As a child of the 80s and 90s, I often look back fondly at the computers back then. Commodore 64s, Spectrums, Amigas, Amstrads, Ataris, Acorns, and a raft of consoles all bring back memories of what many people refer to as the golden age of computing.
When you look back to this period of computing, it is interesting to note how homebrew much of it was. Many computers were available in both kit and pre-assembled form, and their creators were often very small companies housed in a garage or equally damp-ridden hovel that kept costs down. Also mixed into the recipe was rampant, bounding, steaming, virtually pornographic incompatibility. These computers we so incompatible that they barely knew the meaning of the word compatible.
When you look back, the level of success had by these homebrew hackers was pretty astonishing. Many of these early computers went on to massive popularity, and even the more esoteric examples had strong followings that eagerly mailed off their paychecks to get a whole 3MHz of bone-crunching computing power.
The point I am making here is that there are some pretty strong parallels between this golden age of computing and what is happening to Open Source. Here we have a collection of intelligent, motivated individuals who are turned-on by cool technology and take a pure and honest approach to their inventions. This applies to both the early computer hackers and today’s free software hackers. From garages around the world, people are doing awesomely cool things and redefining the rules in a market increasingly wrapped up by single large vendors. Back then, the early computer hackers battled the big computer corps, and today the same thing is happening in the software world as free software finds its place in the industry.
Interestingly, back then…the hackers won. They did shift units, they did make money, they did get recognition. Back then the people with the knowledge in their heads were successful. I think we can learn many things from what happened then, and it just goes to show that if you put the right people in front of a problem, you can tick all the boxes and be successful.