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GNU Project Turning 39


Summary: This coming Tuesday is a special day; 39 years since the message (announcement) below, so next year it’s 40 (a time leap in the context of software development; not much stuff lasts this long)

From CSvax:pur-ee:inuxc!ixn5c!ihnp4!houxm!mhuxi!eagle!mit-vax!mit-eddie!RMS@MIT-OZ
From: RMS%MIT-OZ@mit-eddie
Newsgroups: net.unix-wizards,net.usoft
Subject: new Unix implementation
Date: Tue, 27-Sep-83 12:35:59 EST
Organization: MIT AI Lab, Cambridge, MA

Free Unix!

Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete
Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu's Not Unix), and
give it away free(1) to everyone who can use it.
Contributions of time, money, programs and equipment are greatly

To begin with, GNU will be a kernel plus all the utilities needed to
write and run C programs: editor, shell, C compiler, linker,
assembler, and a few other things.  After this we will add a text
formatter, a YACC, an Empire game, a spreadsheet, and hundreds of
other things.  We hope to supply, eventually, everything useful that
normally comes with a Unix system, and anything else useful, including
on-line and hardcopy documentation.

GNU will be able to run Unix programs, but will not be identical
to Unix.  We will make all improvements that are convenient, based
on our experience with other operating systems.  In particular,
we plan to have longer filenames, file version numbers, a crashproof
file system, filename completion perhaps, terminal-independent
display support, and eventually a Lisp-based window system through
which several Lisp programs and ordinary Unix programs can share a screen.
Both C and Lisp will be available as system programming languages.
We will have network software based on MIT's chaosnet protocol,
far superior to UUCP.  We may also have something compatible
with UUCP.

Who Am I?

I am Richard Stallman, inventor of the original much-imitated EMACS
editor, now at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT.  I have worked
extensively on compilers, editors, debuggers, command interpreters, the
Incompatible Timesharing System and the Lisp Machine operating system.
I pioneered terminal-independent display support in ITS.  In addition I
have implemented one crashproof file system and two window systems for
Lisp machines.

Why I Must Write GNU

I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I
must share it with other people who like it.  I cannot in good
conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license

So that I can continue to use computers without violating my principles,
I have decided to put together a sufficient body of free software so that
I will be able to get along without any software that is not free.

How You Can Contribute

I am asking computer manufacturers for donations of machines and money.
I'm asking individuals for donations of programs and work.

One computer manufacturer has already offered to provide a machine.  But
we could use more.  One consequence you can expect if you donate
machines is that GNU will run on them at an early date.  The machine had
better be able to operate in a residential area, and not require
sophisticated cooling or power.

Individual programmers can contribute by writing a compatible duplicate
of some Unix utility and giving it to me.  For most projects, such
part-time distributed work would be very hard to coordinate; the
independently-written parts would not work together.  But for the
particular task of replacing Unix, this problem is absent.  Most
interface specifications are fixed by Unix compatibility.  If each
contribution works with the rest of Unix, it will probably work
with the rest of GNU.

If I get donations of money, I may be able to hire a few people full or
part time.  The salary won't be high, but I'm looking for people for
whom knowing they are helping humanity is as important as money.  I view
this as a way of enabling dedicated people to devote their full energies to
working on GNU by sparing them the need to make a living in another way.

For more information, contact me.
Arpanet mail:


US Snail:
  Richard Stallman
  166 Prospect St
  Cambridge, MA 02139


Combining Mac, Linux, and Windows in One Video

SOME time ago I linked to a screenshot showcasting Boot Camp. This involved Mac OS X, Ubuntu Linux, and Windows running simultaneously. There now exists a public video, which illustrates this rather exciting experience. Well, it is exciting to folks like me…

[Video omitted one week later]

This shows nothing unprecedented or novel, but it can be pleasant to watch if you fancy operating systems.

The last time I embedded an off-site video, this led to trouble and invalidated the markup. Let us hope for better luck this time around.

The 90 Percent Barriers

Bill Gates
Bill Gates arrested in his younger days (photo in public domain)

MICROSOFT have managed, over the course of many years, to sustain over 90% market share on the desktop. It is a figure that is easy to defend and argue in favour of given an unknown and uncountable number of Linux installations. Dropping below 90%, unlike what many would state or even insist on, is harder than getting there, but much is about momentum, as well as ethics. Allow me to explain why, primarily using an analogy.

Windows has deliberate lockins, so its popularity punishes those who attempt to change and ‘dance’ between applications or platforms. They get discriminated against, due to planned strategies that attain this state. That used to be the case with Internet Explorer once it elbowed Netscape, mainly by means of corruption and corporate aggression. Internet Explorer was adverse to standards and its source was kept in a safe as to avoid inter-operation with browsers on other platforms. At that stage, with inarguable domination in the browser market (well over 90%) — that which was seized through monopoly in the operating systems market — ‘defection’ became hard. This exemplifies the dangers of a totalitarian prevance of a browser that is extending itself unilaterally. The World Wide Web played along ‘to its tune’, which was not agreed upon universally. Later came Web standards.

