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May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
Skepticism and critical thinking is not panacea, but can help to understand the world better
Nikolai Bezroukov. Portraits of Open Source Pioneers
For readers with high sensitivity to grammar errors access to this page is not recommended :-)
"It's large amounts of well-organized ignorance that scares
- Cody Ann Michaels, quoted by Steve Thompson, Sysadmin, Malcontent
Many people do not understand that one of the first major open source projects was neither GNU, nor Linux. It was BSD OS, the project that contributed vi, csh, TCP/IP stack, sockets, sendmail, bind, and many other things. And that several free OSes and compliers existed before GNU project started, many of them authored by talented authors. It was common for authors in early days of computing to create and donate important software to the public.
For example, PL/C was a large subset of IBM's PL/I language, designed in the early 1970s at Cornell University (see "PL/C - A High Performance Compiler" H.L. Morgan et al, Proc SJCC, AFIPS 38:503-510 (1971)). It was intended to be a teaching language, aimed at novice programmers and has really brilliantly implemented diagnostic capabilities. While removing some of the more complex features of PL/I, it also added extensive debugging and error recovery facilities. The compiler was used at over 200 universities to teach programming. Several PL/C-based cross compilers were developed at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
One of the first free compilers for languages designed for system programming that I know was XPL written by William M. McKeeman (see his famous book A Compiler Generator published by Prentice Hall in June 1970). The XPL language deserved mention because it introduced the idea of garbage-collected strings. XPL, like many academic languages of that era, was self-compiling. Original XPL Compiler for System/360 and System/370.  [zip file, 156k] and Optimizing Compiler for System/370. [source, 180K] are still available.
Niklaus Wirth first developed the Pascal language around 1969, with the first version implemented on the CDC 6000 in 1970. By 1983, it was an ISO standard language. Early Pascal compilers were free, most notably the UCSD p-System compiler, based on the Zürich P4 compiler, both of which were written in Pascal itself. It translated Pascal code into a machine-independent p-Code representation. Like in Java this virtual machine code was then interpreted by a program specific to each architecture. As a consequence, only the small interpreter part had to be ported to many architectures. In his 1985 Turing Award Lecture, "From Programming Language Design To Computer Construction", as published in Communications of the ACM, February 1985, V28 N2, With said "But Pascal gained truly widespread recognition only after Ken Bowles in San Diego recognized that the P-system could well be implemented on the novel microcomputers. His efforts to develop a suitable environment with integrated compiler, filer, editor, and debugger caused a breakthrough: Pascal became available to thousands of new computer users who were not burdened with acquired habits or stifled by the urge to stay compatible with software of the past." In the 1980s Anders Hejlsberg, who wrote the Blue Label Pascal compiler went to work for Borland and rewrote his compiler to become Turbo Pascal for the IBM PC, which was sold for $49.95. It was a brilliant implementation: full language and a rudimentary IDE in just 64K. Later Turbo Pascal 5 became a very popular as it provided a nice development environment and high speed compilation on a regular DOS PC (that typically has 640K of memory and 5, 10 or later 20 megabyte (not gigabyte) drive.
CTSS was written by a team of MIT Computation Center programmers led by Prof. Fernando J. Corbató, known to everybody as Corby. Corby's title was Deputy Director of the Computation Center. An early version of the MIT Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) was first demonstrated in November, 1961, at the MIT Computation Center. It evolved over the years and in the Fall of 1963 began daily operations at the Laboratory for Computer Science as well as at the MIT Computation Center where it operated until July, 1973.
The book Operating Systems by Stuart E. Madnick, John J. Donovan published in December 1974 contained a free rudimentary OS written in IBM/360 assembler.
Minux was introduced in January 1987, and although its licensing was not free it was open: each owner of the book got full source code and there has been a large an active USENET newsgroup about MINIX, comp.os.minix.
