When I first started hacking on what I knew to be called “free and open source software,” I had never met another “hacker” in real life. It felt like a very niche, almost insignificant community until my first FOSDEM in 2006, where for the first time I saw hundreds of free and open source hackers scurrying about. It may have been a niche community existing primarily on IRC and mailing lists, but I finally had proof that there were actual people involved in the endeavor.
Fast forward a decade, where software has taken a much larger role in the lives of the average person, and every now and again I find myself surprised to see “the stuff we make” in “the real world.”
On my flight to this year’s FOSDEM, I discovered that the in-flight wifi system on the Boeing 787 utilizes squid (3.4.6). The in-flight mapping software makes use of OpenStreetMap. There was no doubt all manners of Linux and other free and open source technologies wiggling around inside, arguably, one of the most advanced commercial aircraft on the planet.
After disembarking, passing through customs in Amsterdam, I had the following conversation with the customs officer:
Officer: What are you going to Brussels for?
Me: There’s a big conference there.
Officer: What is the conference about?
Me: Uh, open source software.
Officer: Huh.. Linux and shit?
I didn’t have the time to clarify that technically Linux is free software because of the GPL license under which it is distributed, and that the merits of free versus open source software are a hotly debated topic, and also that technically the conference provides equal footing to both free and open source projects. Instead I smiled, thanked the customs officer for his friendly stamping of my passport, and continued on my way.
Free and open source software is now so pervasive and valuable to our modern way of life, that it finds its way into the most interesting places, including our culture.