Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White, Zakia Bouachraoui

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Linux.SYS-CON.com Flashback to 2002: The "Stallman Factor"

The FSF wants to proclaim the good news of free software's benefits. Its tactics cause it to miss the mark

(Linux.SYS-CON.com) -- Richard Stallman is one of the best-known figures of the software revolution. Of all the other icons of the revolution, only Linus Torvalds shares the same kind of name recognition. Stallman wrote some of the most influential software of the age: tools like GCC and Emacs, which have had profound roles in the development of yet more free software. Linus Torvalds could not have written the Linux kernel without these tools. Perhaps as importantly, or maybe even more importantly, Stallman also crafted the GNU Public License: the license that guarantees the preservation of freedom in all its progeny.

Unfortunately, all that name recognition isn't due to popularity. Stallman remains the most controversial figure in a community of leaders who don't fit the norm. Think of the others in the group: Cox, Perens, and Raymond. To a man, they are outliers. They are not normal in IQ, speech, thought, or action. None of these men, however, evoke the same response as Stallman. Mention RMS in a Linux crowd and you'll find people who love him, hate him, and those who simply roll their eyes. People call him a whacko, egotist, genius, saint, and communist. Precious few are ambivalent about Richard Stallman.

The longest-running, highest-visibility feud in the open source/free software world appears to me to be Stallman's request that Linux be called GNU/Linux instead of merely Linux. Linus Torvalds said at first he went along with the notion, but now tells people to simply call it Linux. Stallman's attempt at cobranding, to borrow a marketing term, has long since begun to grate on the nerves of many. They see cobranding more as fodder for Stallman's ego than an attempt to set the record straight about what makes up an operating system and where many of Linux's components originated.

For what it's worth, I don't think Stallman is concerned about his ego. I see Stallman as a missionary with a message. His zeal for the freedom that comes with "free software" -- and his desire to protect the fruit of that freedom -- surpasses everything else including, at times, common sense.

When I interviewed Stallman in 1999 at the LWCE in San Jose, he made it clear to me he wanted Linux called GNU/Linux so people knew the role of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in Linux's history. When I mentioned I was afraid of slipping and calling it Linux during the interview, he said he wasn't concerned about me calling it that. After all, he explained, he knew I knew the real story. His concern was (and remains) getting the GNU story out to those who don't yet know it.

Case in point. The Linux user's group at the University of Texas currently calls itself "SIGLINUX." I say currently because the name has changed twice the past few months and appears ready to change again. Tami Friedmann, a local FSF activist, told SIGLINUX leadership last year Stallman might speak to SIGLINUX if it changed its name.

Jeff Strunk, president SIGLINUX, changed "SIGLINUX" to "SIGFREE" earlier this year. That change was short lived, however. SIGFREE didn't appear to satisfy the FSF, which wanted "Gnu/Linux" to be in the name. It also raised the ire of a number of SIGLINUX members who voiced their complaints on the SIGLINUX mailing list. Those unhappy with the change saw it as an application of the same type of force Microsoft uses when it exercises its monopoly muscle to bend users to its will. I don't believe this is the image the FSF wants to create for itself.

I spoke to Strunk last week. He knows no matter what he does, some will be unhappy. If he changes the name of the group to SIG-GNU/LINUX, people will complain. If he misses the opportunity to have Stallman speak to the group because he doesn't change the name, others will be unhappy. The FSF put Strunk between a rock and a hard place.

Freedom from ideology

The Stallman factor made an appearance on the Linux kernel mailing list (LKML) recently. Someone submitted a patch that would remove kernel documentation on how to submit patches to Torvalds in a BitKeeper-friendly format. Evidently, the patch submitter was offended that the Linux kernel, which is free software, carries an "advertisement" for a proprietary, un-free program like BitKeeper.

The patch brought about a spirited exchange including Torvalds and Daniel Phillips, who suggested many kernel developers were "silently seething" about Torvalds' use of a proprietary tool. If nothing else, Phillips gave Torvalds the opportunity to deliver a short lecture. Read carefully, there is much meat on these bones:

I would suggest that if you are silently seething about the fact that a commercial product can do something better than a free one, how about _doing_ something about it?

