Stallman discusses Free Software and GPLv3

On June 29, 2007 the Free Software Foundation released the GNU General Public License, version 3.

What happened since then?

I had the opportunity to discuss many subjects with FSF's founder and president Richard Stallman.


First of all, could you remind us of what free software means?

Richard Stallman: Free software means software that respects the user's freedom. (Think of "free speech", not "free beer".) Specifically, it means you have the four essential freedoms: (1) to run the program as you wish, (2) to study the source code, and change it to make the program do what you wish, (3) to redistribute exact copies, and (4) to distribute copies of your modified versions.

With these four freedoms, the users control the software, both individually and collectively, so it is free software. Otherwise, the program is proprietary software, which means it operates as an instrument to give the developer power over the users.

The basic idea of the free software movement is that nobody should have such power over anyone else. Users deserve freedom, so software should be free. Thus, proprietary software is something worse than an inconvenience. Proprietary software is a social problem, and our aim is to put an end to it. Free software is sometimes more powerful and reliable, but what concerns us most is that it is a more ethical way to distribute software.

Nearly two years has passed since the release of GPLv3. What events impressed you positively, and what negatively?

Richard Stallman: I am disappointed that Linux has not moved to GPLv3, since that means the added protections for users' freedom do not apply to this important component of the GNU/Linux system. I was also somewhat alarmed to discover that Microsoft has procured the continued use of GPLv2 by certain projects by giving them money.

Nonetheless, GPLv3 is used by many free software projects, and has even convinced some developers to liberate previously proprietary software packages. Overall, I think it is accomplishing its mission.

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What's the relationship between GNU and Linux?

Richard Stallman: GNU is a Unix-like operating system whose development I started in 1984. GNU is not quite complete: the kernel of GNU has never worked very well. So we mostly use GNU with a different kernel, which is Linux. Linus Torvalds released the first version of Linux in 1991, and made it free software in 1992. The GNU/Linux system started out in 1992 as GNU with Linux added. Since then, many other programs have been added, but GNU is still the largest contribution.

Linux was free software in the 90s, but no longer. Several years ago Torvalds began installing non-free firmware programs disguised as "source code" in the source files of Linux drivers. These programs take the form of long tables of numbers, which are actually a binary program; the source code for these programs is not released. Although these "blobs" follow the syntax of C, they are not the real source code of the program, and thus not free software. Many of them also carry explicit non-free licenses.

We now maintain a free version of Linux called Linux Libre, in which we have removed the firmware blobs. Free GNU/Linux distributions use this version instead of Torvalds' version.

More recently we found out that other Linux drivers require separately-distributed non-free firmware programs. In these cases, the driver can be called free in a literal sense, but since it won't run in a free platform, it is just as useless in the free world. Future versions of Linux Libre will also be disconnected from the separately distributed firmware blobs.

What is the problem with binary-only drivers?

Richard Stallman: They are not free software! Freedom number 1, the freedom to study and change the source code to make the program do what you wish, is missing. With this freedom, you control the program. If you don't have that freedom, the program controls you.

(Note that binary-only drivers and binary-only firmware are not the same thing. The driver runs on the CPU to talk to the I/O device; the firmware is loaded by the driver into the I/O device itself. But these two issues involve similar problems.)

How can we help solving this problem?

Richard Stallman: If you are not a wizard, what you can do is refuse to buy products that require non-free software to work. Make those manufacturers feel the pressure!

The Hardware Resource pages on fsf.org give information about which products really work with free software, in certain categories.

Is there any limit that shouldn't be trespassed to-write/when-writing free drivers? For example, is signing an NDA covering the hardware specs acceptable from your point of view?

Richard Stallman: I think it is wrong to sign an NDA covering generally useful technical information. However, if by signing an NDA for the interface specs of a device you can release a free driver for that device, I think that particular end justifies the particular means. This is because releasing the free software to support the device (supposing the NDA enables you to do this) largely eliminates the harm done by the secrecy over the specs.

Does the GPLv3 include any clause about (free) drivers?

