Developers of key Internet technologies confirm advantages of open source development process and agree to cooperate in spreading the word

Sebastopol, CA--Heavyweights of the Internet software community met in an historic summit in Palo Alto on April 7 to explore ways of expanding the use and acceptance of open source software development, which relies on wide distribution of program source code to spur innovation and increase software quality. Organized by Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly & Associates, the attendees included creators of underlying Internet services such as the Domain Name System and email routing, as well as web servers and browsers, scripting languages, and even whole operating systems.

The meeting's purpose was to facilitate a high-level discussion of the successes and challenges facing the developers. While this type of software has often been called "freeware" or "free software" in the past, the developers agreed that commercial development of the software is part of the picture, and that the terms "open source" or "sourceware" best describe the development method they support.

Open source software, or sourceware, was defined at the summit as "software whose source code is available, so that users can customize or extend it." This is in contrast to most software, whose source code is not available to the public. Sourceware may be available for free or in commercial packages.

Summit attendees also agreed on the most important aspects of open source software:

  1. Flexibility. Because the source code is freely available, any given program may have hundreds or thousands of developers. Each open source community has tremendous flexibility in modifying the program. Developers can modify the software to suit their needs, or the needs of their companies, customers or communities. Stability and consistency for open source software is typically maintained by the creator or a development team who controls the core release of the software. Commercial entities generally can't afford to spend the resources on niche markets, of which there may be thousands. But developers working on their own can easily do so, then make their work available to others for further modification and improvement.
  2. Innovation. The development model encourages tremendous innovation. When developers can see and modify source code, they receive rapid feedback and a constant flow of ideas from other developers. Innovation is also taking place with many companies creating new approaches to business, successfully integrating sourceware and commercial efforts. Many of the companies present at the summit freely distribute source code, and earn revenue through offering services, support, documentation, customization, or additional software products to their customers.
  3. Reliability. With hundreds or thousands of developers testing, inspecting, and fixing bugs for a given program, the quality assurance program for open source software is far more reliable and efficient than any commercial effort can afford to be. Massive, independent peer review, similar to what takes place in the scientific community but on a much larger scale thanks to the Internet, is a major strength.
  4. Faster development time. With so many more testers, development cycles can go much faster than in typical commercial efforts.
The group identified numerous ways that sourceware is already mission-critical throughout industry, academia, and government. The myth is that IT managers won't rely on free or open source software. As Tim O'Reilly pointed out at the press conference following the event, at least two of the open source programs whose developers attended the summit, Bind and Sendmail, form the backbone of the Internet infrastructure that all Internet-connected companies rely on. Languages such as Perl, Tcl and Python are intimately involved in the operation of virtually all major web sites, and Apache is the server of choice for more than half of all web sites.

The attendees agreed that future collaboration would take place in coming months, including workshops on open source business models, project management and source code licensing issues, and coordinated public relations efforts involving open source programs. There are tens of thousands of developers worldwide who were not at the summit, but who are integral to the development of open source software. Followup meetings will focus on bringing together larger groups.

Spreading the word about the importance and value of open source software was seen as vital to the group's efforts. O'Reilly noted, "Until Netscape announced that they would release the source code to Communicator, open source software received little attention in the press. Now everyone wants to know about it. It's important to realize just how successful and widespread open source development is. Much of today's most innovative and important software has been built using this model."


Attendees included:
* Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly & Associates, publisher of books on Linux, Perl, Apache, DNS & Bind, sendmail, Tcl, PGP, and other open source software, and presenters of the Perl Conference. * Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system, considered by many to be the only real competitor to Microsoft's hold on the desktop; * Tom Paquin and Jamie Zawinski of, Netscape Communications; * Larry Wall, creator of the Perl language, which is used even more widely than Java to create active content and manage web sites; * Brian Behlendorf, one of the founders of the Apache Group, whose Apache web server runs more than 50% of all Web sites; * Sameer Parekh, President of C2Net Software, Inc. and member of the Apache Group; * Eric Allman, CTO of Sendmail, Inc.; author of sendmail, the mail transport agent which routes over 75% of mail on the Internet today; * Greg Olson, CEO of Sendmail, Inc.; * Paul Vixie, maintainer of the Bind program, which manages the Internet's Domain Naming System; * John Ousterhout, CEO, Scriptics Corp. and creator of the popular Tcl scripting language which is widely used for rapid GUI development, web content generation and extensible applications; * Guido van Rossum, creator of the fast-growing Python language; * Phil Zimmermann, creator of the well-known PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) cryptography program; * John Gilmore, co-founder of Cygnus Solutions, commercial supporters of open sourceware programming tools like the ubiquitous GNU C compiler; and * Eric Raymond, independent developer active in the Linux community and author of the influential paper, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar."


Apache: Bind: C2Net/Stronghold: Cygnus Solutions: Free Software Foundation: Linux: Mozilla: Netscape: Open Source: O'Reilly: Perl: / also PGP: Prime Time Freeware: Python: Scriptics/Tcl: Sendmail: WebReview: