Open source computing started with the bicycle

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst used his company’s Boston user summit this June to explain the core concept behind open source innovation and Computer Weekly reported on the former Delta Airlines chief’s comments at that time.

Whitehurst reminded us that it was only 100 years between the invention of the ‘autolathe’ machine to manufacture “standard components parts” in physical engineering such as the standard screw and, then, subsequently, the invention of the combustion engine and the jet plane.

Standard component parts in the form of nuts, bolts and screws opened the door to innovation in this case.

Open computing standards equally open the door to software and hardware innovation in the field of information technology.

But we can take this concept back even further than the industrial revolution.

A new video to explain this suggestion has been hosted on OSS Watch, an advisory service for issues relating to free and open source software in the Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE) sectors.

Open source and the bicycle

The first iteration of the bicycle dates back to 1817 and the invention of the Laufmaschine (German for “running machine”) or Draisine (English).


This all wood construction basic “bike without pedals” was later to be innovated upon (in an open source fashion) all the way through to it becoming the bicycle as we know it.

The OSS Watch video below suggests that this great invention was taken up by lots of individuals… who all saw the potential in the device — and so the innovation curve was started.

Over the next 200 years we added brakes, pedals etc. and we’ve never looked back.

This collaboration is what the open source model of open contribution is all about i.e. it’s a level playing field fuelled by community input.