10 Leading Open-Source Advocates & Developers

By: Nik Garkusha, March 9, 2011

Thomas Goetz from Wired put it best when he wrote, open source is doing for mass innovation what the assembly line did for mass production. Using the distributive powers of the Internet and disseminating work out to the masses, the open source movement is about putting everyone’s heads together to create better systems.

This post will look at ten of the most powerful voices behind the open source software movement and the contributions they’ve made.

1. Linus Torvalds

Image Source: Wikia

Most Renowned Contribution: Linux Kernel

Arguably the world’s most famous computer programmer, Linus Torvalds is best known for having initiated the development of the Linux kernel. In 2010, Torvalds was included in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s 100 Most Influential Inventors of All Time.

In a nutshell: He is one of the most powerful voices in the open source community and is a firm believer that “open-source keeps people honest.” Transparency results when many people are involved in achieving one goal: better software. Everyone has a vested interest in tracking and improving processes. Needless to say, work gets done far quicker when the source code has already been done and can be incrementally improved with relatively small effort.

2. Tim O’Reilly

Image Source: Wikipedia

Most Renowned Contribution: O’Reilly Media
Tim O’Reilly is the founder of O’Reilly Media and an active supporter of the free software and open source movements.

In a nutshell: O’Reilly believes that open source software for the web also requires open standards to ensure that “dominant players still have to play nice.” The growing adoption of open source will eventually see a shift from developers thinking of their applications as endpoints and more as re-usable components.

3. Miguel de Icaza

Image Source: Jupiter-Life

Most Renowned Contribution: GNOME

Miguel de Icaza started the GNOME project in August 1997 with Federico Mena to create a completely free desktop environment and component model for GNU/Linux and other Unix-like operating systems.

In a nutshell: He has been a long time advocate of using Mono – a free software implementation of Microsoft’s .NET Framework. In early 2010 he received a Microsoft MVP Award and was also named fifth of the “Most Powerful Voices in Open Source”.

4. Dries Buytaert

Image source:Wikimedia

Most Renowned Contribution: Creator and project lead for Drupal

Dries Buytaert is the original creator and project lead of Drupal, the open source social publishing system which powers many of today’s prominent websites, including such sites as Whitehouse.gov.

In a nutshell: Buytaert believes open source fuels openness and transparency and that the more you give, the more you get back. He is co-founder and CTO of Acquia, a commercial open-source software company providing products, services, and technical support for Drupal. Dries also launched Mollom, a service that helps you identify content quality and stops website spam. He made it to the top of MindTouch’s 5 influential Open Source executives of 2009.

5. Matt Mullenweg

Image Source: Power

Most Renowned Contribution: WordPress Founding Developer

Matt Mullenweg is the founding developer of WordPress, the popular open-source blogging software. WordPress began as a “humble” open-source software project and exploded into a global operation providing the back-end programming for more than 12 million blogs worldwide. In late 2005, he founded Automattic the business behind WordPress.com and Akismet.

In a nutshell: The vast majority of the Top 100 Bloggers (as rated by Technorati.com) use WordPress. For Matt, WordPress has changed the Internet and contributed to the open source movement by creating a great user experience while still having a “successful commercial entity”. When asked in a Mashable interview how he balances commitment to open source with capitalistic ambitions he says: “I don’t balance them — they’re both out in full force. […] the more I make, the more I donate to non-profits spreading Open Source to the world.”

6. Larry Augustin

Image Source: t3n.de

Most Renowned Contribution: SugarCRM, VA Research/ angel investor and advisor to JBoss, XenSource, DeviceVM, Fonality, Hyperic, Pentaho, and SpringSource.

Larry Augustin was in the group that coined the term “Open Source” back in the late 1990s. Larry is a former venture capitalist and the co-founder and former chairman of VA Software, now known as Geeknet. While at VA, he was one of the driving forces behind the creation of SourceForge, a popular collaborative software development management system. He is currently the CEO of SugarCRM, the leading provider of Open Source Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions.

In a nutshell: In 2006, Augustin’s SugarCRM and Microsoft came together to seal an interoperability deal as part of Microsoft’s Shared Source Initiative, a program through which Microsoft shares source code with customers, partners and governments worldwide. For Larry, the software industry has matured in a significant way and will eventually “redefine the customer/vendor relationship, alter current business and distribution models, and eventually fuel cloud computing.”

7. Brian Behlendorf

Image source: Secretary of Innovation

Most Renowned Contribution: Primary Developer of Apache Web server/CollabNet Founder

Brian Behlendorf grew up with computers. His father was a COBOL programmer and Brian was already learning Basic in grade one. Years later, he would become the primary developer of the Apache Web server (the most popular web server software on the Internet). Behlendorf is also the co-founder (with Tim O’Reilly) of CollabNet, which develops tools for enabling collaborative, distributed software development.

In a nutshell: Behlendorf believes that open source can and should be used as part of a business strategy. In his essay Open Source as a Business Strategy he states that businesses built upon the model of owning software platforms “works against the interests of every other company in the industry, and against the overall rate of technological evolution.”
He advocates having a choice of service, meaning that businesses (and customers) should not only have the freedom to choose, but that choice must also be affordable. The cost of switching platforms can be significant. Behlendorf proposes minimizing switching costs by creating software that does not necessitate switching platforms.

8. Guido van Rossum

Image Source: Wikipedia

Most Renowned Contribution: Creator of Python

Guido Van Rossum, aka BDFL (Benevolent Dictator For Life: a title given to a small number of open-source software development leaders) is best known as the author of the Python programming language. He is currently employed by Google, where he spends half his time working on Python development.

In nutshell: The Python language permits several styles of programming, so that programmers aren’t forced to adopt a particular style. Python is one of the three “P-languages” and is has been adopted by many developers as part of the open source LAMP platform (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Perl/Python).

9. Angie Byron

Image Source: The Next Women

Most Renowned Contribution: Drupal 7 co-maintainer

Finally, a woman is on this list! From a Women in Open Source talk at Open Web Vancouver 2009, it was noted that a women make up only 1.5% of contributors to open source projects. Angie was awarded “Best Contributor” at the prestigious Google-O’Reilly Open Source Awards.

In a nutshell: Angie Byron, aka webchick, is Dries Buytaert Drupal 7 co-maintainer. She got her start as a Google Summer of Code student (we’ll look at the creator of that project next) in 2005 and since then, has completely immersed herself in the Drupal community. Byron is a web architect, coder and one of the visionaries behind the free web platform.

10. Leslie Hawthorn

Image Source: Johndbritton

Most Renowned Contribution: Program Manager for Google’s Open Source Programs Office

Leslie Hawthorn is a Program Manager for Google’s Open Source Programs Office and was the Community Manager for Google Summer of Code community.

In a nutshell: Summer of code was a global program that offered student developers to write code for various open source software. She also conceived, launched and managed the Google Highly Open Participation Contest, the world’s first global initiative to get pre-university students involved in all aspects of Open Source software development.

Now it’s your turn. Who are some of your open source heroes that didn’t get on this list?

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