(Via Sam Ramji): Garrett Serack posted his first experience, 25 years ago, with open source software.He asks:
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?
Well, I suppose it was MIT's ITS operating system (Incompatible Timesharing System). The code was, in fact, shared elsewhere -- and I have it running today, in a PDP-10 simulator on my Google Nexus One phone!
I first logged into ITS in 1972, though I didn't get seriously involved with it until later.
I don't recall making changes in the actual source. I did, however, patch the running system from time to time, to do various amusing things. And I maintained the command processor/debugger (DDT), and at one point hacked my running DDT to be able to patch other people's running processes. I then transcribed those changes back into the source.
This was useful for a weird purpose. Having no security, we'd occasionally get people who'd come along for the sole purpose of causing trouble -- harassing people, usually, but occasionally actually trying to do damage. (Fortunately, security through obscurity generally actually worked on these guys).
Kind of like the people you see commenting on Ziff-Davis blogs and newspaper sites these days. A lot more power, but the same mind-set.
You could get rid of these people -- but they'd just come back, and take it as a challenge, usually changing identity in the process.
So what I'd do was to patch their command prompt, to give the illusion that the system was flaky and unusable. I'd stick in a sleep, to make it look slow (and to slow them down), and then make it give creative error messages.
I still find this to be a good strategy today, for moderating forums. In the ITS days, we'were pretty happy to have people come and check us out and explore, and many of us spent a lot of our time answering questions. We didn't mind that at all; after all, wed once been guests with questions!
I'm pretty much a free-speech guy. I don't have to agree with someone to support their speaking, nor to engage in discussions with them. But some people use speech as a weapon to interfere with free speech by others. What do you do about it?
In my experience, banning them doesn't really work. They just pick up the challenge under a new identity, laughing at you.
What DOES work -- every time in my experience -- is to set things up so only THEY see their posts. Nobody ever responds to them. Nothing has been done to them, that they can see -- it's just a boring experience.
Anyway, that's when and where I first experienced the power of open communities. It's not just the software, it's the people, and the opportunities.
Back around 1976 or so, I created Teach Lisp -- what I believe to be the first open online network learning environment (as opposed to Plato, which back then required specialized hardware, and was only experimentally networked). This packaged a set of Lisp courseware, written by myself and Kent Pittman (later editor of the X3J13 Common Lisp standard), and allowed people to log on and type :TEACH and be presented with a text-based menu of units, experiment interactively with the various data an programs set up by the course -- and ask for help.
This help could be interactive, if any of us were available; if not, it would fall back to email. It would keep logs of the sessions, so we could see what difficulty they were having. (We had a number of volunteer aides).
Today, those logs or our email discussions occasionally crop up in Google searches (though none seem to be googllable at the moment, they may show up yet again).
I am still in touch with some of the people who used the program. 35 years later. They covered quite a range, from high school students to physicists.
To complete the arc of history, thanks to a Facebook query, I recently received snapshots of the relevant directories, so I should be able to get this running again -- on my phone.
Regarding editors -- back in the day, a lot of us came up with lots of TECO macros to make our text editing better. Eventually, we started pooling our efforts. I'm not sure exactly how it came to pass that Richard Stallman took charge of all this, but the result was ITS Emacs. From that, of course, came GNU Emacs and the GNU project and the whole of what we know as open source software.
Of course, RMS contributed enormously to the creation of ITS Emacs; I believe many of the core ideas that made it so practical as a shared platform were uniquely his. But it was also a platform for a community effort, and was ported to Twenex (PDP-20), and various macro packages for other editors were created to at least give a degree of editing compatibility
I still have Emacs command strokes wired into my fingers.. I have Gnu Emacs running pretty much everywhere (except my phones!).
Back around 1980, I worked with Per Hammarlund, then at the Royal Instutitue of Technology in Stockholm, to add to the Japanese/English dictionary lookup package he created, a reverse morphology capability,so it could take Japanese text, turn it back into a series of candidate root forms, and look up the possible translations. Later, after I met my wife, this became even more useful...
To me, open source has been there my entire adult life. But I hardly ever think about it that way, unless I'm thinking about whether I can use it in a product and what license is it under?
To me, it's about community and sharing and cooperation, and software is just one product. Even more valuable than the software is the vast sharing of knowledge. If I have a question about some problem -- whether it be with an error message from a piece of software, or a crazy decision by a government bureaucracy, my first step is generally to google it. I don't even consider asking it on a mailing list anymore -- because someone surely has done that.
These days, programing in Java, if it's an error message, as likely as not, my search will turn up the actual code that issued the error message.
I have never subscribed to RMS's dictum that "Software wants to be free". But I do firmly believe, "People want to share", and we're all enriched in the process.