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Linux Journal: Free Kevin, Kevin Freed

Jan 23, 2000, 15:02 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jason Kroll)

"DeCSS is one important rallying point which brought the Linux community and the 2600 community closer together. Although the former has looked down upon the latter (often using derogatory terms such as "cracker") and although members of the 2600 community have often been critical of weak security on earlier Linux systems (often paying due respect to NetBSD and FreeBSD), both communities rallied together to make sure the DeCSS source code was available all over the net. The "Whack the Mole" technique (as one Slashdotter named it) in this case was a joint effort, a mutual decision by everyone involved to defy the law, in effect declaring, one step at a time, the illegitimacy of government in affairs of computers, cryptography and the Net. Both Slashdot (itself a perfect example of the potential unity of diverse computing communities) and 2600 have been accosted by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) for their role in distributing DeCSS, and a fight-to-the-death legal battle may ensue (2600, a pillar of its own ethics and integrity, steadfastly refuses to be coerced or intimidated as a matter of principle, and as a result may go down in flames, though I bet it will triumph). As a typical sign of changing times for these traditionally divergent communities, VA Linux's Chris DiBona is referenced right on the 2600 homepage, along with the EFF (which professes not to be a defense fund for crackers). So much for stories of "crackers" being closed and secretive types who associate with no one but themselves."

"What does this mean for the Linux community?"

"In so far as there are divisions within the Linux scene, there have traditionally been three figureheads who stand for slightly different world-views: Linus Torvalds, self-proclaimed top programmer in the world, author of the kernel and all around popular and charming fellow, embraces everyone from the commercial sector to the free software community, and is a favorite of techies, kernel hackers and the press; Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative, identified the open source methodology and brought it to the masses when he encouraged Netscape to open up, formulated The Cathedral and the Bazaar which laid the groundwork identifying the bazaar (open source) approach to software development and also developed an economic model which, though not entirely accurate, provides the kind of "selfish agent" model business people are looking for, as well as business models for leveraging open source, and is a favorite of those people known as "suits" and those committed to "living in a world where software doesn't suck" (regardless of whether or not it is free); and Richard Stallman, whose 15 years of work produced the FSF, GNU Project, free software movement, and most of the important software that runs on Linux, has always been a purist for free software and stresses community, freedom and philosophy. Hence Stallman is popular with anti-commercial sectors, the "free software community" (slightly different from the open source community or the Linux community), long-time free software advocates, a lot of leftist types who are repulsed by laissez-faire, free market rhetoric and consider free software more a socialist/anarchist creation than a product of the free market, and those who value the philosophy of free software over the methodology of open source or the specific technical virtues of any given kernel or software package. To oversimply grossly (and make a rather arbitrary construction), we could say that Linus is the figurehead of the Linux community, Eric is the figurehead of the open source community, and Richard is the figurehead of the free software community. When we speak of the Linux community, though, we generally mean a vague, inclusive assortment of the three, and in my mind anyone who uses Linux or otherwise identifies with Linux is definitely part of our community, though others may disagree."

"Unfortunately, these camps seem to have written off the Mitnicks of this world as "crackers". Indeed, the Linux, open source and free software communities have almost uniformly been on a quest to abolish the 'misuse' of the word "hacker" to refer to those who discover security holes and explore the matrix. Eric S. Raymond (known as ESR), is very explicit about this point in The New Hacker's Dictionary, explaining the origins of the term "hacker" and how the word has been villainized by the media. He even jokes in his How to Become a Hacker about the hefty prison sentences levied against seemingly innocuous network explorers. Likewise, the free software community is on too pure an idealist crusade to be involved in exploring computers whose owners do not want uninvited guests. Linux users in general are too busy building the most fantastic operating system in history to be interested in cracking techniques, and very many are system administrators who have been plagued for years by silent intruders, so there are often years of animosity coming from many Unix users. Nevertheless, our new era may bring forgiveness, buried hatchets, cooperation and, most of all, mutual understanding."

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