[LINK] Free Unix!

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Sat Sep 28 20:51:52 AEST 2013

Free Unix! The world-changing proclamation made 30 years ago today

On Sept 27 1983, a young Richard Stallman set the stage for both Linux and 
the open source software movement

By Joab Jackson  www.arnnet.com.au/article/527747/  27 September, 2013 

It was 30 years ago today -- which is to say Sept. 27, 1983 -- that the 
seeds were planted for both Linux and the open source software movement, 
though neither is called that name by the man who help set both of them 
into motion, the irascible Richard Stallman.

On that day, Stallman, then working at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at 
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, posted on the net.unix-wizards 
and net.usoft newsgroups about an ambitious new project he was embarking 

"Free Unix!" began the missive.

"Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete Unix-compatible 
software system called GNU (for Gnu's Not Unix), and give it away free to 
everyone who can use it. Contributions of time, money, programs and 
equipment are greatly needed," he wrote.


Little did he know how many contributions this project would get in the 
decades to follow.

A prodigious programmer, Stallman went on to write many of the components 
for GNU himself, including the C compiler (GCC) and build automator 
(gmake). The GNU OS, however, still needed a kernel. It was provided, 
perhaps advertently, by a Finnish computer science student Linus Torvalds 
who in 1991 began working on his own free version of Unix for personal 
computers, which was named Linux.

Today, of course, Linux is one of the most widely used, if not the most 
widely used, OSes on the globe. Technically speaking, Torvalds' 
contribution to Linux is mostly the kernel, or the operating core, of what 
we think of as Linux. Many of the supporting components in today's Linux 
distributions actually come from the GNU project.

Stallman campaigned for a few years to rename Linux as the GNU/Linux, 
which, although technically being a more accurate name, failed to catch on, 
even as Linux development and usage continued to accelerate.


In its latest annual survey of Linux development, the Linux Foundation 
estimated that since 2005, nearly 10,000 individual developers from over 
1,000 different companies contributed to the Linux kernel.

Perhaps even more important than preparing for the birth of Linux, 
Stallman's online proclamation also set the stage for what would 
subsequently be known as open source software, or, as Stallman still calls 
it, "free software." Computer hacking culture, in which programmers freely 
shared their code, had long been in place when Stallman began his project, 
though more and more companies began selling their software, and not 
letting their customers or anyone else view or modify the underlying code. 
Today such software is known as "proprietary software."

This practice incensed Stallman, and he vowed to fight it with his new OS.

"I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I must 
share it with other people who like it. I cannot in good conscience sign a 
nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement," he wrote in his 
Sept. 27 missive. "So that I can continue to use computers without 
violating my principles, I have decided to put together a sufficient body 
of free software so that I will be able to get along without any software 
that is not free."

In order to support the development of GNU, Stallman started the Free 
Software Foundation in 1985, where he remains to this day as its unpaid 
president. FSF went on to champion the use of free software and warn people 
about the dangers of being trapped by proprietary software and systems.

In the following decade, as both the Internet and Linux took off in 
popularity, the idea of freely sharing the source code of software took 
hold, though it became more widely known under the more business friendly 
name of "open source software." Ever the staunch idealist and stickler for 
precise definitions, Stallman has never adopted the term "open source" for 
describing free software, pointing out that "free" in the context of free 
software has always referred more than to how much it costs to purchase the 

"When we call software 'free,' we mean that it respects the users' 
essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to 
redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, 
not price, so think of 'free speech,' not 'free beer," Stallman has 

Stallman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though he 
still travels the world to this day, tirelessly advocating for free 

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking 
news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. 
Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson at idg.com



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