The other important early free program was Donald Knuth's typesetting program TeX that we discussed in the previous chapter of the book. Knuth developed the first version of TeX in in 1971-1978 in order to avoid problem with typesetting of the second edition of his TAoCP volumes.
As you can see when GNU project started there was a big selection of free software and it's important to understand Richard Stallman idea was actually nor about writing but about grabbing, improving and redistributing existing free software programs, redistributing for the benefits of his own small private charity.
In those early days of computing RMS like many other programmers resented the distinction between authorized and unauthorized users and believed that computer resources should be used as efficiently as possible without artificial restriction of access like mostly non-used personal terminals for academic VIPs. And at this prehistoric period of computer history such a position made perfect sense: the access to computers was an extremely scarce commodity and many talented programmers were almost completely deprived of it and were forced to rely upon very unproductive batch processing mode.
I remember fighting wars with computer center bureaucracy for the right to use machine at night in "personal computer mode". Mainframes usually operated 24*7, but the night shift in our university was so called "operator shift" and only batch jobs were processed; users were not allowed to be present in the computer room even if the computer was idle. People of my generation often joke that our generation got unlimited access to computers only when they became more or less useless for us :-)
But this atmosphere of free sharing that was typical for the early days of computer science changed as more affordable computers became common and the center from efficient sharing of computer resources shifted toward providing some benefits to the user. This new possibility to write a program that user can make a commercial advantage of, created the wave of commercialization of software. Historically it coincided with the beginning of personal computer revolution and many startups tried to capitalize on this opportunity. This wave led to brain drain from university labs -- a lot of talented people moved to the commercial sector, often creating an innovative and successful companies (for example, Sun was created in 1982 by four university students).
Like any significant change in computer landscape it was not without problems. Many people thought that something valuable is disappearing and this idea of free sharing typical for early days is worth more then the new "regime" of commercial software that come after it. When some members of MIT AI lab created the company Symbolic that tried to explore the idea of Lisp-based computers Stallman was upset. If Levy described this correctly in his famous book, at this point RMS decided to fight back. But I think that his political ambitions played a primary role. In early '80s many talented programmers became a part of the USENET community, where writing and sharing code was a significant thing to do without any manifests or revolts. It became a global movement long before the GNU project got started. As a very gifted politician, Stallman probably intuitively understood that Usenet present new political opportunities for an ambitious cult-style leader and that a Usenet movement represents an ideal target to be politically organized along more radical ideas of "free as an antipode of commercial" software.
Please note, that he started the project that is now known as the world-famous GNU project with a letter to USENET: the first letter about the project was written to the Usenet group net.Unix-wizards in September 1983 before any software was written:
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.
From the letter to net.Unix-wizards
Here he essentially concealed the main idea of the movement: the idea was not to write, but to rewrite improve existing free implementations and to became "The King of Free Software Clones".
The idea behind software cloning is to write a new piece of software that duplicates the appearance and functionality of the original software as closely as possible. "GNU-style" software cloning involves the case when source code for the original software is not available and somebody wants to recreate the same software with source code available. Software cloning does not imply source code copying. However, software cloning goes way beyond simply implementing a similar user interface. The goal in cloning is to create a new software program that mimics everything the original software does and the way in which it does it: a software clone duplicates all of the functionality of the original software in the same way as the original software, and presents that functionality in a nearly identical package.
At this point Unix was already well developed and well entrenched OS with more then a decade of history. Here is a slightly modified fragment of Unix timeline (for a more full graphic version see UNIX History):
1968: Dennis Ritchie completes work on his doctorate at Harvard and joins Bell Labs to work on MULTICS project.
