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By the time of the Mozilla release in 1998, the hacker community could best be analyzed as a loose collection of factions or tribes that included Richard Stallman's Free Software Movement, the Linux community, the Perl community, the Apache community, the BSD community, the X developers, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and at least a dozen others. These factions overlap, and an individual developer would be quite likely to be affiliated with two or more.
A tribe might be grouped around a particular codebase that they maintain, or around one or more charismatic influence leaders, or around a language or development tool, or around a particular software license, or around a technical standard, or around a caretaker organization for some part of the infrastructure. Prestige tends to correlate with longevity and historical contribution as well as more obvious drivers like current market-share and mind-share; thus, perhaps the most universally respected of the tribes is the IETF, which can claim continuity back to the beginnings of the ARPANET in 1969. The BSD community, with continuous traditions back to the late 1970s, commands considerable prestige despite having a much lower installation count than Linux. Stallman's Free Software Movement, dating back to the early 1980s, ranks among the senior tribes both on historical contribution and as the maintainer of several of the software tools in heaviest day-to-day use.
After 1995 Linux acquired a special role as both the unifying platform for most of the community's other software and the hackers' most publicly recognizable brand name. The Linux community showed a corresponding tendency to absorb other sub-tribes — and, for that matter, to co-opt and absorb the hacker factions associated with proprietary Unixes. The hacker culture as a whole began to draw together around a common mission: push Linux and the bazaar development model as far as it could go.
Because the post-1980 hacker culture had become so deeply rooted in Unix, the new mission was implicitly a brief for the triumph of the Unix tradition. Many of the hacker community's senior leaders were also Unix old-timers, still bearing scars from the post-divestiture civil wars of the 1980s and getting behind Linux as the last, best hope to fulfill the rebel dreams of the early Unix days.
The Mozilla release helped further concentrate opinions. In March of 1998 an unprecedented summit meeting of community influence leaders representing almost all of the major tribes convened to consider common goals and tactics. That meeting adopted a new label for the common development method of all the factions: open source.
Within six months almost all the tribes in the hacker community would accept “open source” as its new banner. Older groups like IETF and the BSD developers would begin to apply it retrospectively to what they had been doing all along. In fact, by 2000 the rhetoric of open source would not just unify the hacker culture's present practice and plans for the future, but re-color its view of its own past.
The galvanizing effect of the Netscape announcement, and of the new prominence of Linux, reached well beyond the Unix community and the hacker culture. Beginning in 1995, developers from various platforms in the path of Microsoft's Windows juggernaut (MacOS; Amiga; OS/2; DOS; CP/M; the weaker proprietary Unixes; various mainframe, minicomputer, and obsolete microcomputer operating systems) had banded together around Sun Microsystems's Java language. Many disgruntled Windows developers joined them in hopes of maintaining at least some nominal independence from Microsoft. But Sun's handling of Java was (as we discuss in Chapter═14) clumsy and alienating on several levels. Many Java developers liked what they saw in the nascent open-source movement, and followed Netscape's lead into Linux and open source just as they had previously followed Netscape into Java.
Open-source activists welcomed the surge of immigrants from everywhere. The old Unix hands began to share the new immigrants' dreams of not merely passively out-enduring the Microsoft monopoly, but actually reclaiming key markets from it. The open-source community as a whole prepared a major push for mainstream respectability, and began to welcome alliances with major corporations that increasingly feared losing control of their own businesses as Microsoft's lock-in tactics grew ever bolder.
There was one exception: Richard Stallman and the Free Software Movement. “Open source” was explicitly intended to replace Stallman's preferred “free software” with a public label that was ideologically neutral, acceptable both to historically opposed groups like the BSD hackers and those who did not wish to take a position in the GPL/anti-GPL debate. Stallman flirted with adopting the term, then rejected it on the grounds that it failed to represent the moral position that was central to his thinking. The Free Software Movement has since insisted on its separateness from “open source”, creating perhaps the most significant political fissure in the hacker culture of 2003.
The other (and more important) intention behind “open source” was to present the hacker community's methods to the rest of the world (especially the business mainstream) in a more market-friendly, less confrontational way. In this role, fortunately, it proved an unqualified success — and led to a revival of interest in the Unix tradition from which it sprang.