Richard Stallman: No, because there is no need. GPL version 3 forbids non-free add-ons, and so does GPL version 2. Torvalds decided to tolerate them rather than enforce GPL version 2 against them.

What are the major updates included in GPL3?

Richard Stallman: The purpose of the GNU GPL is to ensure that all copies of all versions of the program are free software. The changes in version 3 are designed to do this job better. That's all they have in common; the rest is all details. For a description of the most important changes, see "Why Upgrade to GPLv3".

I remember that you defined software patent system as "harmful and unjust". Is there any other active law in US that limits software freedom from your point of view? DMCA?

Richard Stallman: The DMCA is the other one. It censors free software that can access encrypted media such as (for example) DVDs.

As far as I know these two laws are present only in the USA, except software patents that are valid in Japan too. So I am wondering if you have ever considered to leave your country...

Richard Stallman: Unfortunately there are many countries that have laws similar to the DMCA. All of the European Union countries do, and the US has imposed similar laws on several countries through its Low Wage Treaties. In France, even to possess a copy of this sort of free software can be punished with imprisonment.

Canada's government has persistently trief to impose similar unjust restrictions; Canadians should take action now.

Software patents are also found in other countries, and the European Patent Office issues them -- in defiance of the treaty which set it up. If you want to help fight against software patents in Europe, visit FFII (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure) and participate in their activities. We have beaten back three attempts to give legal validity to the EPO's software patents, but they will surely try again.

If I think at the major proprietary OSes (Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS X, Sun Solaris, IBM AIX, HP-UX, etc) I see that they are developed by corporations in USA. Maybe they are all US-based because of some laws, such as software patent laws, that provide them advantages...

If there are laws in the US that encourage the development of proprietary operating systems, we should consider changing them. Proprietary software is a social problem: it denies users the freedoms they deserve and sets up a system of unjust power. Our laws should ought to discourage this.

But software patents were not responsible for the success of those operating systems. Software patents did not start in the US until 1982, and did not have a substantial effect until around 1990, long after those companies were established, and most of those systems too.

The idea that software patents benefit software developers is a misunderstanding of the patent system. What software patents do is threaten software developers with lawsuits. An operating system implements tens of thousands of ideas in combination. In a country that allows software patents, many of those ideas will be patented, and the system's developer is likely to be sued.

Here is what Bill Gates said in 1991, in a leaked internal memo, about how software patents would have affected Microsoft's chances of getting started:

Gates, 1991: "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete stand-still today. The solution [...] is patenting as much as we can [...]."
(Two other sentences were formerly included in this quotation, but Richard Stallman asked for them to be removed on learning that they did not really come from Gates.  Stallman regrets the error.)

This quote also shows Gates' lack of morality: he calls on Microsoft to do unto others what he's glad nobody did unto Microsoft.

I have seen both Microsoft and Sun attacked by patent-wielding vandals, but I did not cheer to see a proprietary software developer threatened, because I knew that any developer could be the next victim. These proprietary programs are unethical, since they don't respect the users' freedom, but that doesn't make it a good thing when they are attacked with software patents.

How do you explain that all these initiatives related to software, yours included, are often created in USA?

Richard Stallman: I don't know if that's generally true, but if it is, it seems like a side issue to me. Making software respect our freedom is what matters.

But I know of two factors that could have encouraged this. One is that the US was (I think) in the lead in use of computers ever since the 60s, perhaps even the 50s. In the 50s, the US was far wealthier than any other country; most Western countries were still recovering from World War II. So there was more money to invest in expensive capital equipment such as computers.

The other is that the US government put a lot of money into development of computer technology and software during the Cold War. Development of the Internet was just part of this.

What would you define as the major initiatives you started since the creation of the Free Software movement?

Richard Stallman: When I started the Free Software movement I also launched the development of the GNU operating system -- announced in 1983, and the work started in January 1984. The GNU system is widely used in the GNU/Linux combination, which also includes the kernel Linux.

Important software projects launched as part of GNU include the extension language Guile, which was meant to unify the various popular extension languages but did not succeed at it, and the graphical environment GNOME, which is widely used.