1969: AT&T Bell Labs drops out of MULTICS project. Thompson gets an idea for a new type of file system and hashes out his ideas with Ritchie and Rudd Canaday. Thompson writes first version of UNICS for PDP-7 in one month while wife is on vacation. He allocates one week each to the operating system functions: the kernel, the shell, the editor, and the assembler. He does this on a machine with 4K of 18 bit words. UNICS is pun on MULTICS and stands for Uniplexed Information and Computing Services. Name is changed to UNIX which is not an acronym. This version is in assembly language. Thompson develops the interpretive language B based upon BCPL. Ritchie improved on "B" and called it "C"
1970: DEC begins shipping PDP-11 and revolutionizes the computer industry by selling 250,000 systems. Bell Labs gets a PDP-11 to do text processing for the legal department. System is developed and implemented in UNIX. The standard DEC OS is never installed.
1971: The First Edition of UNIX manual is written.
1972: UNIX OS is rewritten in C which opened the door for porting.
1973: First UNIX development support group is formed in Bell Labs. Pipes are invented with the Third Edition of UNIX and the UNIX philosophy begins to emerge:
- Write programs that do one thing and do it well.
- Write programs that work together
- Write programs that handle text streams, because that is the universal interface.
Thompson delivers first UNIX paper at the ACM Symposium on Operating Systems at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY. Within six months, the number of UNIX sites triples from 16 to 48.
1974: The UNIX Time-Sharing System is published in CACM by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie. It is a revision of the 1973 paper. University of California at Berkeley (UCB) gets Version 4 of UNIX. Keith Standiford converts UNIX to PDP 11/45. Berkeley begins making major enhancements to UNIX and sets the stage for becoming a major distribution center for their version of UNIX. The Elements of Programming Style by Kernighan and Plauger is published.
1975: Thompson begins one year sabbatical at Berkeley. AT&T officially begins licensing UNIX to universities.
1976: Boggs and Metcalfe invent Ethernet at Xerox in Palo Alto.
1977: Early in 1977, Joy put together the "Berkeley Software Distribution." This first distribution included the Pascal system, and, in an obscure subdirectory of the Pascal source, the editor ex. Over the next year, Joy, acting in all capacities simultaneously (including distribution secretary), sent out about thirty free copies of the system.
1978: The C Programming Language by Kernighan and Ritchie is published. The "Second Berkeley Software Distribution," (2BSD) released. Doug and Larry Michels start Santa Cruz Operations, Inc. (SCO) to sell UNIX on a PC. By 1992, they grow to $175 million in revenues.
1979: In December, 1979, Bill Joy shipped the first of nearly a hundred copies of 3BSD, the first VAX distribution from Berkeley. Seventh Edition UNIX PROGRAMMERS MANUAL (UNIX Version 7) is published. It is the first edition without Thompson's or Ritchie's names. It is titled "UNIX (with a TM sign) Time-Sharing System." Bell Labs starts to protect its assets and raised licensing prices. Microsoft licenses UNIX from AT&T and announces XENIX, which after the introduction of IBM PC becomes the most popular PC Unix.
1980: 3BSD UNIX finds its way back into Bell Labs as a new improved version. Berkeley lands large DARPA contract and forms Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG). SCO becomes a distributor for Microsoft XENIX and licenses the name XENIX because they sold their trade name DYNIX to Sequent.
1981: The IBM PC is released running Microsoft DOS; Microsoft XENIX is pushed into the background, which created opportunities for other PC Unixes.
1982: In August 1983, 4.2BSD was released. Within eighteen months more than 1,000 site licenses had been issued, more than of all the previous Berkeley software distributions combined. AT&T announces official support for UNIX and makes its first commercial release: UNIX System III. Bill Joy, the inspiration behind BSD, leaves CSRG at Berkeley to co-found Sun Microsystems. Sun gets its name from the Stanford University Network (SUN) board. The workstation is based on the Motorola 68000 chip running SunOS based on 4.2BSD. It includes an optional local area network based on Ethernet. The commercial UNIX industry is in full gear. HP announces support for UNIX on its 9000 workstations. DEC releases ULTRIX. IBM releases CPIX.
1983: Thompson and Ritchie receive ACM Turing award for their work on UNIX.
