GNU is 25 years old this year, and every Linux user on
the planet should take a few minutes to eat a piece of birthday
cake and give thanks. Because it's more than just software. Glyn
Moody addressed one aspect of this in "The Real
Reason to Celebrate GNU's Birthday":
"Scientists would typically write a paper for free,
submit it to a journal where other scientists would review it (for
free) before the paper was eventually published, but only to those
who paid. Even the copyright of the paper would belong to the
publishing house. Most ridiculously of all, perhaps, was the fact
that the bulk of this research was paid for the public, through
tax-funded grants, and yet any member of the public who wished to
see that work had to pay again -- and often extraordinarily high
It's that exact mentality that FOSS makes war on. We're always
seeing headlines about war between Linux and Microsoft, between
Free/Open Source software and closed, proprietary code, war between
open exchanges of ideas and putting "intellectual property" under
lock and key. I used to think this was silly hyperbole, and I'll
wager the headline writers do too. But it isn't- it really is a
war, and it goes beyond merely having some meaningful choices in
the computing marketplace. It affects everything that touches us:
Like the right to do what we want with our own property.
Like our civil rights, because government, law enforcement, and
standards bodies would rather toady to proprietary moneyed
interests than put the public interest first.
Like public education- are schools going to teach our kids
useful skills and how to think, or crank out the next generation of
narrow-minded, narrowly-skilled, unquestioning cheap tech
Like US democracy- Diebold changed the name of their voting
machines division, but they're still the same vote-thieving pieces
FOSS keeps people honest. That's the #1 reason there is such
strong, well-funded opposition to it. Honesty is Kryptonite to
anyone who makes their living peddling lies. The big lie that gets
my goat every time is these big tech companies that continually
boast of their innovation. All they innovate are stagnation and
barriers to innovation. The poster child for this is the OLPC (One
Laptop Per Child). Whatever you may think of OLPC itself, it
spawned the netbook revolution. All those titans of industry have
had the resources since forever to invent the netbook on their own.
They all badmouthed and undermined OLPC. Now they can't crank out
their own OLPC ripoffs fast enough.
FOSS makes people brave, though some take longer than others.
Finally we're seeing the big-name PC vendors tiptoe into desktop
Linux. Though there is still considerable cowardice among hardware
vendors, who are openly supporting Mac OS X more, but are still
chicken of Linux. Yeah, I know all the objections, and they're all
bogus- technical difficulties have little to do with it.
Without FOSS we would not have Groklaw, nor any of the thousands
upon thousands of blogs and personal Web sites that write about all
the thousands of subjects that are not addressed anywhere else.
This is a real revolution, bigger than Gutenberg, because "freedom
of the press belongs to those who own one." And "information is
power." Bad laws like the DMCA, and the current ridiculous state of
copyright law, and US patent mess are more insidious than just
protecting merchandise- they're intentional restrictions on free
speech. (See "Honesty is Kryptonite".)
We wouldn't even have Apple. Apple was withering until they
built a slick new interface on top of the
Mach kernel and BSD.
This weekend I'm going to have a nice piece of birthday cake,
and hoist a glass of milk in a heartfelt toast to all the people in
the FOSS world- the famous ones, the un-famous ones, and everyone
who contributes in some way to the greater good. Call me a mossy
old hippie, but I think that's more worthy of celebration than
going gaga over the latest shiny widget from the reigning robber