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How do we come to terms with Richard M. Stallman? That question comes up again as a result of the latest Salon article about him, a follow up piece to a feature they had done the week before. In the followup, some strong opinions on rms are expressed by Tim O'Reilly and Eric Raymond. There are some serious disagreements here, and they are highly visible far outside the Linux community.
rms certainly has found the opportunity to upset a lot of people. While most of us were celebrating the announcements of support by Oracle and Informix, rms was claiming that they were a step backward. Those of us with a shelf full of O'Reilly manuals are generally glad to have them; Stallman's attacks on O'Reilly seem strange and misplaced. His behavior at the Open Source Developer Day was the most widely reported event of the day; it was used to great advantage to portray the free software community as childish and divided. His attempts to attach the GNU term to "Linux" seem petty, legalistic, and childish. His absolutist positions do not sit well with the majority of free software users, who tend to be more pragmatic.
Yet we owe Richard something. Free software is a great thing, it certainly would have caught on sooner or later even if rms had never championed the cause. But that probably would not have happened in this century. We are here because rms carried that torch over the course of many years when it seemed that he was nearly alone. He has honestly earned a great deal of the credit for our current successes.
The GPL alone is enough to secure rms's place in free software history. Because of the GPL, no large proprietary systems vendor can try to take over or derail Linux by producing a licensed version. Any company thinking to make money with Linux has to do it on the GPL's terms, and that means that Linux will always be free.
Richard Stallman is kind of like the eccentric uncle that everybody loves, or at least respects, but whose behavior means that nobody wants to take him anywhere. It seems quite possible that he will fade into irrelevance and obscurity. That would be unfortunate. He certainly still has much to contribute, much that is worth listening to. We have no idea what should be done about rms, but we do know that a solution needs to be found. We still need him.
We were pleased to see the press release announcing Corel's Netwinder WS, their new web server based on the Netwinder and running Linux. The Netwinder drew a great deal of attention when Corel first announced the machine and their plans to use Linux as the base operating system. Now we'll get a chance to see how well the first product does in the marketplace and how well the actual machine will perform. The price is as low as originally estimated (just under $800 for the low-end server).
The Internet Operating System Counter dropped us a note to let us know that their results for August are now available. Over 820,000 European ftp, web and news servers were queried and Linux consistently came up as the most frequently used OS for these specific services. What fun! And you can check out their Online OS Sniffer, which they've made available.
We have been getting occasional complaints from lynx users that the text on the lwn pages renders right-justified. Trust us, that is not the effect we were after, and it does not happen with the version of lynx we have here. We would like to ask that lynx users who see the right-justified behavior drop us a note and let us know what version they're using, and anything else that might seem relevant. We want to track this one down and get rid of it.
September 17, 1998