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LinuxPlanet: The StartX Files: Losing the Horizon

May 15, 2001, 16:24 (50 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

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When a pilot "loses the horizon," it's a disorienting, unnerving experience that can mean real trouble without a calm head. When Brian Proffitt got "the mail" from Richard Stallman asking that he adopt the phrase "GNU/Linux," he had the same feeling. Here he offers a history and examination of an old controversy, notes why RMS has a point, and explains that no matter where you land on this one, it's important to keep sight of the horizon.

Somewhere along this whole free software vs. open source timeline, Stallman decided that it would be just and proper for Linux (the operating system, not the kernel) to be renamed to GNU/Linux. This is a cause that, like many of his other beliefs, Stallman pursues with a tenacity and determination. This combination tends to, frankly, piss people off. It could easily be said that many of the objections to Stallman's arguments are knee-jerk reactions personality conflicts and nothing more.

But here is what Stallman wants: the chance to have credit for the FSF's GNU operating system, which he firmly believes was completed with the Linux kernel. And with that name change, the ability to promote the real enemy of Microsoft: the GNU Project and the GPL.

That was the topic of the e-mail to me last week, in response to my column last week arguing about providing Microsoft with a rational front. Along the way, I teased the FSF about their tendency to e-mail everyone they can about the importance of free software. I don't apologize for it; everyone could use a gentle tweak on the nose from time to time, because people and organizations that take themselves too seriously are likely to implode under their own weight. Still, I got what I deserved when Stallman wrote me to point out that Microsoft did not really fear Linux, but rather the GPL. He also asked me personally to begin to use the term GNU/Linux in my work. And that's where the abyss loomed.

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