In late 1983 (at the age of thirty) Stallman resigned from the AI lab at MIT to make his mark by creating a free alternative to Unix, but was able to use lab as his headquarters. Please note that 1983, the year when GNU project started, was the year when Thompson and Ritchie receive ACM Turing award for their work on UNIX and year after AT&T commercialized Unix. Here is how Stallman tried to justify his decision to use lab's computers for free:
"In 1971 when I joined the staff of the MIT Artificial Intelligence lab, all of us who helped develop the operating system software, we called ourselves hackers. We were not breaking any laws, at least not in doing the hacking we were paid to do. We were developing software and we were having fun. Hacking refers to the spirit of fun in which we were developing software. The hacker ethic refers to the feelings of right and wrong, to the ethical ideas this community of people had -- that knowledge should be shared with other people who can benefit from it, and that important resources should be utilized rather than wasted."
It is easy to notice that his project was essentially a replication of Berkeley work of creating a BSD distribution, but, paradoxically, with a more radical then in Berkeley (which, unlike MIT, was the most well-known left university) political agenda and with the USENET as the major new collaboration and recruiting medium as well as "the source of inspiration". It's clear that for one person reimplementation of the full Unix environment is impossible. So he necessarily rely on volunteers and, later some permanent staff, to do the hard work. Still for a single person it was probably the most ambitious after TeX free software development project of his time, the attempt to merge several pre-existing free implementations into complete Unix programming environment as a freely redistributable software.
In 1984 Andrew Tanenbaum writes the first version of Minix, a Unix intended for educational purposes. Stallman did not have anything to show yet, but in 1985 he wrote the GNU Manifesto that was published in Dr. Dobb's Journal Vol. 10, Number 3 (March, 1985). It contained an explanation of the goals of the GNU project. Here is an appropriate quote from the GNU manifesto:
I have found very many programmers eager to contribute part-time work for GNU. For most projects, such part-time distributed work would be very hard to coordinate; the independently-written parts would not work together. But for the particular task of replacing Unix, this problem is absent.
A complete Unix system contains hundreds of utility programs, each of which is documented separately. Most interface specifications are fixed by Unix compatibility. If each contributor can write a compatible replacement for a single Unix utility, and make it work properly in place of the original on a Unix system, then these utilities will work right when put together.
Even allowing for Murphy to create a few unexpected problems, assembling these components will be a feasible task. (The kernel will require closer communication and will be worked on by a small, tight group.)
As one can see, in no way he has grand software and political ideas of his own. From the point of view of software engineering the project was the explicit reimplentation project of well defined and already very successful software: an exercise in software cloning. In 1984 Fortune runs an article saying that 750 universities around the world, about 80% of those offering computer science degrees, have UNIX licenses, so Unix was pretty entrenched OS at this time.
And RMS has no illusions about his personal abilities to re-implement the software from scratch using Unix as a blackbox (the ISO introduced the POSIX standard in 1985): like Linus Torvalds a decade later he wanted maximally simplify the task. Both relied on reusing existing open/public domain implementations and then gradually improving them into independent products of his won by using an existing best commercial implementation as a navigation light.
Unlike TeX, it was about exactly cloning existing software ("liberating" existing commercial software, if you need a more politically correct term). Still the scope and the influence of this cloning project was really impressive and GNU project managed directly and indirectly attract a lot of talented people at least for some time.
What is interesting is that from the beginning RMS planed to run the shop in a socialist way: to hire some programmers to support his efforts and get some revenue stream by selling the tapes with software to the capitalist world outside of his socialist "software cloning" kingdom and grab a share to support his life style. A kind of a lone virtual socialist country (with a single man Politburo) existing in a hostile capitalist environment ;-).
The problem was that at the beginning he does not understood Unix well. But he understood pretty well that those activities can promote him to the status of "cult leader" and that he will definitely be able to find some support to his anarchistic ideas within the university community.
