How the utilization of open-source software, or OSS
The History of OSS in Japan

The History of OSS in Japan

This article introduces how the utilization of open-source software, or OSS, has advanced in Japan, while giving a brief overview of the history of OSS itself.

It’s very difficult to determine exactly when OSS first appeared, but in so far as its use in enterprises is concerned, the creation of Linux makes a good starting point, so we’ll start from there. 

This article introduces how the utilization of open-source software, or OSS, has advanced in Japan, while giving a brief overview of the history of OSS itself.

It’s very difficult to determine exactly when OSS first appeared, but in so far as its use in enterprises is concerned, the creation of Linux makes a good starting point, so we’ll start from there. 

It was 1991 when Linus Torvalds, a student at the University of Helsinki, released the prototype of Linux on the internet. Various others have written in detail about why he came to release Linux like this; regardless of why, Linux was published in 1991. In 1994, Torvalds published Linux 1.0; around that time, Marc Ewing announced a distributor called “Red Hat Linux,” and after that, established Red Hat, Inc., the world’s largest Linux distributor. At about the same time, the Linux distributors SUSE and Turbolinux were also established.

In 1997, Eric Raymond published his essay “the Cathedral and the Bazaar,” which is seen as having had a large impact on OSS-related activities. In this essay, he defines the Linux kernel and the method of its development as bazaar-style, and the opposite as cathedral-style. He considers the characteristics of both styles with a central discussion of the development process for his software Fetchmail, which he developed bazaar-style. The following year in 1998, influenced by this essay, Netscape Communications published the source code for its web browser Netscape Navigator. This is considered the first instance of the term “open-source software” being used. 

Around 1999, mainstream hardware vendors all demonstrated their support of Linux and began selling it as a bundle on their own servers. They also began sending their own company developers into the development community, and the shift towards use of Linux in enterprises really began to take motion. One positive result of this was Linux 2.4.0, released in 2001 with vastly improved functions and quality. After that, Linux 2.6.0, capable of use with large-scale systems, was released in 2003 and adopted by large city banks. With this, the implementation of Linux began in earnest.

In Japan in November 2003, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced the establishment of the “Japan OSS Promotion Forum,” with the goal of freely discussing the challenges presented by the implementation of OSS and working towards solutions for those challenges. One part of the Japan OSS Promotion Forum’s activities was projects for inspecting various OSS. These projects, which evaluated the Linux kernel, database, and application server, were split up between and carried out by the various companies participating in the Forum. Each project inspected not only ability and reliability, but also developed tools for solving problems should they occur. Naturally, problems discovered through the projects were reported to the development community, and the community also took measures to solve the problems. In this way, the beginning of the 2000s was a time in which mainstream IT vendors worked together to evaluate and inspect OSS in order to expand said OSS’s implementation. 

However, after that, the range of OSS use expanded, and as OSS’s position changed from simply a replacement for commercial software to one of innovative practice, the development community also underwent large changes. 

Yukio Yoshida

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