By the time of the Mozilla release in 1998, the hacker community
could best be analyzed as a loose collection of factions or tribes
that included Richard Stallman's Free Software Movement, the Linux community,
the Perl community, the
Apache community, the
BSD community, the X
developers, the Internet Engineering Task Force
(IETF), and at least a
dozen others. These factions overlap, and an individual developer
would be quite likely to be affiliated with two or more.
A tribe might be grouped around a particular codebase that they
maintain, or around one or more charismatic influence leaders, or
around a language or development tool, or around a particular software
license, or around a technical standard, or around a caretaker
organization for some part of the infrastructure. Prestige tends to
correlate with longevity and historical contribution as well as more
obvious drivers like current market-share and mind-share; thus, perhaps the
most universally respected of the tribes is the
IETF, which can claim
continuity back to the beginnings of the ARPANET in 1969. The
BSD community, with
continuous traditions back to the late 1970s, commands considerable
prestige despite having a much lower installation count than
Linux. Stallman's Free Software Movement, dating back to the
early 1980s, ranks among the senior tribes both on historical
contribution and as the maintainer of several of the software tools in
heaviest day-to-day use.
After 1995 Linux acquired a special role as both the
unifying platform for most of the community's other software and the
hackers' most publicly recognizable brand name. The Linux community
showed a corresponding tendency to absorb other sub-tribes —
and, for that matter, to co-opt and absorb the
associated with proprietary Unixes. The hacker culture as a whole
began to draw together around a common mission: push Linux and
the bazaar development model as far as it could go.
Because the post-1980 hacker
culture had become so
deeply rooted in Unix, the new mission was implicitly a brief for the
triumph of the Unix tradition. Many of the hacker community's senior
leaders were also Unix old-timers, still bearing scars from the
post-divestiture civil wars of the 1980s and getting behind
Linux as the last, best hope to fulfill
the rebel dreams of the early Unix days.
The Mozilla release helped further concentrate opinions. In
March of 1998 an unprecedented summit meeting of community influence
leaders representing almost all of the major tribes convened to
consider common goals and tactics. That meeting adopted a new label
for the common development method of all the factions: open
Within six months almost all the tribes in the hacker community
would accept “open source” as its new banner. Older
groups like IETF and the
BSD developers would begin to apply it retrospectively to what they
had been doing all along. In fact, by 2000 the rhetoric of open
source would not just unify the hacker culture's present practice and
plans for the future, but re-color its view of its own past.
The galvanizing effect of the Netscape announcement, and of the
new prominence of Linux, reached well beyond the Unix community and
the hacker culture. Beginning in 1995, developers from various
platforms in the path of Microsoft's Windows juggernaut (MacOS; Amiga;
OS/2; DOS; CP/M; the weaker proprietary Unixes; various mainframe,
minicomputer, and obsolete microcomputer operating systems) had banded
together around Sun Microsystems's Java
disgruntled Windows developers joined them in hopes of maintaining at
least some nominal independence from Microsoft. But Sun's handling of
Java was (as we discuss in Chapter14) clumsy and alienating on several levels.
Many Java developers liked what they saw in the nascent open-source
movement, and followed Netscape's lead into Linux and open source just
as they had previously followed Netscape into Java.
Open-source activists welcomed the surge of immigrants from
everywhere. The old Unix hands began to share the new immigrants'
dreams of not merely passively out-enduring the Microsoft monopoly,
but actually reclaiming key markets from it. The open-source
community as a whole prepared a major push for mainstream
respectability, and began to welcome alliances with major corporations
that increasingly feared losing control of their own businesses as
Microsoft's lock-in tactics grew ever bolder.
There was one exception: Richard
and the Free Software Movement. “Open source” was
explicitly intended to replace Stallman's preferred “free
software” with a public label that was ideologically neutral,
acceptable both to historically opposed groups like the
BSD hackers and
those who did not wish to take a position in the GPL/anti-GPL debate.
Stallman flirted with adopting the term, then rejected it on the
grounds that it failed to represent the moral position that was
central to his thinking. The Free Software Movement has since
insisted on its separateness from “open source”,
creating perhaps the most significant political
fissure in the hacker culture of 2003.
The other (and more important) intention behind “open
source” was to present the hacker community's methods to the
rest of the world (especially the business mainstream) in a more
market-friendly, less confrontational way. In this role, fortunately,
it proved an unqualified success — and led to a revival of
interest in the Unix tradition from which it sprang.