It is easy to discard his ideas as utopian, but he manage to hit a sensitive areas of the programmer collective psyche. That's why he got so much support from the Usenet. To a certain extent GNU project was not about the extending the range of choices for software developer, ideologically like any anarchistic undertaking it was as much, if not more about denying choice in the name of equality. But negative sides of GNU project will became evident only much later (see below information about KDE jihad) and initially the project played extremely positive and constructive role in the software development universe.
The idea to have a base at the university was a very good idea too. With famous mantra "software should not have owners" RMS' position fluctuated between position of an anarchist philosopher and a honest position of an academic scholar (in best Renaissance tradition) -- a scholar unaffected by the wave of software commercialization of late 70th, that produced companies such as Sun, Microsoft, Oracle, Borland, Lotus and Novell. He wrote:
I was still working at MIT when I conceived the project. But I had to resign from my job to make sure MIT couldn't take the programs I had written and turn them into proprietary products and license them to companies. I was determined to enable the public to share this software, and I couldn't take the risk of legally being prevented from doing so. So I resigned from my job, but the AI lab graciously let me continue to use their computers, and I've remained physically located at the AI lab, although not employed by it, ever since.
From Interview to meme
In best Anarchist tradition he believed that software copyrights have to do not only with private control and charging people as much money as "the market will bear", but also with restricting people's freedom to cooperate (see The Gnu Info Tree for the more information about his political views). This is a very contradictory philosophical system (essentially "anarchism artificially limited to software", see Social Roots, Complexity and Never Ending Process of Interpretation of GPL for more information):
Strange distinction. (Score:5, Interesting)
by dinotrac on Thursday November 22, @08:08PM (#2601986)
(User #18304 Info)
I don't understand RMS's obsession with powerless freedom. Any freedom that means something is, in some way, an expression of power. The freedom to own my own home and house my family is meaningless unless I can exercise the power to keep others out. The freedom to speak out against the government is empty unless there is power to prevent government censorship. The GPL's guarantees of freedom to take, use, modify and distribute source code are meaningless without the power to enforce them. Freedom without power is no freedom at all.
RMS really was amazingly productive during the first formative and most difficult years of the GNU project. I think that his most important contribution was gcc compiler (see below). Here he really made an important contribution to the programming community. The version 1.0 of the GCC was released in 1987, a year after 4.3BSD system was finally released in June 1986.
It supported two major Unix platforms -- the VAX and the Sun 3 -- and comprised about 110,000 lines of code (I do not know how many lines his prototype contained). Even if we take into account that the project started as a cloning exercise, this is an impressive achievement even with today computers and compilers. But taking into account the state of the art in programmer tools and hardware in early 80th this was truly remarkable result. That was truly high point of Stallman's career as a programmer.
Of course this was not done by a hermit confined to his home, this one done in one of the best equipped labs in the world that he can use for free and he enjoyed the support of very talented group of specialists in MIT and elsewhere (Stallman has good relations with BSD development group and visited their lab often).
1988 saw the release of NeXTSTEP, the new GUI and operating system for Steve Jobs' NeXT computer, his first major project after leaving Apple in 1985. NeXTSTEP introduced a sharp new GUI (was the first among other thing introduced "X" symbol to indicate a close window widget, the idea of a vertical menu strip in the upper left-hand corner, which could also be "torn off" at any point so that the user could position menus at any part of the screen and has a Dock that lived on any side of the screen (default was on the right hand side). Nextstep was based of BSD tree and it made pretty clear where Unix desktop should be moving. It made absolutly clear that Stallman's effort to replicate Unix are suffering from lack of architectural vision. In essence NeXTSTEP proved that Stallman was and is a coder not a software architect.
