Monday, October 2, 2023

Forty Years of GNU and the Free Software Movement

Free Software Foundation (via Hacker News):

On September 27, 1983, a computer scientist named Richard Stallman announced the plan to develop a free software Unix-like operating system called GNU, for “GNU’s not Unix.” GNU is the only operating system developed specifically for the sake of users’ freedom, and has remained true to its founding ideals for forty years. Since 1983, the GNU Project has provided a full, ethical replacement for proprietary operating systems. This is thanks to the forty years of tireless work from volunteer GNU developers around the world.


Usually combined with the kernel Linux, GNU forms the backbone of the Internet and powers millions of servers, desktops, and embedded computing devices. Aside from its technical advancements, GNU pioneered the concept of “copyleft,” the approach to software licensing that requires the same rights to be preserved in derivative works, and is best exemplified by the GNU General Public License (GPL).

As they note, “While software has become deeply ingrained into everyday life, the vast majority of users do not have full control over it.” Open-source software is more widely used than ever, yet as a user it seems like things are more locked down than ever.

Alas, Stallman recently announced that he has cancer.


Update (2023-10-09): Christine Hall (via Hacker News):

Officially billed as a “hacker meeting,” Biel’s GNU community pretty much pulled out all of the stops for a relatively small one-day event. The speakers’ roster included the likes of Nextcloud co-founder Björn Schießle who talked about “The Next 40 years of Free Software”; Matthias Kirschner, president of FSFE who opened the day with “The FSFE’s Work: An Overview for Free Software Hackers”; and Swiss Parliament member Jörg Mäder, who was on hand to talk about GNU Taler, GNU’s privacy-aware online payment system.

In all, the day was filled with 14 presentations if you include Stallman’s middle of the day keynote.


Stallman talked about Red Hat’s support contracts, which forbid customers from distributing Red Hat’s open-source software. He said the practice might not violate the GPL (“I don’t have a conclusive answer to that”), but that its approach is “antisocial.”


“Children sometimes can get interested in free software,” he said as an answer to his own question. “I’m afraid that there is a problem that happens once the calamity of peer pressure sets in. I was safe from peer pressure. I was completely out of popularity. I gave up on trying to be popular. I just said it’s a waste of time for me to do anything trying to be popular so I won’t bother, and so I was safe. And there are some others who are safe. Maybe we can find them and interest them in free software[…]”

6 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

stallman does not belong in any public community. if the fsf are determined to keep him for as long as they can, it is good that that time is shorter.

@Anonymous Coward So you won't be glad he's dead, but you'll be glad he's gone, right?

The antithesis of foaming Apple partizans and Free Software zealots just makes me sad. Both Free Software and Apple have mutually benefited from each other, and for myself the case for Apple would have been non-existent without GNU and Free Software projects. Apple's (and their foaming supporters') refusal to get with the Program, as even Microsoft have, just makes it (and them) a less attractive proposition for a whole class of users whom they once openly courted. Sad.

@Anonymous Wow. Did Stallman punch your mother or something?

Stationary Feast

@Sebby: I can see how Apple might have benefitted from the Free Software camp, as they were able to ship GPLed things for a while, but how has the Free Software (as distinct from the Open Source) camp benefitted from the NeXTStep-based Apple? As far as I can tell, the presence of a good-enough nonfree UNIX-alike has sapped developer energy that could have gone into FSF-approved projects like the GNU Compiler Collection instead of alternate projects like clang that treats GCC as damage and routes around it.

@Doodpants, @Sebby: I assume our good friend @Anonymous read Selam Jie Gano's attack on RMS and believed every word she wrote, while failing to note that RMS said Giuffre probably "presented herself as entirely willing" (emphasis added here, and entirely ignored in her Medium post even though she quoted him accurately in her own post). If I believed Gano's complete misrepresentations of what RMS said, I'd dislike RMS too!

@Stationary Feast I guess, but where is this alternative? If doing "ordinary" computing is still more attractive on macOS and now, thanks to WSL, even Doze, surely that means we still need a coherent alternative that you can actually run useful software on and with an idiot-proof UI that you could plausibly buy shrink-wrapped for your computer? Otherwise we're basically setting up to be this weird minority that nobody cares about because we do everything we need at the CLI. Not that I'd mind that either, but nobody will sell me a computer to do that--I have to choose hardware that's the least sucky for the purpose.

I think RMS does err sometimes and I certainly don't always agree with his libertarian opinions including those that pertain to Free Software, but I also think the reaction to that blog post was disproportionately unfavourable to his probable intentions. We also know that some of the testimony itself is suspect. Just a very sad episode really.

@stationary Feast

Stallman has been a problem that should have been jettisoned by the FSF a long time ago.

I will admit to being more than a little biased against Stallman, but that’s that only because I’ve met him and spoken directly with him on several occasions.

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