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Technology writers and business journalists are usually unclear about the beginnings of the open source software (OSS) movement. Two seminal information technology (IT) events can lay claim: the formation of IBM SHARE in the mid 1950s, and the "invention" of UNIX in the early 1970s. In the case of SHARE, of course, code was highly shared but it wasn't open. All code at the time was totally closed to the platform for which it was written. The UNIX development effort has been described by Dennis Ritchie, one of the "inventors," as an attempt to "foster fellowship" among developers. There was a lot of formal and informal OSS-like fellowship and sharing of source code as well, but about a dozen well-documented forks of UNIX took a lot of the openness out of the process, which-in turn-inhibited clean interoperability.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) can also lay claim to beginning the OSS movement in the 1980s. Of course the FSF is very clear that the code it develops and distributes in its GNU project is not "open source software, but free as in air" software. Because Linus Torvalds chose to distribute his Linux kernel under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2 in the early 1990s, the FSF has a strong case for being the catalyst even if it won't take the credit.

All of these "almost, but" caveats lead to the Apache Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) web server first distributed in 1995-1996. Today there are over a dozen ASF OSS mid-stack software projects but when someone says "Apache" in the OSS context, with no noun following it, they typically mean the HTTP server. It is the precursor to the entire spectrum of OSS application and web server software that dominates the market today.

The initial Apache Software Foundation (ASF) "project," Apache HTTP combined the sharing of IBM SHARE, the fellowship of UNIX, and eventually the legal underpinnings of its own GPL-like license terms and conditions. In fact, Apache HTTP quickly became more ubiquitous than Linux because it ran not only on OSS-definition-compliant operating infrastructure but on other UNIX variations, Windows, Apple systems and legacy (that is, non-UNIX) systems from IBM, Digital Equipment and others.

Although in the Internet era there is no need to separate development efforts geographically or nationalistically, an organization similar to ASF was founded in France in 2002. Called ObjectWeb, it was a joint project among the French Institut national de recherche en informatique et en automatique (INRIA), the systems supplier Bull, and France Telecom. In China, another similar organization called Orientware was launched in 2004 by Peking University, Beijing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics, National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), CVIC Software Engineering Co., Ltd.(CVIC SE) and the Institute of Software, Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISCAS). At the end of 2006, these two organizations merged into OW2.


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