In 1989 another severe blow was done to Stallamns attempt to serve as a focal point of free/open development efforts: the Networking Release 1 (NET1) of BSD Unix was released by Berkeley that contained almost all the code that Stallman wanted to implement. And it contained it under very lenient BSD license making Stallmans's project esssentially redundant (with the exception of GCC). As Kirk McKusick recollected:
The BSD originated networking code and supporting utilities were released in June 1989 as Networking Release 1, the first freely-redistributable code from Berkeley.
The licensing terms were liberal. A licensee could release the code modified or unmodified in source or binary form with no accounting or royalties to Berkeley. The only requirements were that the copyright notices in the source file be left intact and that products that incorporated the code indicate in their documentation that the product contained code from the University of California and its contributors. Although Berkeley charged a $1,000 fee to get a tape, anyone was free to get a copy from anyone who already had received it. Indeed, several large sites put it up for anonymous ftp shortly after it was released. Given that it was so easily available, the CSRG was pleased that several hundred organizations purchased copies, since their fees helped fund further development.
Later with NET2 in June 1991 release they essentially achieved the goal of GNU project (please note that NET2 was released before Linux). Most people would formally end GNU project as other group essentially achieved Stallman's goals and Ken Bostic proved to be a better programmer and better manager (he used the power of Usenix to promote his project) then Stallman beating him to the door (" within 18 months nearly all the important utilities and libraries had been rewritten."):
During one of our weekly group meetings at the CSRG, Keith Bostic brought up the subject of the popularity of the freely-redistributable networking release and inquired about the possibility of doing an expanded release that included more of the BSD code. Mike Karels and I pointed out to Bostic that releasing large parts of the system was a huge task, but we agreed that if he could sort out how to deal with reimplementing the hundreds of utilities and the massive C library then we would tackle the kernel. Privately, Karels and I felt that would be the end of the discussion.
Undeterred, Bostic pioneered the technique of doing a mass net-based development effort. He solicited folks to rewrite the Unix utilities from scratch based solely on their published descriptions. Their only compensation would be to have their name listed among the Berkeley contributors next to the name of the utility that they rewrote. The contributions started slowly and were mostly for the trivial utilities. But as the list of completed utilities grew and Bostic continued to hold forth for contributions at public events such as Usenix, the rate of contributions continued to grow. Soon the list crossed one hundred utilities and within 18 months nearly all the important utilities and libraries had been rewritten.
Proudly, Bostic marched into Mike Karels' and my office, list in hand, wanting to know how we were doing on the kernel. Resigned to our task, Karels, Bostic, and I spent the next several months going over the entire distribution, file by file, removing code that had originated in the 32/V release. When the dust settled, we discovered that there were only six remaining kernel files that were still contaminated and which could not be trivially rewritten. While we considered rewriting those six files so that we could release a complete system, we decided instead to release just what we had. We did, however, seek permission for our expanded release from folks higher up in the University administration. After much internal debate and verification of our method for determining proprietary code, we were given the go-ahead to do the release.
Our initial thought was to come up with a whole new name for our second freely-redistributable release. However, we viewed getting a whole new license written and approved by the University lawyers as an unnecessary waste of resources and time delay. So, we decided to call the new release Networking Release 2 since we could just do a revision of the approved Networking Release 1 license agreement. Thus, our second greatly expanded freely-redistributable release began shipping in June 1991. The redistribution terms and cost were the same as the terms and cost of the first networking release. As before, several hundred individuals and organizations paid the $1,000 fee to get the distribution from Berkeley.
Closing the gap from the Networking Release 2 distribution to a fully functioning system did not take long. Within six months of the release, Bill Jolitz had written replacements for the six missing files. He promptly released a fully compiled and bootable system for the 386-based PC architecture which he called 386/BSD. Jolitz's 386/BSD distribution was done almost entirely on the Net. He simply put it up for anonymous FTP and let anyone who wanted it download it for free. Within weeks he had a huge following.
But Stallman was undeterred. first of all he understood the history can be rewritten later (you will not find any mention about Bostic effort on FSF pages ;-).
