Posts Tagged “history”
Jan 24, 2014
These are my notes for “Coding Freedom”, a sociology/anthropology book that analyses the free software community. You can download it for free from its website, or buy a paper version. These notes cover only the history of free software, which I found very interesting even if I basically knew it already.
1970-1984: The commodification of software
During the 1960s and part of the 1970s, most hardware was sold with software and there was no software patent or copyright protection. Programmers in university labs routinely read and modified the computer source code of software produced by others.
In 1976, just as companies began to assert copyrights over software, Gates wrote a letter to a group of hobbyists chastising them for, as he saw it, stealing his software: they had freely distributed copies of Gates’ BASIC interpreter at one of their meetings.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s the US software industries dominated internationally. Amid fears of losing ground to foreigners, US legislators launched an aggressive campaign to develop and fund the high-tech and knowledge economic sector and encountered little friction when accepting software patents in 1980.
1984-1991: Hacking and its discontents
In the late 1970s and the 1980s, corporations started to deny university-based hackers access to the source code to their corporate software, even if the hackers only intended to use it for personal or noncommercial use. This infuriated Richard Stallman, who became a “revenge programmer” (whole, fascinating story in p.68) and ultimately founded the Free Software Foundation in 1985 and then wrote the first draft of the General Public License in 1989. In 1984 he actually said “I am the last survivor of a dead culture. And I don’t really belong in the world anymore. And in some ways I feel like I ought to be dead”.
1991-1998: Silent Revolutions
Trade groups intensified their efforts to change intellectual property law largely through international treaties. They worked with law enforcement to strike against “pirates”, pursued civil court remedies against copyright infringers, launched moral education campaigns about the evils of piracy, and pushed aggressively for the inclusion of intellectual property provisions in the multilateral trade treaties of the 1990s. For example, through TRIPS, patents had to ultimately be open to all technological fields.
In the meantime, Linux would gain momentum in companies: managers would say they were not using Linux, but techies would say “yes… but don’t tell my boss”.
1998-2004: Triumph of open source and ominous DMCA
The term “open source” (less philosophical and more technical) was created and won, and the DMCA was passed, which criminalised all attempts to circumvent access control measures (ie. DRM), practically giving copyright owners technological control over digitized copyright material.
Misc final notes
For most developers, acceptance of free software rarely led to political opposition producers of proprietary software, but made them develop a critical eye toward practices such as abuse of intellectual property law and tendency to hide problems from costumers: “Free software encourages active participation. Coporate software encourages consumption”.
One of the most profound political effects of free software has been to weaken the hegemonic status of intellectual property law; copyright and patents now have company.
And that’s it. I hope you enjoy it. Go download the book if it sounds interesting or you want to learn more about hacker culture and free software.
Dec 17, 2008
That’s the title of a really good book by Scott Berkun, the fella that was project manager for Internet Explorer when it could still be called a browser ;-) The Myths of Innovation is very easy to read, funny and has some food for thought. It dissects a bunch of myths about innovation and innovators, points out typical difficulties and dangers that innovators face, and analyses why these myths are common, why people like them, and why they are so handy to refer to the history and reality of innovation, which is of course much more complex.
One chapter that made me think a lot was chapter 7: “Your boss knows more about innovation than you”. It explores the relation between (traditional) management and innovation, and claims that managers can work against innovation if they just try to increase efficiency and keep things under control. In that sense, quality assurance engineers can be like those project managers, so I wondered a lot about my role and my duties with regards to innovation. On the one hand, you do have to control things that are being done and be conservative to a certain extent. On the other hand, innovation is such an important part of an IT company (particularly if it’s Internet-related) that you really don’t want to risk blocking or stifling it.
Fortunately, it also explains how to keep the workplace open to innovation, including things like having toys and “funny” things at the office. It turns out that they’re not there to spoil the employees, but to provide an environment where people feel free to “think different” and are not afraid of new ideas or to say what they think.
All in all, I think it’s a great book. Recommended!