Mozilla Firefox, quite fortunately, made a Netscape comeback and took away that ‘glimmer’ from Internet Explorer. Web developers can no longer discriminate against other, non-Microsoft browsers. Returning to topic: Once Linux pushes the Windows market share below a particular point, hardware vendors and software makers will simply have to support all platforms (if not lean towards Open Source development models altogether). They will no longer blindly make Windows a pre-requisite. We are now approaching that tipping point as Wi-Fi vendors begin to collaborate with Linux and it will soon be included in the kernel level. This is only one example among many others.

Related items: Web Browsers Statistics (2004), Firefox Eats Internet Explorer (2006)

My Sister and Microsoft

OEVR the past few years I have grown closer to my older sister. We have always gotten along just fine. She is a wonderful person, yet sometimes ideaology gets in the way. Allow me to elaborate if I may.

We are both computer scientists, but she insists on using Windows. She has never tried anything else and her job involved programming for that platform. This observation was the next worse thing to me realising that had gone to interviews at Microsoft. She did that once several years back and once again more recently. If she worked for the ‘dark forces’, that could possibly lead to tension between us. I sure hope that the prospective employer and recruiters ‘Googled’ (or MSN’d) her name to discover she comes from a ‘wrong neighbourhood’. Her brother is a stubborn Linux advocate, though it may be irrelevant altogether.

Childhood photos with family
Bottom-right, from left to right: Me, my father and my sister in our younger days (click for full-sized version but beware: 1.3 MB JPEG)

Software Discrimination

Bill Gates

MERELY everyone has come across corrective discrimination wherein gender/race quotas are specified, and in turn promote diversity. We should be taking similar principles to diversify computing. This would be an intersting experiment, from which all would benefit. The move has an increasingly-justified place in the avoidance of software monoculture, which must no longer be accepted or even accommodated.

The results of an operating system monocolture leads to a discriminative cycle. Non-Windows users often get punished in terms of service. This must be reversed using litigious powers, much like the observation that people with special dietary requirement (e.g. vegetarians) get served first. How does one change the law? By staging a positive showcase for his/her arcane platform.

OpenOffice and Microsoft Office Comparison

Microsoft Word
A screenshot of Word (Office 12) with copied graphical themes highlighted

OPENOFFICE 2 was officially released a few months ago. Microsoft Office 12 will probably be out in the near future and it imitates much of the Mac OS X look, for which it has been criticised. See the above image if persuasion is needed that the contention is true.

Around the release time of OpenOffice, a particular controversial article made the rounds. It described OpenOffice as slow and inferior. Comparisons involving Microsoft Office and OpenOffice were only conducted under Windows, for it seems the only possible platform for benchmarks of this nature. However, it is a ‘home and away’ situation.

Windows is optimised to run Microsoft Office. It keeps many common objects in memory, for which there is a noticeable cost. On the other hand, OpenOffice ‘feels’ most comfortable in its origins: Open Source environments. The Windows OpenOffice version could be treated as merely a secondary port. Moreover, someone claimed that the OpenOffice build which was used in this comparison had been compiled with debugging ‘bits’ which accommodated for bug reports. It was not the final product, but merely a candidate with a practical purpose that entailed improvements.

Judging and comparing office productivity tools on Windows is unfair and grossly biased. It is like assessing the performance of a football team based only on its home games. This is not the first time that biased studies are conducted. Web servers, legacy hardware, and security are a few more examples. There was recently a big controversy over a study which counted security flaws, but compared Windows against many dozens of different Open Source platforms and applications like Apache and Firefox. The miserably-delivered figures were very deceiving, almost intentionally so. Flaws count was aggregated from just about any distribution or derivative of UNIX and then compared against the corresponding number from Windows.

Open Source Abundance

Linux desktop – picture from; click to browse the source

OPEN Source is renowned for many reasons, but (monetary) abundance is barely one of them. Abundance, however, due to the factor of cost, can often be perceived in a different way. Many software options are available , even all at once, because licences have a different meaning under ideologies like the GPL.

Practical example: I have about 9 installations on this domain which involve a database and are absolutely free. Also, there are at least 3 statistics packages that cater for monitoring. All of these are free. That freedom gives a sense of eternal ownership — the everlasting affordability and the freedom to modify at will.

The World Wide Web offers many other free applications, either as Web-based services or downloads without restrictions. To take an opposite example, Photoshop requires licences for a desktop installation. Being a desktop-side example, the deficiencies that cross one’s mind is the need to perpetually renew licences and, the lack of portability, and growth that indeed entails a considerable cost.

I was somewhat amused when a fellow Webmaster, who had opted for Windows hosting, came to discovers that statistics must be paid for as a separate commercial package. This come to demonstrate what a role cost truly plays. One has to pay extra just to be able to understand what happens on his/her own Web site.

Often you may find yourself confessing: “Yes, shared hosting on a Linux or Windows server might seem equal in terms of initial cost”. However, When basic extensions and growth come to mind, as well as the possibility of large operating licences and dedicated servers, it become apparent why Windows will struggle to compete. Only the false perception that brands and costly products are best bar none can perpetuate a myth. Heavily-invested-in lies support this myth.

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