The greatest open source software of all time

InfoWorld's Open Source Hall of Fame recognizes the 36 most useful and important free open source software projects in history (and today)

Every year InfoWorld painstakingly selects its Bossie Award winners -- the best open source software for business -- and every year we have shamefully neglected the very cream of the open source crop. While we've awarded the Dojos, Xens, and SugarCRMs, we've ignored Linux, GNU, and the *BSDs -- because, well, don't their excellence and importance go without saying? In other cases, where open source giants did receive our award (Snort and Wireshark come to mind), a "mere" Bossie almost seems like faint praise.

This year we strive to make amends. In advance of our 2009 Bossies (check on Monday, August 31), we finally give the true legends of open source their just and overdue due. No longer will we neglect the superlative and truly essential for the sake of the merely excellent and highly valuable. In recognition of the greatest open source software projects of all time, we bring to you the InfoWorld Open Source Hall of Fame.

[ Which of these legendary open source solutions are the very greatest of all? See InfoWorld's companion slideshow, "Top 10 Open Source Hall of Famers." ]

The 36 inaugural members of our hallowed hall of course include many familiar names and famous successes, as well as others that often slip under the radar or are taken too much for granted. All are mature and well-established projects that have served as the foundations of software development projects, business networks, datacenters, and the public Internet for years. They are the proven and trustworthy longtime favorites that have propelled the open source movement into the spotlight.

Led by LinuxThe Linux kernel was not the first open source software (some argue that GNU Emacs was), but it is certainly the most famous and successful -- the prime mover behind the popularization of open source development and the use of free open source products. Today the Linux kernel is the foundation of a rich variety of operating system distributions, the poster penguin of open source software, and the number one inductee into our open source hall of fame.

If the Linux kernel is the star of the Linux scene, the underappreciated redheaded stepchild of the Linux family is the collection of GNU tools and utilities that transform the Linux kernel into a full operating system. From code that manipulates the contents of a hard drive to utilities essential for server automation, the GNU commands and utilities are as necessary for the Linux operating system as the Linux kernel itself.

No less essential are the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) and the rest of the GNU toolchain. A common set of compilers available on most Linux and *BSD systems under the GPL, the GCC supports quite a few languages including C, C++, Java, Objective-C, and even Fortran. With the Linux kernel and the GNU system utilities, the GCC completes the Linux holy trinity.

Because most Unix-like systems and the programs that run on them are managed from the command line via text files, we would be remiss to exclude the all important Emacs and Vi text editors. Few subjects in the open source community stir up quick tempers and strong opinions as reliably as the age-old Emacs versus Vi debate. Both of these highly configurable text editors boast large populations of loyal users. Regardless of your preference or ours, both have earned hall of famer status.

A few special Linux distributions have earned a place in our hall. Topping the list is CentOS, a free enterprise-class operating system derived from Red Hat and that maintains full binary compatibility with Red Hat. In a nutshell, you get a free, unadulterated edition of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, without the cost of a Red Hat support contract.

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