Recently we have started Gnash and GNU PDF, intended to provide full free software support for Flash and PDF formats. GNU PDF is meant to give full support for PDF format, but it is not yet ready for use.

Gnash now supports most of the Flash 8 features, but the Flash target is moving so fast it is hard to catch. We therefore urge everyone: Do not publish videos in Flash, do not put Flash on a web site, complain to the webmasters of sites which use Flash substantially, and don't refer people to those sites.

We cosponsor the maintenance of two free GNU/Linux distributions, namely gNewSense and Ututo. We also host the maintenance of Linux Libre, the free version of the kernel Linux, which is suitable for use in a 100% free GNU/Linux distro.

Is there a result after which you could declare your battle for software freedom definitively successful?

Richard Stallman: My goal is a world in which proprietary software is a thing of the past and computer users control the software they use. Maybe we will achieve that in my lifetime. But the battle for freedom is never "definitively successful"; as Bush, Preston, B'liar, Sarkozy, Berlusconi and many others show, there are always leaders prepared to attack your freedom if you take it for granted.

Have your ever considered to give up? What kept you believe?

Richard Stallman: I get discouraged very easily, but the feeling passes after a while. I never think of giving up. What use would that be? We can't win by giving up.

Is the free software community (and FSF in particular) strong enough to move to a democratic system (elections) to choose their leaders?

Richard Stallman: We already have a system much better than that: you can choose which leader(s) you wish to follow and how much. If you want to be a leader, start leading, and see who wants to help.

What is your role in FSF?

Richard Stallman: I'm the president, and I make the main decisions, occasionally consulting the board of directors for those that are very important. The executive director is responsible for day to day operation.

Considering that you are also a computer hacker, do you still have time for coding?

Richard Stallman: Very little nowadays. Programming is fun, but the free software movement is really important, so it takes precedence.

A lot of cool things happened in technology since you started the GNU project. Have you ever had the desire to work on new software or hardware, instead of the freedom aspects?

Richard Stallman: Not really. I am no longer very excited by new computer technology, because I have come to expect it to be designed to subjugate the user in new ways. So every time I hear about a new development, I think of the possible dangers: "Does it have DRM? Does it make people identify themselves where they used to be anonymous? Does it have proprietary software that communicates with a secret hardware interface or does a patented job? Does it invite people to give up control of their lives in some way or other?" If the answers are "no", I relax.  

What can we use the GPL for, besides software?

Richard Stallman: It is good for data, for documentation that you wouldn't expect anyone to publish on paper. For any other kind of work too, except perhaps books and things like books.

You are very focused on GPL (v3 now), so I wonder if you have ever considered to offer different types of license like the Creative Commons project does?

Richard Stallman: Two of the Creative Commons licenses are free licenses: the Attribution license and the Attribution Share-alike license; the rest are not. Those non-free license are ok, in my opinion, for art and opinion -- I don't believe there is a moral imperative to make those sorts of works free. It is sufficient if people are free to share copies, and all the Creative Commons licenses permit that.

Software, however, ought to be free. Thus, software licenses don't need to cover such a broad range of different terms. Likewise, educational and reference works ought to be free. For those, you should use the GNU Free Documentation License or one of the two free Creative Commons licenses.

We have released three different software licenses: the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL), which is a strong copyleft; the GNU Lesser General Public License, which is a weaker copyleft used for some libraries, and the GNU Affero General Public License, which has a special provision for software meant to run on network servers. However, on rare occasions we recommend using the X11 license, which is a non-copylefy license.

Is the GPL itself under copyright?

Richard Stallman: Yes.

Why?

Richard Stallman: We don't want people to circulate modified texts that purport misleadingly to be the GNU General Public License.

Copyright does not restrict the writing of license text. Thus, if you want to write a license with wording similar to the GNU GPL but not exactly the same, you can do so. But you can't copy our preamble without our permission, so you can't make it appear to have come from us.

You have also created a separate license, Affero GPL, to deal with software provided as a service (for example webmails). Why?

