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I've been always interested, out of the pure self-amusement, in the history of open software used today:

  • who were the people which started it and what were the reasons to start
  • what were design decisions at the start
  • how software evolved over the time

Specifically, I'm interested in following software:

  • GCC
  • X
  • Linux kernel
  • Java

Of course, there is plenty of information in Internet to google for, but I thought it would be nice to have list of interesting resources at this site.

I hope some of visitors of this site have similar interest and can share a link or two they found particularly amusing/interesting.

To make this entry more question-like, here's straight question: what are the most interesting/amusing links about history of open source software?

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closed as not a real question by Mark Trapp, Yannis Rizos May 23 '12 at 7:51

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Not actually a question there... –  Jon Hopkins Dec 23 '10 at 11:48
I can restate it as a question: what's most valuable resources about history of open source on the Internet? –  Victor Sorokin Dec 23 '10 at 13:52
Victor, please update the question with..the question..in your comment, it will be clearer. –  dr Hannibal Lecter Dec 23 '10 at 14:11
When looking into the history X I'd suggest looking at the transition from XFree86 to Xorg. It's not ancient history, but relatively recent. But it was a very interesting sight to see a project as big as XFree86 (it had no real alternative at the time) fall over and die in such a short time. OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice seem to be on the exact same path. –  Joachim Sauer May 23 '12 at 6:59

5 Answers 5

These books are highly regarded:

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Eric S. Raymond has the Cathedral&Bazaar triology online at catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar - highly recommended. –  user1249 Jan 4 '11 at 2:38


Was started by Richard Stallman because he needed a free compiler as part of his GNU system. Later grew into a large scale development effort with a lot of both frontends and backends.


Was started on MIT because they needed a graphics system which could run a program on one machine, which could be used from another machine. Due to license and early presence it has grown into being universally available on Unix-based platforms.

Linux kernel

Was started by Linus Torvalds because he needed an alternative to Minix. Got critical mass as he decided to leverage the internet to allow other people to work on the code, and orchestrated the results back into the Linux kernel with a very frequent release scheme. The usage of the GPL helped in this because people knew that what they donated would always be usable to them. Note that other Unix systems exist with more liberal licenses but less involvment of non-core developers. They don't do quite as well.


Originally a language designed to be downloadable and the downloaded code to be programatically verified to be trustable for settop boxes. Later evolved into a fully specified language which then got a head start by being supported by the first Netscape browsers.

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I find that the reasons for starting a project are often listed on either the project's "About" page or the corresponding Wikipedia article.

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Not open-source only, but still amazing: here is a graphical view of Unix history ,from UNICS in 1969 up to (among others) Mountain Lion and Linux 3.3 in 2012.

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