Raise your hand if you’ve ever downloaded software by recording a series of tones onto a tape while they were playing on a radio station.
Patrick Debois did – in the 1980s as a budding computer enthusiast. He reminded that Europe does not have an electronic exchange network BBS that existed in the United States. These radio broadcasts were a way of spreading software, although they were often thwarted “when your mother came into the room and said something and messed up the recording”.
Temporarily put off, Patrick continued to pursue his passion for computers, but missed a community. It found a community when Linux entered the scene. He talks about the value of the Linux community: “The fact that there was a sharing community, and the Linux community of tools that I was able to use just as a student. I know open source is not free. But it was extremely helpful for me as a student back then to be able to try new things, learn new things, dissect new things about open source.
In 1994, as a student at Ghent University, he created a website where anyone could add URLs to help users explore the Internet. It was around the same time as Yahoo! started indexing the internet manually. His website was running on an old Spark machine, and he was intrigued by using a machine that ran on a shared source. He then took his first job out of college, managing a web server, firewall, and other new technologies.
Patrick later worked for the government, where he and his team managed the first mail server, first DNS service, etc. on three AutoCAD stations. He had to buy proprietary software from vendors, but was frustrated because if something didn’t work, he had to wait for the vendor to provide updates. He often wished he could try to fix it himself and then share what he had done. Sound familiar?
Patrick said: “If people are yelling at you that’s true and your only excuse is we ask the seller and it’s going to be like a week or a month, that’s no excuse. And in such moments you feel helpless. So we started going the other way by mixing the two together? Sometimes you can get good support from vendors. It’s neither nor. Open source by itself is also no guarantee that you will have good support or that it will be easy to write. But if there is a supporting community and it’s open source, then you feel like a good citizen and a member who can contribute your fixes and solutions.
Open source by itself is also no guarantee that you will have good support or that it will be easy to write. But if there is a supporting community and it’s open source, then you feel like a good citizen and a member who can contribute your fixes and solutions.
Fast forward to the year 2000 and open source is beginning to gain popularity and broader acceptance. The Open Source Development Labs have partnered with the Free Standards Group to standardize Linux. The project morphed into the Linux Foundation in January 2007 when it was granted non-profit status, funded and sponsored by a consortium of major technology vendors.
Patrick initially doubted this would work, concerned that a company might put its interests ahead of those of the consortium when it came to projects that met construction standards. “I’ll be honest, I have my doubts in a way that I’ve probably seen too much of the discussion about open standards or RFCs or whatever written in certain directions that some companies wanted in these kinds of situations. But I also liked that there is a governance now and there are discussions and it doesn’t belong to any party. Therefore, I see the Linux Foundation more as a mediator in discussions between these companies. But I like that they remain neutral and don’t comment on whether we should do something, yes or no. . . I think we are all sufficiently aware when we come to the Foundation that there is a balance between several viewpoints on this issue.
One of Patrick’s favorite Linux Foundation projects is signature store, a new standard for signing, verifying, and protecting software. The project has 465 members from more than 20 companies. He also has it in mind LF AI & Data Foundationparticularly on the data side, because “You can easily share your source, but it’s the data that makes it interesting.”
There is so much more to Patrick’s story, including being is credited with coining the term DevOps. The good news is that his story is featured in an episode of the Linux Foundation’s Untold Stories of Open Source podcast. Check whole episode and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.
Do you have any suggestions for future episodes or any other comments, questions, etc.? Visit the the podcast’s GitHub page.