Oldies but Goodies: Seven Projects Still Rocking Open Source

We all get excited about the latest hot open source projects like CloudStack and Boot to Gecko — they’re new and exciting and the possibilities seem endless.  But what about the many long-running projects that have been core to the world of open source for decades? The ones that have truly stood the test of time?

With Ohloh tracking the majority of the world’s projects, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight some of these projects, not because I’m suggesting that you should stop everything and focus exclusively on them, but rather, to pay homage to the road down which FOSS has traveled, and to recognize that these projects are alive and STILL active after all these years. And as some projects move or fork and fade from view, many of these projects have a continuing stream of contributions, remain very popular and widely adopted, and stay on top of the world of software development today. Lets have a look!


The oldest project on Ohloh is BRL-CAD. The history of this project dates back to 1979 when the U.S. Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL) needed CAD tools to help with simulations for combat vehicle systems. The BRL-CAD source code repository is believed to be the oldest public, version-controlled code base in the world that’s still under active development, dating back to Dec 16, 1983. With 1m+ lines of primarily C code, and 48.5k commits, this project continues to be active 30 years later

X Window System

The X Window System originated at MIT in 1984. X11 (still the current version) dates from the late 1980s, and has remained active through today as one of the core technologies of Unix and Linux. With 54.7k commits and over 2.2m lines of code, this project is primarily written in C. The project has had 239 commits in the past 30 days from 29 different contributors, and is now developed under the auspices of the X.Org Foundation.

GNU Compiler

Next up is the GNU Compiler Collection, better known as gcc, which started in the mid-1980s, and today has ~6.2m lines of code. In the past 30 days, gcc has seen 572 commits from 82 contributors, making this project the leader of the pack in contributors from our list of oldies but goodies.


It’s no surprise to see GNU EMACS next on the list, with >2.5m LOC, mostly written in LISP, some C, and almost 500 contributors over time. There have been 407 commits in the past 30 days from 39 contributors. When he started it back in the 1980s, this project was one of Richard Stallman’s inspirations for the GPL, and copyleft licenses as a driver of the Free Software movement. I wonder if he ever imagined that he was starting a project that would live on for over 30 years and continue to attract this much participation!

GNU C Library

And of course the GNU C library rounds out our GNU trifecta.  Starting in 1989 and written mostly by Roland McGrath, V1 hit in 1992, with 5 years until the next major version. With 1.3m LOC, >29k commits since the start, and a whopping 102 commits in the past 30 days, glibc takes the top spot for the most active project for the past 30 days.


I can remember the first Perl script I ever wrote back in 1993. Originally developed by Larry Wall in 1987, Perl now has over 4.5 million LOC, over 228k commits, and remains a mainstay scripting language for the Unix and web world. I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find a developer in the world today who hasn’t written something using Perl.


I was surprised to learn how old Python is. Conceived in the late 1980s by Guido van Rossum, the first implementation of this language was created in 1989. And today, as we look at our Ohloh stats, we see that Python is the fastest growing language in the open source world as measured by number of contributors. On the project itself, starting in August of 1989, 194 contributors have written over 866k LOC in about 79k commits, written mostly in Python, of course! While Python stacks up at behind C, C++, Java, and JavaScript, this language is growing faster than any of the others!

While these seven projects are important parts of open source history (and present!), there are many more that likely deserve to be recognized here. What other projects did I miss? Drop in a comment and let us know!

This blog was originally published on Open Source Delivers.

About Dave Gruber

I'm the Director of Developer Programs at Black Duck.