Once upon a time, there was a United States of America when the internet was free.
Of course, it didn’t do much back then. There weren’t very many apps and not very many people had uploaded information to create online database — which today amounts to hordes of information.
We can thank the genius and foresight of Finnish student Linus Torvalds for envisioning an open source operating system for all computers everywhere in the world. Open source software has authors (developers) who publish not only a nifty application but also the code driving it behind the scenes.
Torvalds is the author of the Linux kernel, the core of the open-source computer operating system (its engine, if you will, which drives all the overlying apps).
Linux made its world debut in 1991 when it consisted of a few C files (C was a popular and easy-to-learn open source programming language and the precursor of C+, C+++ and C#) and a license prohibiting commercial distribution. As of 2018, Linux O/S (operating system) version 4.15 counts 23.3 million lines of source code.
One big advantage of open source code is that when it breaks or becomes exploited (hacked), the entire international open source software developer community – which now numbers in the millions – communicate the vulnerability in the code to each other and instantly, keen minds set about plugging the hole.
Historically, even in the late 1990s, email hacks on open source software platforms lasted only 6-12 hours, thanks to international cooperation in solving a communal problem.
Another huge advantage that Linux had over the fledgling Microsoft O/S called Windows was that it kept on working. Bill Gates’ products were all proprietary rather than open source – and still are. Microsoft holds all the patents and the legal rights to distribution. That’s why Bill Gates is one of the richest men in the world.
Only Microsoft (MS) developers can touch (rewrite) the code underlying Windows and each and every MS application past, present, and future. When Microsoft code broke, the world waited until the future software giant would release a highly-anticipated “patch” – that’s that they are still called today – basically, a bandaid written in code that fixes the bad code.
From the very first edition of Windows 1.01 released on November 20, 1985 – itself a flagrant rip-off of the then-dominant MacIntosh operating system – users were sometimes, and always unexpectedly, presented with the Blue Screen of Death, courtesy Uncle Bill and those crazy, slide-riding geeks up in Redmond, Washington, happily employed at the Microsoft Fun Factory.
The Blue Screen of Death was so-named because it was a productivity killer and merciless, unemotional, arbitrary slayer: whatever apps the user had been working on were closed without warning or ceremony, unsaved, with all work since the previous save lost. (There was no auto-save in those days, either, children.)
The Blue Screen of Death featured unhelpful text that told the user what they already knew – the system had frozen – but never gave any help on how to fix it. The solution was passed by word of mouth on tech support user groups and forums: use CTRL-ALT-DEL to force your MS O/S to reboot and “do over.”
With all the time and data lost to buggy (broken code) Windows seizures, it’s a wonder Microsoft achieved its position of global software dominance. Just goes to show what a partnership with IBM will do for you, evidently.
Linux came along six years after Windows launched. The open-source O/S was a far superior operating system to anything Microsoft could ever dream about. Linux, like its parent Unix, has a simple file architecture: rather than treat files and folders as two different things (as Microsoft sytems do), let the system treat them as equivalent. This may not sound impressive, but this one design decision cascades throughout Linux, translating as simplicity and elegance at every programming loop and turn within the source code.
It didn’t take long for the U.S. federal government to get hip to the superior reliability and straight-forwardness of Linux. In July 2001, the White House technical staff started switching their web servers to an operating system based on Red Hat Linux. The system went live in February 2009.
“The United States Department of Defense uses Linux – ‘the U.S. Army is the single largest installed base for Red Hat Linux’ and the US Navy nuclear submarine fleet runs on Linux, including their sonar systems,” according to Wikipedia,
Back when Linux was young, its creator, Torvalds, used to joke that his future goal for his successful project was “world domination.” But, as Microsoft products gained enormous global support (despite their glaring deficiencies), and as they became incorporated into tools of the modern surveillance state (thanks to Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, notably), Torvalds said in a recent interview:
“I stopped doing the ‘world domination’ joke long ago, because it seemed to become less of a joke as time went on. But it always was a joke, and it wasn’t why I (or any of the other developers) really did what we did anyway. It was always about just making better technology and having interesting challenges.”
In those days, programmers and early internet users reveled in the free exchange of ideas with anyone else who had a baud modem and a dialup connection to the infantile World Wide Web. Free speech would educate and liberate the world.
Internet developers shared a camaraderie as cyber-pioneers. There was just no way any world government or corporation was powerful enough or smart enough to hijack the World Wide Web.
Over time, however, we have watched the global surveillance state race ahead by pushing collusional proprietary software platforms and services.
Father of Open Source Torvalds takes a dim view of all appropriation:
“I absolutely detest modern ‘social media’ — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. It’s a disease. It seems to encourage bad behavior.”
What Torvalds means is that “On the internet, nobody can hear you being subtle” and users online devolve into combative, anonymous alter egos:
“When you’re not talking to somebody face to face, and you miss all the normal social cues, it’s easy to miss humor and sarcasm, but it’s also very easy to overlook the reaction of the recipient, so you get things like flame wars, etc., that might not happen as easily with face-to-face interaction,” Torvalds explained.
This phenomenon is basically what happens when drivers get behind the wheel. Anonymous and shielded by their vehicle, people will do the rudest things that they would never do pushing a cart at the grocery store, in plain view.
With one 2018 study showing that 34% of GenZers are closing their social media accounts, Torvalds and the open source community may not have to hate the Big Tech companies who hide their deepest, darkest, internal code secrets behind proprietary software.