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Phases of the Campaign

The open-source campaign began with the Mountain View meeting, and rapidly collected an informal network of allies over the Internet (including key people at Netscape and O'Reilly & Associates). Where I write ''we`` below I'm referring to that network.

From February 3 to around the time of the actual Netscape release on March 31, our primary concern was convincing the hacker community ''open source`` label and the arguments that went with it represented our best shot at persuading the mainstream. As it turned out, the change was rather easier than we expected. We discovered a lot of pent-up demand for a message less doctrinaire than the Free Software Foundation's.

When the twenty-odd community leaders at the Free Software Summit on March 7 voted to adopt the term ''open source,`` they formally ratified a trend that was already clear at the grass roots among developers. By six weeks after the Mountain View meeting, a healthy majority of the community was speaking our language.

In April after the Summit and the actual Netscape release, our main concern shifted to recruiting as many open-source early adopters as possible. The goal was to make Netscape's move look less singular -- and to buy us insurance in case Netscape executed poorly and failed its goals.

This was the most worrying time. On the surface, everything seemed to be coming up roses; Linux was moving technically from strength to strength, the wider open-source phenomenon was enjoying a spectacular explosion in trade press coverage, and we were even beginning to get positive coverage in the mainstream press. Nevertheless, I was uneasily aware that our success was still fragile. After an initial flurry of contributions, community participation in Mozilla was badly slowed down by its requirement of Motif. None of the big independent software vendors had yet committed to Linux ports. Netscape was still looking lonely, and its browser still losing market share to Internet Explorer. Any serious reverse could lead to a nasty backlash in the press and public opinion.

Our first serious post-Netscape breakthrough came on May 7 when Corel Computer announced its Linux-based Netwinder network computer. But that wasn't enough in itself; to sustain the momentum, we needed commitments not from hungry second-stringers but from industry leaders. Thus, it was the mid-July announcements by Oracle and Informix that really closed out this vulnerable phase.

The database outfits joined the Linux party three months earlier than I expected, but none too soon. We had been wondering how long the positive buzz could last without major Independent Software Vendor (ISV) support and feeling increasingly nervous about where we'd actually find that. After Oracle and Informix announced Linux ports other ISVs began announcing Linux support almost as a matter of routine, and even a failure of Mozilla became survivable.

Mid-July through the beginning of November was a consolidation phase. It was during this time that we started to see fairly steady coverage from the elite media I had originally targeted, led off by articles in The Economist and a cover story in Forbes. Various hardware and software vendors sent out feelers to the open-source community and began to work out strategies for getting an advantage from the new model. And internally, the biggest closed-source vendor of them all was beginning to get seriously worried.

Just how worried became apparent when the now-infamous ''Halloween Documents`` leaked out of Microsoft.

The Halloween Documents were dynamite. They were a ringing testimonial to the strengths of open-source development from the company with the most to lose from Linux's success. And they confirmed a lot of peoples' darkest suspicions about the tactics Microsoft would consider in order to stop it.

The Halloween Documents attracted massive press coverage in the first few weeks of November. They created a new surge of interest in the open-source phenomenon, serendipitously confirming all the points we had been making for months. And they led directly to a request for me to conference with a select group of Merrill Lynch's major investors on the state of the software industry and the prospects for open source.

Wall Street, finally, came to us.

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Next: The Facts on the Up: The Revenge of the Previous: The Accidental Revolutionary

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Last updated: 1999-08-06