Richard Stallman: Please don't associate the GNU Affero GPL with "software as a service". That license is meant for any sort of program for which use on servers is expected to be an important source of improvements.

When a program is designed to be distributed to the end users, who get copies and run them, its modified versions are also normally released in this way (except when they are just used privately). Therefore, the original developers can normally get a copy of the modified version. Then the GNU GPL gives them legal permission to use the source code of the modified version to enhance their version.

However, if a program is normally used on a server, it is quite plausible that someone will make major improvements to run on his own server and never release copies of the modified version. Since the original developer cannot get a copy of it, the GPL will do nothing to help him put those changes into his version. This outcome was discouraging to the developers of such free software.

The GNU Affero GPL requires the server operator to distribute copies to the users of the server. If the server allows access by the general public, the original developer can connect to it and get a copy of the modified source, then use the changes to enhance his version. But this is not a privilege limited to that sole developer: anyone maintaining a version of the program can benefit from this.

The GNU Affero GPL gets its name from Affero, a company which several years ago wanted a license with this feature. As a stopgap, we worked with Affero to design such a license based on GPL version 2. It was released by Affero, not under the auspices of the GNU Project, and was called the Affero GPL.

Running programs on a server can cause various problems. Releasing a program under the GNU Affero GPL solves one of them, a problem that affects the software's developers. But there is also sometimes a problem for the users: namely, that of "software as a service".

"Software as a service" means that you think of a particular server as doing your computing for you. If that's what the server does, you must not use it! If you do your computing on someone else's server, you hand over control of your computing to whoever controls the server. It is like running binary-only software, only worse: it's even harder for you to patch the program that's running on someone else's server than it is to patch a binary copy of a program running on your own computer. Just like non-free software, "software as a service" is incompatible with your freedom.

We did not try to address this with the GNU Affero GPL because this cannot be solved by a software license. If all the software running on the server is released free software, that would enable you to set up a your own similar server if you wanted to; but you still have no control when you use the server that isn't yours.

The only solution to this problem is not to use someone else's server to do your own computing on your own data. Do it on your own computer, using your own copy of a free program.

Will we ever reach a point where a software, to be considered really free (as in freedom), will have to be gratis too?

Richard Stallman: I would rather hope we will reach a point where people understand these two concepts well enough that everyone will see the difference.

Is the distinction between "free software" and "open source" still meaningful?

Richard Stallman: It is fundamental, because it is a difference in basic values. The free software movement is concerned above all with values of freedom and social solidarity. We recognize that free software respects your freedom, while non-free software takes it away. Therefore, distributing non-free software is creating an injustice, and it is wrong to do so. Our goal is to put an end to that injustice by making software free.

The idea of open source was promulgated by people who did not want to speak of such things, and they chose to associate it with practical values only: for instance, making powerful, reliable software. They say that their development methodology is likely to produce "good software" -- good in a practical sense only. They do not say that a program tramples your freedom if it isn't open source. They do not say that making it open source is an ethical imperative. Often they do just the opposite: they explicitly grant ethical legitimacy to proprietary software.

Open source supporters often work together with free software activists on technical projects, where what matters is the technical work you do, not what you believe in. However, at the philosophical level, they oppose our campaign for freedom.

How did ten years of Open Source affect the Free Software movement you started in 1983?

Richard Stallman: Open source supporters often try to obscure the free software movement's very existence. They refer to our work as "open source" and let the reader draw the conclusion that we free software activists agree with them. There must be hundreds of articles that erroneously present me as a supporter or even the founder of open source. When one article called me the "father of open source", I responded that if I am, it was conceived via artificial insemination using purloined sperm.

Mislabeling us imposes a handicap on the free software movement: before we can bring our views to the attention of the people that use our software, we first must correct the misinformation about what we stand for. We do this, but the handicap surely reduces our effectiveness.

What are Free Software Foundation's most recent initiatives regarding software freedom?

Richard Stallman: About three years ago we launched DefectiveByDesign.org, a campaign of protests against Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). That term refers to the practice of designing software so as to restrict what users can do with their copies of published works.

