|By Martin C. Brown||
|May 30, 2005 12:00 PM EDT||
Talk to young programmers and developers today and you'd be fooled into thinking that free/open source software (FOSS) was a relatively new invention. Those crusty old folk among us (myself included, born in that prehistoric era of the early '70s) know that it goes back a little further than that.
Many of us become dewy-eyed about our memories of Linux when it first came out - or the first Red Hat release. In fact, many of the FOSS projects that we take for granted today are a heck of a lot of older than people realize.
Last month both the Apache HTTPD project and the MySQL database turned 10. I have to admit this surprised me. I can't remember when I first started using MySQL, but I can tell you that the earliest version I've got in my archives is version 3.23.41, which came out the summer of 2001. Before that, I think I used PostgreSQL, first released in 1996 but based on the much older Postgres project that started in 1986.
I used the Apache Web server long before it became famous, and I certainly remember using a version of httpd before it was an Apache project under it's original guise as the NCSA httpd server. That was only a few months before I installed my first publicly available Internet server based on the Gopher protocol.
Looking at programming languages, it's going to shock a lot of people when I tell them that Python was 14-years-old this past February. I was a relative newcomer to Python - I was only introduced to it when I started porting applications to the BeOS platform - when Python was one of the early tools ported to the new platform, but not by me.
PHP first came into being in the latter half of 1994, although the first PHP4 beta - the first major release of PHP that got widespread use - was on July 19, 1999.
The granddaddy of them all in the LAMP space is Perl. First released to the public by Larry Wall in December 1987, Perl will be 18-years-old at the end of the year. I'm proud to say that I've been using it for more than half its life, approaching a third of mine.
What's curious is that we don't celebrate these dates with more hoopla. There are exceptions - MySQL just celebrated it tenth anniversary at the MySQL Users Conference - but this is hardly the fanfare we should expect for such an important part of our (and by that I mean those developers and users among us) culture.
Why shouldn't we celebrate these dates? Some of these applications have had a huge impact on our lives. For me, FOSS became the way I got into book writing, and writing in general. Without it, I'd still be a system manager doing a 9 to 5 job frustrated by users who don't understand what "press any key" means.
For many of us, FOSS is our job, our hobby, and our life. Even among people who don't know what FOSS is, many use and employ the software everyday to write their e-mails, browse Web sites, and update their blogs. Even buying CDs, reading the news, or watching movies today rely on FOSS products. Let's face it much of the Internet exists only because of FOSS technology.
The problem with forgetting about the age of the FOSS technology that we use is that it means we forget how mature the products are. Talk to opponents of FOSS technology and they talk about how immature, untested, and untried these products are. Yet the reality is that many of the core FOSS products - Apache HTTPD, Perl, and MySQL - are actually older and more mature than the commercial products they're promoting.
To try and redress the balance I'm starting a FOSS anniversaries project. Initially it's going to be held on my personal blog at http://mcslp.com - click on the FOSS Anniversaries link to go to the page. If I get enough interest, I'll consider improving on it and moving it elsewhere. Until then, if you've got some additions or corrections, use the contact form to let me know.
Meanwhile, next time you use a FOSS product don't think about its age, think about its maturity and how that maturity is its best endorsement.
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