Wednesday, August 25, 2004

If only they understood the meaning of the word


As I have written previously, I am a fan of free software, and a user of Linux in particular. There is a great deal of politics surrounding free software, and since it's in my face so often, I choose to subject my faithful readers to this madness.

In the early 1980's a man named Richard Stallman, a programmer at MIT, decided to embark on a life-long crusade to combat what he perceived as the evil of software licensing. He felt it was immoral to require people not to share software that vendors like Microsoft, Borland, IBM, et. al. sell on the open market.

So, Stallman made a call out to his fellow programmers to start a free (free as in freedom, you see) operating system, which he named GNU, which is a recursive acronym meaning "GNU's Not Unix." Every revolutionary project requires as dumb a name as possible, and Stallman is a stickler for tradition, apparently. He saw the technical advantages of the various flavors of the pre-existing Unix operating systems, and thus wanted the new system to be a free Unix-like system.

Stallman is, to the best of my knowledge, the author of the GNU General Public License. It is a software license that mandates that the user of software under the license have the freedom to do more or less anything they want with it, and must have access to the source code to said program. Any changes that the user then makes that are distributed publically must be accompanied with freely-accessible source code in the same fashion.

In the early 1990's Linus Torvalds began working on a Unix-like operating system kernel, which after quite wisely skipping his first choice for a name, Freex, he named Linux. The GNU system was pretty complete by then, but was missing a kernel. It took some doing, but the GNU system adapted the Linux kernel, and we had what was the first GNU/Linux system.

Unfortunately for Stallman, most people call his baby Linux, when Linux is just the kernel of the system, while the rest is GNU. But, them's the breaks, guy. Give your project a stupid name, and suddenly find out that no one wants to mention it by name.

So, that's my Reader's Digest version of how the Linux operating system came into being. It is quite, quite incomplete, and a reader who really wants more information can find it quite easily on the Internet, or email me personally. Choose Google first. :)

This is all well and good. Now to the problems I have with these people.

First of all, in case you never noticed, most techies are out of their friggin' minds. They tend to be academics, and that means they've been to college, which means they've been likely indoctrinated (be careful, Jesse!) in left-wing groupthink, and are thus mostly socialists. Not all, but most.

On a recent email list, I observed in silent horror how the members of the list extolled the virtues of unions and using the state to force employers to pay them their "fair wage." I was quickly shouted down when I made a statement of objection. Realizing I had better things to do, I withdrew from the discussion.

The free software movement's arch-enemy is Microsoft, because Microsoft makes their money off of closed-source software, is an evil corporate monopoly, and because Bill Gates put out a hit on Richard Stallman's firstborn. Just kidding. Stallman, thankfully, doesn't have children. They have a whole philosophy section on the GNU website.

Microsoft has done some dastardly things such as violating contracts, but is not a monopoly, and anyone who says otherwise either doesn't know what he's talking about, has a political agenda, or both.

I haven't even mentioned the sister movement to free software, called Open Source, which is based on practical advantages of using free software instead of the so-called "ethical" side of it.

I have nothing but appreciation for the free software movement's technical achievements, as I enjoy the fruits of their labors on a daily basis. I browse the web with Mozilla. I do my email with Kontact. I use The list is quite extensive.

This whole "freedom" thing, however, is pure, unadulterated bunk to be sent to the body's standard output device.

Any movement comprised of hard-core left-wingers isn't going to be favor of freedom. They want only the freedom to do what they want with their software, and nothing more. They still want government mail (whatever would we do with government mail?) and the rest of the assortment of government programs.

These people believe on one hand that the government should punish Microsoft for anti-trust violations but at the same time criticize the same pack of drunken sailors over the DMCA.

At least Eric Raymond, the co-founder of the Open Source Initiative, is a libertarian. At least with him there's some consistency when he says that free software is about preserving freedom. But when a lefty like Stallman opines about freedom, it has a habit of coming off like a hooker lecturing about chastity.

If you look at Stallman's website, and spend time reading what he has to say on various political issues, and then see his picture, you'd be shocked to see that he actually doesn't have a picture of Karl Marx tattooed on his forehead.

And he has to audacity to say he loves freedom. Somehow, to him, people entering into a voluntary contract with Microsoft is antithetical to freedom.

Perhaps if Stallman had as good an understanding of the English language as he does of C, he'd be a little different.


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