Our campaign has held protests at Microsoft events, Apple stores, movie theaters, and public libraries, as well as on-line actions. If you want to put an end to software designed to restrict you, visit the site and sign up to participate. We need to show all companies that if they design software to take away our freedom, they will earn general hatred.

Another campaign is PlayOgg.org, which encourages and helps people install Ogg players. Aside from the Ogg formats, all the widely used audio and video codecs pose problems for free software: some are secret, and we can't support them at all; others are patented, and there is free software to support them, but distributors have been threatened with lawsuits if they distribute it.

One of the problems with Flash is that Flash video typically uses MPEG4 for video and AAC for audio, and these formats are patented. In effect, Flash has become a smokescreen for those other protocols. Sites such as Google Video and YouTube, which encourage use of Flash, are a harmful influence.


Federico Biancuzzi is a freelance interviewer. He is co-author of "Masterminds of Programming - Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages", a book published by O'Reilly.


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21 Comments

When Stallman fist started developing GNU software, I wonder what system he used during development? What OS? What editor? What drivers on what hardware?

Probably proprietary.

It was (quite likely) his use of proprietary software which enabled him to begin his FOSS projects.

Don't get me wrong, I support his efforts. It's just his attitude is a bit much at times.

Now I understand where so many free and open source advocates abuse the quote by Bill Gates on patents.

That quote is just a small paragraph within an interesting document by Bill Gates on challenges and strategy.

I understand Stallman isn't a pacifist [ http://tinyurl.com/dzouxw ]. However, a leader must not re-write facts only to enhance his-hers agenda.

On a positive side, Linux Libre only brings more confusion to the status quo. As Bill Gates said in 1988, "There's always been Tower of Babel sort of bickering inside Unix, but this is the most extreme form ever. . . . This means at least several years of confusion." [ http://tinyurl.com/dby7h4 ]

Linux Libre brings decades of confusion into Linux.

Anonymous: when RMS was getting his start, he used the old ITS system at MIT, which was not proprietary; the full source to the system was available and there were no restrictions on modification or sharing. But in those days, it wasn't even decided whether a computer program could be copyrighted in the US! This was the system on which RMS developed the original version of Emacs. There was once a world, probably before you were born, when computer manufacturers provided the full source to their operating systems and tools. Back then (late 70s), hardware was expensive and software was given away to get you to buy the hardware.

Unfortunately, that operating system wasn't portable and was tied to the particular machine, and when the machine became obsolete, there were no free systems available. At that point, RMS and everyone else were forced to use proprietary alternatives. At that stage, RMS wrote the GNU Manifesto: his motivation was to recreate the state of affairs that had existed before. And you're correct, at that point he used proprietary Unix systems for the purpose of replacing those systems. Unix users had no cause to complain about this, because his compiler (GCC) was substantially better than the one Bell Labs provided.

Im a full supporter of Free Software and its values but what concerns me is the (3) to redistribute exact copies,what is the most ethical way to do that,when ever i try to explain these to people .. they ask me

"Then what is the difference between piracy and (3)rd freedom of free software"

Some are asking that if a hypothetical software of a starter company becomes a major hit and if its a Free Software and that software is redistributed under 3rd freedom how does the company earn (remember they are just a starter) they need momentum ..

Is the free software community (and FSF in particular) strong enough to move to a democratic system (elections) to choose their leaders?

Richard Stallman: We already have a system much better than that: you can choose which leader(s) you wish to follow and how much. If you want to be a leader, start leading, and see who wants to help.

So the FSF is better than a democracy... That is why my hardware suddenly stopped working on the last kernel update. My hardware is better than free now. It is free from the perils of being used all because of someone being cute with firmware.

Bob:
You can ask for a refund ;) If it stopped working, someone messed up obviously :) you can't however connect the two things to express your disgust for someone messing up the hardware support :) Also, it's often a distributor issue; you know the drill, search forums or call paid support... And unless you're using gNewSense or something like that it shouldn't be firmware issue, the distros bring all the firmware required (usually; madwifi has been known to be picky, though it is a driver blob, not firmware, if I'm not mistaken)


Althaf K Backer:
That's why RMS expects people to be able to see the difference between `libre' and `gratis'. He sold emacs in the past: he would ask people for money and then send them emacs plus source code under GPL. He was the "verified distributor" of emacs. There are variations of this, check for Xchat for Windows; the issues with Firefox being renamed to IceWeasel; ...


