When Netscape released the source code for its Netscape Communicator web browser 20 years ago, a discussion was sparked in the developer community. A new term was being sought that could appropriately explain this stuff. A related term, “free software,” existed but its seeming focus on price confused the newcomers.
For the first time, on February 3rd, 1998 in Palo Alto, the term Open Source was coined by Christine Peterson, who was executive director at Foresight Institute.
Christine Peterson has recently shared her unpublished account of how she came up with the term and how she proposed it. “Oldtimers must then launch into an explanation, usually given as follows: “We mean free as in freedom, not free as in beer.”,” she writes in her account.
As per Peterson, after Eric Raymond’s meeting with Netscape, he took Foresight’s help to strategize and refine their message. During that meeting itself on Feb 3rd, Peterson, who believed the need for a clearer term to describe such code, came up with the term Open Source Software.
Later that week, in another meeting on February 5, 1998, with the help of Todd Anderson, she was able to gather some kind of consensus around the open source name. “These were some key leaders in the community, and they liked the new name, or at least didn’t object.”
The Open Source Initiative was formed in following days. People like Tim O’Reilly, Bruce Perens, and others played a pivotal role in popularising the term. Perens also adapted his Free Software Guidelines for Debian GNU/Linux to serve as Open Source Definition (OSD).