Kids today! They have it so easy. (Waves cane.) Eric Raymond (esr) has posted a charming vignette that, among other things, illustrates how easy we have it today. The story is set in 1984 when AT&T had just announced that it was going to commercialize Unix. There was great anxiety among the small group of Unix hackers that access to the Unix source would dry up. This was before the GNU manifesto and there wasn’t really such a thing as the open source movement as we know it today.
During a Usenix/UniForum conference, a speaker from AT&T was describing the new getopt function that was intended to bring uniformity to command option processing in the Unix world. Several of the participants pressed the AT&T speaker on whether everyone would be allowed to use this new functionality and were met with evasions. At this point Henry Spencer stood up and announced he would write and share with others his own conforming version.
Esr notes that in many ways this was the start of the hacker/open source culture that we’re familiar with today. A public refusal to put up with having corporations or anyone else lock away source code. It’s easy to imagine that things have always been the way they are today. But that’s not true. As I mentioned the other day, AT&T recently released the source code for Research Unix v.8, v.9, and v.10 but, believe me, things were not always that way. Guys like Spencer and Raymond worked hard to create the world we live in today.