Quite frankly, I don't _want_ people using Linux for ideological reasons. I think ideology sucks. This world would be a much better place if people had less ideology, and a whole lot more "I do this because it's FUN and because others might find it useful, not because I got religion.

Would I prefer to use a tool that didn't have any restrictions on it for kernel maintenance? Yes. But since no such tool exists, and since I'm personally not very interested in writing one, _and_ since I don't have any hangups about using the right tool for the job, I use BitKeeper.

A day later, Alexander Viro posted a message on LKML that summed up software-related belief systems: The first similar to that voiced by Torvalds, the second for free software zealots, and the third for closed-source folk. At least that is how I see the divisions, and the points Viro made for each of them rang true.

The point that stuck with me, which seems to encapsulate the essence of the "Stallman factor, was in his closing. Viro said of those in the second category: "If you happen to believe in second variant, you have my condolence as long as you don't force your beliefs on everybody else. If you choose to emulate door-to-door pests and preachers -- don't expect to be treated differently."

It is time Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation take a harder look at what the tactics employed in Austin produce. The FSF wants to proclaim the good news of free software's benefits. FSF's tactics, however, cause it to miss the mark. Ill will, hurt feelings, and resentment are the natural byproducts of coercion. Requesting Linux groups change their name to GNU/Linux as a prerequisite to hearing Stallman speak is certainly within the FSF's right. It's also stupid and shortsighted. You cannot force people to share your beliefs, especially a community that values freedom as much as the Linux crowd.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


IoT & Smart Cities Stories
A valuable conference experience generates new contacts, sales leads, potential strategic partners and potential investors; helps gather competitive intelligence and even provides inspiration for new products and services. Conference Guru works with conference organizers to pass great deals to great conferences, helping you discover new conferences and increase your return on investment.
Business professionals no longer wonder if they'll migrate to the cloud; it's now a matter of when. The cloud environment has proved to be a major force in transitioning to an agile business model that enables quick decisions and fast implementation that solidify customer relationships. And when the cloud is combined with the power of cognitive computing, it drives innovation and transformation that achieves astounding competitive advantage.
Digital Transformation: Preparing Cloud & IoT Security for the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) power solution development and delivery, many businesses need to build backend cloud capabilities. Well-poised organizations, marketing smart devices with AI and BlockChain capabilities prepare to refine compliance and regulatory capabilities in 2018. Volumes of health, financial, technical and privacy data, along with tightening compliance requirements by...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICOHOLDER named "Media Sponsor" of Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO. ICOHOLDER gives detailed information and help the community to invest in the trusty projects. Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO has opened its Call for Papers. The two-day event will present 20 top Blockchain experts. All speaking inquiries which covers the following information can be submitted by email to [email protected] Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPOalso offers sp...
Digital Transformation is much more than a buzzword. The radical shift to digital mechanisms for almost every process is evident across all industries and verticals. This is often especially true in financial services, where the legacy environment is many times unable to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands of the consumer. The constant pressure to provide complete, omnichannel delivery of customer-facing solutions to meet both regulatory and customer demands is putting enormous pressure on...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IoT Global Network has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 6–8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The IoT Global Network is a platform where you can connect with industry experts and network across the IoT community to build the successful IoT business of the future.
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
Machine learning has taken residence at our cities' cores and now we can finally have "smart cities." Cities are a collection of buildings made to provide the structure and safety necessary for people to function, create and survive. Buildings are a pool of ever-changing performance data from large automated systems such as heating and cooling to the people that live and work within them. Through machine learning, buildings can optimize performance, reduce costs, and improve occupant comfort by ...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, taking place November 12-13 in New York City, NY, is co-located with 22nd international CloudEXPO | first international DXWorldEXPO and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time t...
CloudEXPO New York 2018, colocated with DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City and will bring together Cloud Computing, FinTech and Blockchain, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, AI, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location.