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Nikolai Bezroukov. Portraits of Open Source Pioneers
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n 1: adherents of an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices
2: an interest followed with exaggerated zeal: "he always
follows the latest fads"; "it was all the rage that
season" [syn: fad, craze, furor, furore, rage]
3: a system of religious beliefs and rituals [syn: religious
"The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause."
--Eric Hoffer, The true Believer
All-in-all RMS played tremendously positive initial role in the development of open source software and the initial formation of a large and important democratic movement that free/open source eventually become. He manages to be at right time at right place and his GNU project at one point of time became a powerful organizing force for free/open software developers. Later Linux overtook the leading role of FSF, but still it remains attractive for the most radical wing of free/open software developers. Stallman's achievements were not went unnoticed:
Please remember that this is a slightly skeptical chapter. Despite problems and missteps (and may be due to them) people as RMS are absolutely necessary for the survival of the movement (especially it its early most vulnerable stage) and they provide the cornerstone of what later become the most important democratic movement in software.
The open source/free software movement owes much to the determination -- some might say fanaticism -- of RMS. In a sense, his contribution of gcc to the project is equal in the importance to the creation of GNU project.
At the same time we cannot ignore his religious zeal and he can be considered as the first successful creator of a software-based cult (Stallmanism).
All-in-all Stallman definitely deserves credit for the creation of the first organized free software movement that due to unique socio-economic conditions of late 90th managed to get into mainstream. Paradoxically big corporations like Intel, IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Red Hat Inc. Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Corel Corp. among others, jumped on the free software bandwagon in late 90th. In his book about Richard Stallman, Free As In Freedom Sam Williams quotes Stallman: "What history says about the GNU project, twenty years from now, will depend on who wins the battle of freedom to use public knowledge. If we lose, we will be just a footnote. If we win, it is uncertain whether people will know the role of the GNU operating system -- if they think the system is 'Linux' they will build a false picture of what happened and why. But even if we win, what history people learn a hundred years from now is likely to depend on who dominates politically." So far, the biggest winner is IBM. I doubt that this was the vision of Stallman.
But when Linux emerged as an alternative to Microsoft, like a Russian revolutionary erased from a photograph, RMS was largely written out of history. Yes, gcc still remains a cornerstone of free/open software development, but now it is just a component of Linux. Linux became the all encompassing term that largely replaced gnu project, as such. Of course Linux popularity was fueled by strong anti Microsoft feelings that were prevalent in late nineties and culminated in the Clinton administration 1999 suit against the company. With its cute penguin logo and media-friendly "inventor'' Linux became the a strange mixture of software, propaganda, "make money fast" investment schemes, and, what is the most important, the main beneficiary of public anti-Microsoft sentiments.
RMS did a lot of good things at the beginning and it's really unfortunate that he degenerated into a regular "gnu-rap" politician/cult figure later.
It was somewhat tragic that after the free/open source movement went mainstream such people often found themselves pushed aside with "new times -- new heroes -- new songs" :-(. We all like Linux, but what it means to GNU ? GNU not Linux ? Remember that Prince Kropotkin died as a Bolsheviks' hostage. Actually the Kropotkin's funeral was the last time when the black banners of anarchism was permitted to be openly displayed by Bolshevik regime in Russia. After that most Russian Anarchists were killed or exiled during Stalin's' purges and the movement was completely destroyed in the country.
Again here we were talking about the left wing of the movement. See also Softpanorama critical assessment of "open source" and one of its major figures Linus Torvalds and much less important, but still interesting figure of Eric "Surprised by Wealth" Raymond. The latter two represent the other wing of the community -- right wing that is more interested in a corporate success of open source, than such abstract matters as freedom.
I view open source as a special type of academic research and that's why such figures as RMS with his altruism and desire to create programs without any thoughts about future profits are closer to me personally than any "open source profit seekers". But still we need to see that open source movement despite all this gold rush excesses provided a vital software contributions and without it many software products that now can be freely used in any part of the globe would never see the light of the day.
Readers should definitely try to compare a diehard defender of Anarchism in software Richard Stallman with more moderate and more opportunistic Linux Torvalds, another influential "open source" pioneer who was instrumental in commercializing open source (and became a multimillionaire as the result of this commercialization). Everybody is invited to read a special chapter devoted to him.
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Created May 1, 1996; Last modified: September 12, 2017