Stallman: If you want freedom don't follow Linus Torvalds

The founder of the Free Software Foundation asks readers whether they will fight for freedom or be too lazy to resist.

The same happens with Linux, code for which was released in 1991. People used to call Linux a synonym for GNU, much like Windows became a synonym for the PC operating system. But they are not the same thing, are they?

Stallman: I'm not sure what you mean by "the same." Windows is the official name (not just a synonym) for a user-subjugating, proprietary operating system developed by Microsoft. Linux, however, is not an operating system, just a piece of one. Linux is a kernel: the component of an operating system that allocates the machine's resources to the other programs that you run. It was first released in 1991 as non-free software: its license did not allow commercial distribution.

In 1984, I launched the development of the GNU operating system, whose goal was to be free software and thus permit users to run computers and have freedom. The GNU Project undertook a job so big that even most of my friends said it was impossible. In 1992, the GNU system was complete except for the kernel. (Our own kernel project, started in 1990, was going slowly.) In February 1992, Linus Torvalds changed the license of Linux, making it free software.

The kernel Linux filled the last major gap in GNU; the combination, GNU/Linux, was the first free operating system that could run on a PC. The system started out as GNU with Linux added. Please don't call it "Linux;" if you do that, you give the principal developer none of the credit. Please call it "GNU/Linux" and give us equal mention.

The Free Software Foundation has recently issued the second draft of the GNU general public license version 3 (GPLv3). What are its enhancements and what users could expect from adopting it?

Stallman: We published the official, final text of GPL version 3 in June, and many programs have since been released under it. The basic goal of the GNU General Public License is the same in version 3 as it always was: defend the freedom of all the users. The changes are in the details.

Linus Torvalds told he thinks "the GPLv2 is a superior license," but there's "something like 50 different open-source licenses, and in the end, the GPLv3 is just another one." Does Linus collaborate with you or GNU on free software development?

Stallman: The fact that Torvalds says "open source" instead of "free software" shows where he is coming from. I wrote the GNU GPL to defend freedom for all users of all versions of a program. I developed version 3 to do that job better and protect against new threats.

Torvalds says he rejects this goal; that's probably why he doesn't appreciate GPL version 3. I respect his right to express his views, even though I think they are foolish. However, if you don't want to lose your freedom, you had better not follow him.

Microsoft has recently claimed that free software like Linux, OpenOffice and some e-mail programs violate 235 of its patents. But Microsoft also said it won't sue for now. Is this the start of a new legal nightmare?

Stallman: Software patents - in those countries foolish enough to authorize them - are a legal nightmare for all software developers. About half of all patents in any field belong to mega-corporations, which gives them a chokehold on the technology. In countries that allow software patents, that happens in software too.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Peter Moon

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?