My Open Source Moment…25 Years ago

I was thinking the other day, how long has it been since I’d first been exposed to Open Source software. Of course, the term “Open Source” hasn’t been around that long, but really, the spirit of open source software has existed for a very long time.

From a one perspective, all the source code found in all those computer magazines (Byte, Compute!, Transactor…and so many more)  that I read as a kid could be considered a form of Open Source—they published the source code, and let you play with it.  I didn’t think about it at the time, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t explicitly permit unrestricted redistribution, but I can’t say the magazines really cared one way or the other about it.

But there were those who did explicitly give their permission to redistribute it. Most often they used terms like “Public Domain” to deliberately declare that it was OK to pass the code around.

In late 1985, I became aware of VDO – the “Video Display Oriented Editor” for CP/M which was distributed as source code (ASM!) alongside a binary of the program.  It was the first text editor I ever used that supported the WordStar key bindings (ctrl-k, <key>), and between VDO and the later spiritual descendent “VDE”, I had those key bindings hardwired into my fingers. Even today, I have an editor that uses WordStar bindings installed on Windows, and under Linux I typically install “Joe” right away.

For me, VDO was really special, because it was the first program that I didn’t actually type in, I got it as a binary along with the source code. I found I could edit the source code and re-assemble it, complete with my changes. Sure, the changes to the code were really quite minor, but I always felt that was where the power was—Making the software into what *I* needed. For me, that’s always been the most important part of open source.

Since that moment, I’ve downloaded, compiled and modified a heckova lot of software. Sometimes I give others the changes, sometimes it’s just for me. 

So, I gotta ask, when was your Open Source moment? What was the first piece of Open Source software you used? Did you play with the source?

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