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12.03.13

GNU is Not Linux: Richard Stallman Explains the Origins of GNU

Posted in Site News at 10:06 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Another series of interviews coming…

Richard Stallman on chair

Summary: Stallman tells Techrights/TechBytes lesser-known details about the birth of GNU in the early 1980s

Freedom is appreciated by more and more people who now understand how freedom gets covertly derailed, either by corporations, by authorities, or both. The NSA leaks have helped people reassess their views.

A lot of the digital oppression that we now suffer from was vaguely foreseen decades ago. Back doors and other malicious features were only a few years or decades away back then; trust in computers was maintained owing to secrec; behind the scenes computers and networks turned from instruments of enablement to instruments of control (restriction, surveillance, and more). The trend we are seeing was predictable to pessimists. As times goes by the words of warning from Richard Stallman find support from a wider audience of former optimists.

Stallman’s life as a freedom activist mostly began 30 years ago. Our readers regularly ask for him to come back and share his views. Iophk pointed out that GNU’s anniversary was an opportunity to speak about the past. “Any kind of interview, either via e-mail or via SIP,” he said, “would be great.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen any retrospective yet covering where progress has actually been made. There are a lot of things that have become so common that we almost take them for granted or forget their origins.”

The interview with Stallman tries to focus on GNU as a movement and as a software project. It does cover some topics outside the area of software, but any topic other than software is not the main topic this time around. Some questions came from readers, giving an opportunity to receive a video response. Others were written in advance in order to address contemporary issues. The overview is as follows:

Part 1: the Origins of GNU

- – Can you recall the text/code editor (amongst other tools) used to initially create GNU and over time render proprietary software non-obligatory for development work?

- – What was the first GNU program?

- – How did the number of active participants vary over the years back in the 1980s?

Part 2: the Achievements of GNU

- – What is it among the goals of GNU which has not been fulfilled yet (if any)?

- – If the GNU operating system was widely preinstalled on restrictive hardware and preloaded with binary blobs, would that, in your view, be better than lesser ubiquity for GNU?

- – What will it take to break the desktop monopoly and tackle the OEM bundling trap?

Part 3: the Future of GNU

- – Do you believe that GNU receives as much credit as it deserves?

- – To what extent does attribution to GNU (which usually accompanies understanding of its principles) contribute to its sustainability as a long-term project?

- – Are you optimistic or pessimistic with respect to the future of computing as increasingly free/libre?

The interview took a short time compared to the 2.5 hours I spent with Stallman, mostly speaking off the record. Questions were also taken from readers and then answered. Someone asked me to ask “Richard what he thinks about Google? is it evil? is it lesser evil, just like in RMS’s example of lending a copy of software to your friend, even though this copy should not be copied?”

Questions were also asked about darknets and such. One person sought Stallman’s opinion on “i2p, freenet and the meshnets that are rising like Hyperborea with the altDNS deal.”

One reader wanted to “ask him to join Diaspora!”

For all those questions and much beyond them be sure to keep an eye on Techrights.

Among the topics covered we also had trolls, or those who focus on reputation damage to the Free Software Foundation, the GPL, and people who are associated with these. The interview will get split into segments and then edited as before, probably to be released over the span of the next 3 months (I work full time, so I must pace this editing process accordingly).

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