Kenneth R. Saborio:
Care to explain where he rewrote facts? Didn't understand your reply.

Pedro, please read the entire document written by Bill Gates at http://tinyurl.com/c867f3

The patents paragraph is found in page 6. Stallman only used a few rearranged sentences to support his agenda.

After you read the whole document, you'll notice patents represented just a small part of Microsoft's overall strategy.

Kenneth:

Thank you for the link to the entire memo; it was quite enlightening! One thing I noticed is that I could not, for the life of me, find the sentence:

"A future start-up with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price might be high: Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors."

The rest of the quote was a horrendous misquote, as you mentioned (but that is typical of RMS -- he's a loon, but a very entertaining and influential one). But that part ... I read that memo twice and I just couldn't find it. I wonder where he got that part to add on.

I recognize RMS' contributions to the world -- I most likely wouldn't have a free (as in beer) dev stack on the MacBook I'm using to write this without his excellent GNU development tools. However, his positions are so extreme as to be considered a threat to anyone who wants to make an honest living, doing honestly hard work, as a software developer.

This quote, for example, bothers me more than anything else in the piece (outside of the total shredding of SaaS):

"Those non-free license are ok, in my opinion, for art and opinion -- I don't believe there is a moral imperative to make those sorts of works free ... Software, however, ought to be free."

How is software not art? I consider this an attack on a perfectly legitimate engineering profession. Were this "moral imperative," as he is so frequently fond of saying, to become codified in any meaningful way, it would be disastrous to the economy, and to the hundreds of thousands of people like me who make our living writing (yes, proprietary) software.

No one else in history has proposed destroying an ENTIRE engineering profession as well-paying employment quite like he has. (Hence my remark above that he's a loon, albeit an entertaining one.)

John Rudy says:

"I consider this an attack on a perfectly legitimate engineering profession. Were this "moral imperative," as he is so frequently fond of saying, to become codified in any meaningful way, it would be disastrous to the economy, and to the hundreds of thousands of people like me who make our living writing (yes, proprietary) software."

Well, don't be foolish. It's not an attack on the profession. As you seem to neglect we (free software users) did not got our software by divine revelation. The "hard working engineers" wrote the free software. Lots of them got paid to do it and fed their children. I have paid large amounts of money for competent people to develop free software. However, I won't pay a cent to software developers to LICENSE me a proprietary one. So, if people like me becomes the majority, you and the rest of proprietary software developers are in great trouble. That seems to be the reason behind your statements. But if that happens (people like me become a majority) the only thing you would have to do is to KEEP YOUR PROFESSSION and develop free software instead. Then I will be willing to pay you to develop a nice piece of software! :-)

I understand why incompetent developers want to hold so passionately to the power proprietary software gives them over the user. In a free market dominated by free software you have to be GOOD to get WELL paid. If you are not so good but know the basic skills reasonably well, you will surely get paid. In any case, there is no risk of starving. In his talks, Stallman explains why free software is not bad for the economy. In fact, I think it's quite the opposite.

Anyway the point of free software is ETHICAL. You may disagree with it. That's ok. But, please, do try to see that free software is NOT an attack on the profession of software development but on a certain model of software DISTRIBUTION.

You really need free software to run on beowlf supercomputers. Think how much you would pay if you used propetary software on 50 or 100 computers.
Also, did you know that half of the price of an airplane is the software ? If it would use free software it would be 2 times cheaper and you could edit how the cockpit lights leds and stuff. So airplanes do not have freedom... but will have to have when they will replace automobiles. A propetary software on a flying machine can get you to hit the ground... and you do not even know why... private investigation... a private investigation usally lies in the interest of the company.

Brilliant and to the point as always.

