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Xanadu project lifts open source kimono

Web ancestor meets WWW

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Ted Nelson's legendary Xanadu project - the fabled hypertext precursor to the World Wide Web - went open source a couple of years ago, and yesterday the project's curators made the web site public. Even though you might find it hard to justify the time to the pointy-haired boss, it's well worth the excursion.

Nelson embarked on the project in 1960, drawing on the ideas of Vannevar Bush, with the vision of tying disparate people and spaces into a huge distributed database. Or, er... not. It didn't quite start out like that, and by the 1980s (Xanadu could be described as a 30-year vaporware exercise which was constantly evolving) it had been honed down to a set of business rules.

But the epigrammatic and ever quotable founder - surely the geek world's Captain Beefheart - managed to maintain his place in the visionary pantheon with a succession of sponsors. At one stage Xanadu was owned by Autodesk. And oh, irony of ironies, Microsoft Press published the Xanadu book. Nelson supplied an unceasing supply of bon mots of which a couple of our favourites are:

"In 1974, computers were oppressive devices in far-off air-conditioned places. Now you can be oppressed in your own living room."

And later, when faced with the WWW itself, Nelson replied "Trying to fix HTML is like trying to graft arms and legs onto hamburger..."

To avoid confusion, the open source Xanadu work is "Udanax Green" and "Udanax Gold". You can find it here. Sounds of unicorns optional. ®

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