GNU project continued and during the first ten years of its existence (1981-1991) GNU project and RMS as a principal author/manager (although later in 1995-96 FSF employed up to ten people, see below), contributed several reimplmentations of system programming tools including:
O'Reilly: You are the person who had the bright idea to rewrite all the utilities and the C library, to remove any taint from AT&T. What made you think at the time you could pull this off? Apparently, your colleagues at Berkeley didn't think this was possible. It's an amazing achievement.
Bostic: I wouldn't say I had the idea. It's been an awfully long time, but I think that John Gilmore originally suggested it. And, of course, Richard Stallman had obviously been doing similar things for a long time, and he would periodically drop by CSRG to borrow a terminal and we'd argue back and forth about the why and how of free software. I can probably take the credit for making it happen at Berkeley, but like most things, it's hard to point to a single Eureka! moment or person who had the idea. I suppose if we'd truly understood how hard it would be, both in terms of time and legal hassles, we probably wouldn't have tried to do it. But there were lots of goals along the project path that were good in and of themselves, and so it was easy to gradually work our way to the point where we looked around and said "Hey, we're almost done. "
Over the next few years, Bostic and other University of California employees worked to replace the Unix utilities with free equivalents. Many of them later made their way into Stallman's GNU Project when, unfortunately, BSD license changed to exclude the attribution requirement making modified license compatible with GPL (Stallman fought this vigorously as he understood that he cannot match the caliber of people in the BSD project; see below). That erases history in a perfect 1994 style. Although functionally they were less then impressive, some of those utilities have proven to be of a superior quality to the equivalent UNIX versions and stimulated an improvement in corresponding POSIX versions. There was even a famous paper that tested both GNU utilities and proprietary Unix utilities as for withstanding "random noise" as input. GNU utilities proved to be more "noise resistant" and crashed less often then their commercial counterparts. It is the most common to see those tools installed on non-Unix OSes like Windows and Mac OS X , where they are collectively referred to as the "GNU Tools" (actually this term usually includes bash).
In programming gifted people write, talented people steal ;-). Even just one GNU C compiler effort is enough to consider Stallman to be a great programmer; enough to make anybody author famous in the programming community.
It looks like sometimes Stallman was a demanding project manager. Here is a relevant quote from another GPL extremist Jeremy Allison (of Samba fame) GNULinux.com - Interview with Richard Stallman of Free Software Foundation:
BeOpen: You have a reputation for being very exacting as a project manager. [Samba project co-leader] Jeremy Allison says he still treasures a rejection e-mail he got from you for a patch he submitted to the GNU C Compiler. It was like the Onion.com headline," he said. "God answers crippled child's prayers: 'No.'"
Stallman: I have no way of remembering what he might have submitted, so I don't know if I was being exacting or not.
Some RMS' letters create a (subjective) impression about FSF as a kind of "supreme guardian" (or even all-controlling central planning Stalinist organization) of GNU software, the ruthless and determined enforcer of the transfer of all author rights to the FSF under the threat of fork. The earliest example of this dogmatic approach was the fact that GNU Emacs that stagnated at version 19 was artificially put on "life support" after Lucid Emacs established itself as a leading alternative implementation (Lucid Emacs, later renamed to XEmacs, was and is GPLed software, the RMS objections were not about the license pre se, but about the assignment of copyright by contributors to FSF). FSF also advocated forks of several other projects that changed software licenses from GPL to other (free) licenses incompatible with GPL (for example, PHP).
After Linux achieved its tremendous success without any connections to FSF and Torvalds refused to rename Linux to Lignus or GNU/Linus the importance of FSF as a symbol and a supreme guardian of GNU software quietly died. Actually the success of Linux to a certain extent meant a death sentence for FSF as a software development organization as Linux accomplished the main goal that FSF was created to achieve. Still it survived as a political organization, the supreme guardian of GNU license. We will discuss this issue a later.
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Created May 1, 1996; Last modified: March 12, 2019