There is one thing I slightly disagree on though: the Open Source movement, even if its goals are different, has been largely beneficial to the Free Software movement, by convincing a large number of industry members to release code which, in the end, is Free Software. It is incredibly difficult in these times to defend an idea or ethics (however noble or smart it is): it is difficult for people to understand, because before understanding, they must first care.

Just like no one cares about the fact that a mathematical formula or theorem is "Free" (as in speech), and just like most don't care that DNA is patented, people don't care that software is -- even if Free Software is in fact more practical to them and provides them with a more valuable service.

Open Source software was a mean to convince to do the right thing for the wrong reasons -- but in the end, as a Free Software supporter I enjoy this extraordinarily rich Free Software ecosystem. Just like they flag Free Software work as Open Source, I have no hesitation flagging their Open Source work as Free Software :).

Boy, Stallman is bitter. His responses come across almost more socialistic and utopian than grounded in reality. That's too bad actually, since some of his underlying concepts really do make sense.

Sigh

This note is to second some of the history that Joe Buck gives about how proprietary software was used to bootstrap the GNU system.

In the very early days RMS wrote GNU Emacs, GCC, and GDB on proprietary unix systems. These products blew people away when they were first released. People were already used to Emacs-style editors but GDB was distinctly better than popular debuggers of the day and GCC amazed people by generating very good code compared to popular C compilers. And, actually, as Emacs-style editors went, GNU Emacs was a stand-out for its good design. Yes, really.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) got started as the GNU project was taking off. In the early years, the FSF used donated workstations that ran non-free versions of unix. Of course, in those early years the first freedom-fighting volunteers started making significant contributions of new code and they were all (of necessity) using proprietary systems.

We (I was a tiny but present part of that "we") worked off of a todo list - a text file handed around called "TASKS". It was a long list of needed and desirable programs. GNU needed a replacement for "/bin/sh" and "/bin/csh", it needed a replacement for "make", it needed a replacement for "sed", etc. It would be nice, it was reckoned, to have a spreadsheet program, game programs such as flight simulators, and so forth. Of course, a kernel was needed.

As we picked off items on the TASKS list we quickly had replacements for all of the common unix shell utilities. That meant that users, even though they were still stuck on non-free versions of unix, could at least switch to using a free software shell, free software compiler, free software version of "grep" and so on - they could carve out little "largely but not entirely free" environments, and that was an improvement.

Very often, just as GCC was a competitive compiler and GDB by far the better debugger of the day, the GNU shell utilities were fancier and better and more pleasant to use than the proprietary programs they replaced. My impression from watching the people around me was that a lot of users started to use these programs just because they heard about how much "better" they were but then, as they started downloading and compiling these, they would wind up reading the GNU Manifesto and the GPL and related materials. That was how many people who grew up surrounded by nothing but proprietary software first started to learn about the concept of software freedom. A subset of those users then became volunteers, picking off still more items from the TASKS list.

The GNU project's kernel effort (the HURD) was not as quickly successful as we thought it might be. Linus Torvalds provided a workable kernel, though. These days, I'm told, the FSF is quite careful to run itself entirely on free software and to encourage others to do the same.

Those compromises, in the early days, were annoying but really the only practical choice. You couldn't, back then, buy a standard motherboard and some disks and snap together a little workstation: the hardware industry wasn't that far along, for the most part. Sun, HP, IBM, DEC, and an upstart called NeXT all sold workstations powerful enough for development but not especially well documented enough or open to hacking from scratch. It was either bootstrap off of the proprietary systems or spend 10 years getting to first base. So we bootstrapped off those systems and then got off the junk as quickly as possible.

-t

Richard Stallman doesn't even use a web browser, or care how he smells. Don't you want to browse the web? Don't you want to take a shower and smell nice?

This hydrophobic blowhard is way past his prime. He's ranted for decades that most of us are too stupid to use the "right" software, yet we still manage to get things done.

And no, RMS, you don't get to call it GNU/Linux. The insignificant kernel thing that you love to denigrate was and is the critical piece, and something you and your minions were never capable of accomplishing. Linux add far more value to GNU software than the other way around. You're just annoyed that you couldn't do it yourself.

