterson suggested the term ‘open source’ following Netscape’s announcement of a source code release for Navigator.

Along with nanotechnology, Peterson is also known as a non-profit activist in artificial intelligence, human healthspan, space settlement and open source.

Michael Tiemann

Vice President of Open source at Red Hat, Michael Tiemann is classed as a pioneer for open source software from his early recognition of the software.

From the early years of 1989, Tiemann co-founded Cygnus Solution, the first company to provide commercial support for open source software, which in his 10 years working at the company boosted him to the role of open source leader.

Tiemann was also part of the group of people who added insight into coining the term ‘open source’, along with Peterson. Initially, Tiemann argued for “sourceware” to be used in replacement to the “free software” term.

Apart from his role for Red Hat, Tiemann has also been a part of several boards including the Open Source Initiative, GNOME Foundation, Embedded Linux Consortium and more. All of which have helped Tiemann deliver his expertise and interest in open source in the best way possible.

Eric S. Raymond

Software developer, Eric S. Raymond, is described widely as one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the open source movement.

Raymond first began his programming career between 1980 and 1985, where he began  writing proprietary software.

Although starting his programming career writing proprietary software, Raymond took a turn into open source when he took over the development of the open source email software ‘popclient,’ which he renamed to Fetchmail in 1996.

Raymond is significantly popular for expressing his thoughts on open source software development, when he wrote ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar,’ this led Raymond to become a key in the open source movement.

He co-founded the Open Source Initiative in 1998, and has since then shared his thoughts and views on the movement.

Larry Augustin

Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM, is known for his involvement in the Linux Foundation as well as other organisations.

Augustin was also part of the group of people to initially come up with the term open source, even though surprisingly, he is found to not believe that all software will become open source.

Working for SugarCRM, Augustin has had an influential impact in the company’s offering of a community edition known as SugarCE, which was previously known as Sugar Open Source.

This is a SaaS product which provides cloud services, Windows Azure, Rackspace, IBM and more.

Satya Nadella

Lastly, is the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, who before becoming the CEO in 2014 was known for his role as the EVP of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group.

Although, when he took over Steve Ballmer’s former role, Nadella elevated Microsoft in a different light, different to its usual outline.

Microsoft became Github’s largest open source contributor, which is likely to be a shock for many as the company did not embrace open source formerly.

Especially as the former CEO, Steve Ballmer saw it as a threat to its proprietary business model, stating “Linux is a cancer.”

When Nadella took over however, a presentation was delivered which stated that “Microsoft loves Linux,” and having already been consistently working with Linux in the past, the company has only used the changes as an opportunity to deploy Linux on a wider scale.

This leads to Nadella’s decision which now makes Microsoft completely open source.

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