[TriLUG] Gnome foundation results
jem at metalab.unc.edu
Wed Nov 28 23:57:32 EST 2001
On 28 Nov 2001, Andrew C. Oliver wrote:
> In case you miss the slashdot
> Looks like the gnome people didn't feel like getting corrected over
> pedantic semantics and other FSF political baggage. Looks like the
> project won't come to a screaming halt after all. Too bad, so sad.
> Break out the beer.
Funny you should mention it. I was just thinking to myself about rms, the
nature of free software, and his "political baggage".
Here's my feelings: rms is a brilliant technologist. His software
(namely emacs and gcc) is used by millions and have become the default
tools of an entire industry. The original emacs (written in TECO for ITS)
was the first editor of it's type- full-screen, modeless, expandable. A
groundbreaking piece of software. Life without gcc is unthinkable.
As a social engineer- a man attempting to create a change in society, he
has been very successful. Certainly on the very short list of computer
programmers seeking and successfully creating social change. He defined
free software. Even if you prefer to call it Open Source (as I very often
do. it's easier to explain, I think). Many if not most people who run
Linux and (free|net|open)BSD agree that making software free can provide
more value to the user, and in the long run, the programming community,
than the type of proprietary software that became prevalent in the
commercial software industry.
As a Man With A Mission, he's brought hundreds of thousands of people
(if not millions) around to his point of view. Whether they know it or
not. Certainly, his aim to re-create the free software-oriented
environment of the AI Lab/ITS community has succeeded beyond all
imagination. He received the McCarther Foundation's Genius award, and
those aren't just bandied about.
Free software (built on Linux and other free OS's) have reinvigorated a
form of hobbyist computing that had almost completely disappeared by the
late 80's, early 90's. For me and millions of others, free software has
made computing a fun hobby again. How can you be a hobbyist with nothing
to tinker with? Proprietary software is boring.
He gave us the GPL. The GPL is a brilliant legal document and a
revolutionary manifesto at the same time. It's simple. It's elegant. Even
a non-lawyer can understand it (something you can't say about the typical
EULA that comes with windows, etc.) And it has provided a firm foundation
for a free software movement. You can tell its working by how much MS
hates it. It "breaks the virtuous cycle" of commercial companies building
proprietary systems out of free developer's effort. Also, the GPL is the
basis for free software companies like Red Hat, Mandrake, et al. Linus'
first release of Linux was "for non-commercial use only". The GPL changed
Even if you're a BSD/X11 license enthusiast, you should know that rms was
instrumental in getting the BSD developers to re-implement the
proprietary/AT&T-owned pieces of BSD 4.3. Their efforts became all the
open source BSD's.
Some of the credit for these breakthroughs and successful developments
goes fairly to rms. If not as the direct player in all of it, then as a
prime mover, inspirer, definer, prophet.
Yes prophet. And like the old testament prophets of old, a "A prophet is
not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives,
and in his own house." No one likes a prophet. Typically, they are
scruffy, ill-kempt, and wild-eyed. They speak harsh truths no one wants to
hear. They shake things up. People hope they'll just go away.
The question of whether a prophet is right- is a different one. But no one
can deny the effect of a prophet on his community. We're rms's community
and the truth is he doesn't get a lot of respect here.
Why? Well you say it's because of "pedantic semantics" and "politcal
baggage". Well, I can't disagree with you. Specifically the issue of his
calling Linux, GNU/Linux (and in the emacs configure script: lignux) lost
rms a lot of political capital. The Linux community didn't want to here
him tell them that all their wonderful work (and it was wonderful. even
back in '93 or so when this issue first came up) was dependent on the
efforts of him and the FSF. And that they wanted credit.
The disagreement on Open Source and Free Software was similar. Pragmatists
liked open source as it is easier to explain, and not so scarey to the
proprietary companies who they wanted on-board. rms' politics and
insistence on *freedom* as the essence of free software is scarey. cf. my
bit on prophets. :) But to give him credit, that brand of anarchist
radicalism is important- I don't think Linux would have happened the way
it has if it wasn't rms' inspirational message.
Hmmm. This rant has turned into apoligism for rms. And rms needs no
apologies. He's given us a lot. Probably, more than we'd like, or feel
Although I personally a tremendous advocate for free software (and even
open source), I can't endorse rms' beliefs that proprietary software is by
its nature immoral. I think it has a lot of disadvantages. I think free
software is better for user's b/c they have a choice about how it gets
developed. I think its better for developers b/c it gives us a common
store of accumulated wisdom and solutions on which to build new software.
But I won't say that proprietary software is evil and those who write are
at best dupes. I feel like people pay the rent however they can, and it is
still much easier to do that writing closed source software. Will it be
true in the future? Maybe. I don't know. But I'm not going to make it into
a moral judgement.
I didn't vote on the Gnome Foundation's board. I don't follow gnome's
development really, so I didn't think it was right to involve myself.
Would I have voted for rms? I don't know. As I've probably made clear, I
admire the man and his work. He was an important factor in starting the
Gnome project at its beginning. On the other hand, I think developments
like the (purported) adaption of Gnome by Sun for Solaris could be very
important to its future. rms probably doesn't like it. so, perhaps his
losing is the right thing to have happened for gnome's future.
but I think its not right to celebrate his loss. certainly not to label
him as a fool or a dinosaur as I've seen some linux-ites do. not only is
it ungrateful, but it's foolish to label your fore-fathers as fools. What
does that say about those who've followed in his tracks?
Global Village Idiot
Email: jem at sunsite^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hmetalab^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hibiblio.org
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