A Brief History of 'Open Source' Software in Modern Times

The 'spirit' of open source was in existence many millennium before the term officially emerged toward the end of the 20th century. In 'ancient' times, our ancestors shared knowledge about hunting, farming, cooking, herbal treatments, and many other topics and skills needed to survive. In 'modern' times, collaboration and sharing has taken on a whole new meaning, especially as it relates to the topic of free and open source software (FOSS). What follows is a brief history and timeline of 'Open Source' activities in modern times to help people new to the subject to better understand what has been happening in this arena over the past 50 years.

'Open Source' – History & Timeline: 1950-2010


  • In the 1950's, almost all software was produced by computer science academics and corporate researchers working in collaboration. As such, it was generally distributed under the principles of openness and co-operation long established in the fields of academia, Software was not seen as a commodity in and of itself. See Wikipedia
  • Starting in the early 1950's, organizations such as SHARE and DECUS developed much of the software that computer hardware companies bundled with their hardware offerings. At that time computer companies were in the hardware business. Anything that reduced software costs and made more programs available enabled hardware companies to be more competitive.


  • During the 1960's, many key aspects of software development and innovation associated with the emerging Internet were done in academic institutions like MIT or Berkeley and in corporate research facilities like Bell Labs and Cerox Research Center.
  • ARPANET founded in 1968. It was the precursor to the Internet, allowing researchers to share code and information.
  • Unix is a multitasking, multi-user computer operating system originally developed in 1969 by a group of AT&T employees at Bell Labs. It was offered for free on college campuses and to research centers. The Open Group, an industry standards consortium, owns the UNIX trademark.
  • In 1969, the U.S. Department of Justice charged IBM with destructive businesses practices by bundling free software with IBM hardware. As a result of this suit, IBM unbundled its software, which then became independent products offered separately from hardware.


  • During the late 1970's, the influence of Unix in academic circles ultimately led to large-scale adoption of Unix by commercial startups, the most notable of which are Solaris, HP-UX and AIX.
  • Amongst all variants of Unix, Mac OS X is the most widely used as the underpinnings of Apple's desktop and mobile phone operating systems.   Linux, another widely used variant of Unix, is used to power data centers, mobile phones, and embedded devices such as routers.  Other notable variants of Unix include Android and Berkeley Software Design (BSD) Unix descendants, e.g. FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD.

To read the remainder of the history, click here.