Open Source, Open World

Where Free Software Came From -- And Where It's Going

Ivan Plata / Flickr

In the first week of July, 7,000 people gathered in Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, for the annual meeting of the International Free Software Forum. Every year since 2000, the forum has met to discuss what is commonly known as open source software -- software that individuals can use, change, and redistribute -- and is called “free software” by many of its true believers. The forum, one of the world’s largest, takes place thousands of miles away from the place where the free-software movement originally started, at American universities such as MIT and Berkeley. And that is no accident. Although the production of free software remains largely centered in the United States, it could end up having greater economic and political consequences for places like Brazil.


From the earliest days of computing in the 1950s and 1960s, technology firms recognized the economic value of computer hardware. They sold

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