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Journal drinkypoo's Journal: Who invented the term 'Open Source'? 6

Recently, the OSI announced that they were planning to "crack down" on people who misuse the term "Open Source". I found this particularly intriguing because I am well aware (as are most other long-time geeks) that the term 'Open' was around long before the OSI was even a dream. Another element of that conversation that was quite interesting is that Bruce Perens claims to have invented the term 'Open Source'. Can this possibly be true?

Bruce didn't give a date anywhere in the discussion as to when he might have invented the term, but his document The Open Source Definition does provide some clues. For example, he states that "The Open Source Definition started life as a policy document of the Debian GNU/Linux Distribution." [...] "I was the leader of the Debian project, at that time, and I addressed these problems by proposing a Debian Social Contract and a Debian Free Software Guidelines in July, 1997." He also states in relation to ESR's involvement that "Raymond and I had met occassionally at the Hacker's Conference, a by-invitation-only gathering of creative and unconventional programmers. We had corresponded on various subjects via e-mail. He contacted me in February of 1997 with the idea for Open Source."

These statements would seem to put the origin of the term, therefore, between February and July of 1997 — But Eric Raymond's recollection is different. In The Origins of `Open Source' , a portion of his book Revenge of the Hackers he writes "Hence the term `open source', which the first participants in what would later become the Open Source campaign (and, eventually, the Open Source Initiative organization) invented at a meeting held in Mountain View the offices of VA Research on 3 February 1998." That's right, Perens' ostensible source for the idea of the term Open Source himself places the event in February of 1998, not 1997.

This isn't the end of the claimants to the origin of the term "Open Source", however - and to find the next one, I don't even have to talk about a different group of people. In chapter 11 ("Open Source") of the book Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software Christine Peterson, then-president (now the vice president) of the Foresight Institute, also claims to have invented the term - or at least to have a better claim to it than ESR. "Looking back, Peterson says she came up with the open source term while discussing Netscape's decision with a friend in the public relations industry. She doesn't remember where she came upon the term or if she borrowed it from another field, but she does remember her friend disliking the term." The book also quotes her as saying that she was "hesitant about suggesting it", adding "I had no standing with the group, so started using it casually, not highlighting it as a new term." The last relevant slice of the chapter claims that "Raymond says he didn't publicly use the term "open source" as a substitute for free software until a day or two after the Mozilla launch party, when O'Reilly had scheduled a meeting to talk about free software."

All of the events mentioned here happened during or after January of 1998. So it seems that ESR has the more correct interpretation of events than Perens; but in turn, Peterson's claim is shown to be the stronger.

However, none of these people has a better claim to the term "Open Source" than, of all places, Caldera - which we now know as the SCO Group. But back then, Caldera was a leader of the Open Source movement, as you can see from this mailing list archive entry which includes a press release from Caldera announcing their "Open Source" distribution of DOS, to which they had recently acquired rights. The title? CALDERA. ANNOUNCES OPEN SOURCE CODE MODEL FOR DOS The date? September tenth, 1996. That's right, over a year before the most reputable claims of invention.

To be absolutely fair, only ESR and Perens actually claim to have invented the term. Peterson says that she doesn't remember where she got the idea, which while potentially disingenuous is at the least not an outright lie, and at best is entirely true - assuming that there is any truth to the story to begin with. Believing everything you read is probably (to say the least) a mistake.

Regardless, we are left only with a mystery. Where did the term originate? Who out of these three — Eric Raymond, Bruce Perens, and Christine Peterson — is telling the truth? It can only be one of them, as each of them makes contradictory claims of one nature or another.

I formerly posted a comment asking these questions of Bruce Perens, in response to the comment in which he claims to have done the inventing, but he either did not see that I made the comment (ostensibly, a slashdot message should have been sent to him notifying him of a reply) or did not feel that it was worthy of response, so I am asking this question of the larger Slashdot community. Does anyone have any better information than I've already tracked down?

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Who invented the term 'Open Source'?

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  • Please tell me you submitted this to the main page?
    • Yes, I did, and I just went and verified that it is on the Firehose. I would, as always, appreciate your up-vote for my story there. But I believe (and have stated previously) that all story submissions should be journal entries, though I do not believe that the opposite should be true. That way, if your submission is rejected, the topic can still be discussed. I also posted the same question to my webpage, at (Needs some work, I'm working on the replacement on my laptop.)
      • Just voted it up.

        Surprisingly, I was able to use the search interface in the firehose you find the journal entry.

        • Just voted it up.

          Thank you!

          Surprisingly, I was able to use the search interface in the firehose you find the journal entry.

          Quite. I tried this earlier and it's how I discovered that slashdot actually ate my prior journal entry on the same subject. (Yes, I am sure I clicked 'save' - slashdot actually returned a page showing the resulting journal entry. Then it disappeared. It's a good thing I'm stubborn, because it led me to rewrite the entry.

          The firehose has just two annoying tendencies left. One, it so

You are always doing something marginal when the boss drops by your desk.