@ Kenneth R. Saborio

Now I understand where so many free and open source advocates abuse the quote by Bill Gates on patents.

Abuse it? As opposed to "use" it? Please explain how one could cite the quote in a non-abusive way.

That quote is just a small paragraph within an interesting document by Bill Gates on challenges and strategy.
You didn't expect Stallman to quote the whole paper, did you?
However, a leader must not re-write facts only to enhance his-hers agenda.
Where exactly did Stallman "re-write facts"? While the last two sentences of Stallman's citation are indeed not from the paper itself, they are what follows from patent laws.
On a positive side, Linux Libre only brings more confusion to the status quo. As Bill Gates said in 1988, "There's always been Tower of Babel sort of bickering inside Unix, but this is the most extreme form ever. . . . This means at least several years of confusion."
Now it becomes abundantly clear where you are coming from... Any chance you get paychecks from Microsoft?
Stallman only used a few rearranged sentences to support his agenda.
No, Stallman didn't rearrange any sentences. He added two which were not written by Gates, but which are probably Stallman's own conclusions as of what follows out of this "strategy".
After you read the whole document, you'll notice patents represented just a small part of Microsoft's overall strategy.
True, it's "just a small part" of their "overall strategy", but it still is a part. And it is the part relevant to the topic at hand: software patents. And as tiny as this part might be, it indeed shows the immorality of Gates (though he is by no means an exception in this and other industries): "to do unto others what he's glad nobody did unto" him"

He developed EMACS, and used that.

Stallman rewrote: "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete stand-still today. The solution [...] is patenting as much as we can [...]. A future start-up with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price might be high: Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors."

Bill Gates did write in 1991: "If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. I feel certain that some large company will patent some obvious thing related to interface, object orientation, algorithm, application extension or other crucial technique. If we assume this company has no need of any of our patents then the have a 17-year right to take as much of our profits as they want. The solution to this is patent exchanges with large companies and patenting as much as we can. Amazingly we haven't done any patent exchanges that I am aware of. Amazingly we haven't found a way to use our licensing position to avoid having our own customers cause patent problems for us. I know these aren't simply problems but they deserve more effort by both Legal and other groups. For example we need to do a patent exchange with HP as part of our new relationship. In many application categories straightforward thinking ahead allows you to come up with patentable ideas. A recent paper from the League for Programming Freedom (available from the Legal department) explains some problems with the way patents are applied to software."

The patents paragraph is found on page 6 in this link: http://tinyurl.com/c867f3

If the PDF document that contains Bill Gates memo is difficult to read, here is a HTML version: http://tinyurl.com/c6ftaj

Bill Gates wrote the memo inspired on The Final Days by John Walker from AutoDesk available at http://tinyurl.com/d8ezmg

1) Simple answer: It does not
2) More complex answer: the Red Hat way. Red hat makes a profit although CentOS, Unbreakable Linux (ripped of by Oracle), and to some extent their own community version, Fedora, provide the same software. With their software, Red Hat provides maintenance, support, customization and training.
3) Even more complex answer: if you supply hardware, data (e.g. search engines, websites, expert data bases), consultancy and turn-key solutions or are in any other sector that needs software but does not sell it as such, software is a cost and you would most gladly share it with the widest possible community. On the other hand, in most such cases access to the the "raw" unconfigured code is of hardly any use to your direct competition.

3) Even more complex answer: if you supply hardware, data (e.g. search engines, websites, expert data bases), consultancy and turn-key solutions or are in any other sector that needs software but does not sell it as such, software is a cost and you would most gladly share it with the widest possible community. On the other hand, in most such cases access to the the "raw" unconfigured code is of hardly any use to your direct competition.
This is precisely why companies like Sun used CDDL instead of GNU. Make your software as accessible as possible without kneecapping it with a license that manages to insinuate itself in its surroundings.

The part of the quote about the start-ups is indeed not Gates's but comes from the League for Programming Freedom: see http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Bill_Gates#Misattributed . I mailed Stallman about it and he got the interview corrected.

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