Free software, FOSS, RMS, and too much discursion
Posted Mar 23, 2007 15:38 UTC (Fri) by filker0
In reply to: First FOSS OS?
Parent article: The road to freedom in the embedded world
I never meant to imply that RMS was unique in that regard. There were a number of us in the
free software community at the time who were just as upset about trends as he was. Our
motivations overlapped, but were not always the same. My mention of Unipress is because of
the Emacs debicle; that was Stallman's motive for becoming the advocate that he became. There
were people who worked at DEC who were at least RMS's equal when it came to software
freedom, but they had other motives as well (such as insuring the ability to run something they
liked on hardware that the authors didn't support, or no longer supported.)
About that same time, AT&T decided to try to make a commercial go at Unix, and the licensing
became much more restrictive (and expensive) than it had been. This made it more difficult for
software tinkerers to try out new OS ideas within an existing OS. (No other "full featured" OS was
available on so many different hardware architectures at the time.) This is where the "Pubix"
project came from, and a motivation for GNU (the original goal) as well. Keep in mind, this was
in the early to mid 1980s. The PC was not the target of most of these earlier projects; PDP-11s,
VAXen, other mini-computers, plus DEC-10/20s, and most likely Burroughs, Univac, IBM, CDC
and Honeywell mainframes, were the target systems. It wasn't until the 386 that GNU software
really had much penetration into the Intel based personal computer segment.
My motivation for getting into the free software community was a mix of expansion of
knowledge, sharing of ideas, support for odd environments and architectures, and to improve
the quality of software. I've never had the anti-commercial software / anti-copyright agenda,
though I am firmly and vocally anti software patents. I agree with Linus about GPLv2, and think
that GPLv3 is more a political statement than it needs to be. I think that the anti-* stuff that has
been added to the draft should be in "optional" parts that can be included or excluded as the
author of the original work chooses. My original view of free software was that if you incorporate
a free software component into your proprietary work, anyone should have the right to the
source for that component in its original form and, in most cases, your modification of it, but did
not extend to the entire composite that included that component. I saw some of the early GPL
stuff and thought it was over-reaching, and continued to release code into the public domain
well into the 90s before I ever released anything under the GPL. The library license made me
I knew RMS at the time all this was happening, as he and I shared some friends. I doubt that he
ever took notice of me; I did help Martin Minow maintain Dave Conroy's DECUS C collection (I did
the POS version of libc, and contributed in one or two other minor places), and he invited me to
parties that Stallman also attended. I was not overly impressed with RMS, but then again, I never
worked with him nor dealt with him on any technical issues, just met him at parties in the Boston
area, and he tended to be a bit arrogant, and I was somewhat arrogant myself in my own quiet
way and found him a bit abrasive. It was a long time ago.
My heros in the Free Software arena include the afore mentioned David Conroy (now at
Microsoft), Martin Minow (greatly missed), Andrew S. Tannenbaum (or however he spells it), Larry
Wall (even though I've never liked Perl much), along with a few others who nobody reading this
are likely to have heard about and that I've lost track of.
RMS may still be involved in the development of software, but he has made himself into a full-
time fundimentalist Free Software evangelist. His stated positions are too absolute for my tastes,
but I believe that if he were to bend towards any middle ground, his position as avatar of the
Free Software movement will be forever compromised. You might want to view RMS as the Pope,
with ESR as Martin Luther. Me? I'm Jewish, so I have my own beliefs. At least neither Richard nor
Eric has ever tried to imprison me as a non-believer, though I think that Eric may have once
joked about doing me harm (at a filksing; I don't remember for sure) for a bad pun or some such.
I am not anti-RMS, but I'm not pro, either. I do believe that the GNU project has done a lot of
good. I have personally benefited from it. I believe that GNU and FSF have a place in today's
market of ideas. I do not believe that they should be able to retroactively add new restrictions to
existing GPL licensed software that they don't own; what they do with the stuff they do own is
their business. I am anti-DRM, anti-software patent, and anti-copyright abuse.
So getting back to the original point -- RMS was pushed over the edge to become the advocate
he became because of what happened with one of his creations, emacs. Had it not been him, it
would have been someone else. It took many years between the announcement of the GNU
project and the rise of FSF in the free software movement. GCC became what it is now because
hardware vendors saw it as a way to get a compiler for their new processor on the cheap, so they
helped with its development, either funding others to do it or doing the work themselves and
releasing that back "upstream" (as they were required to do).
I will not belittle what RMS has done, but I don't believe that he's the pioneer that some paint him
as (I'm not sure that he paints himself that way, I've not spoken to him personally since 1985).
He is a figure that looms large, and has a personality to go with it. He is no closer to the truth
than many others, but he's louder than most. He stands on the shoulders of giants, true, but
he's not alone, and others stand on his shoulders. Don't discount him; He has a lot of influence.
Don't take him too seriously; that leads to a narrowing of your own horizons. Think for yourself
and don't be afraid to agree with him on some things and disagree on others.
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