Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Liz McMillan, Yeshim Deniz, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Cynthia Dunlop

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SoftLayer operates a global cloud infrastructure platform built for Internet scale. With a global footprint of data centers and network points of presence, SoftLayer provides infrastructure as a service to leading-edge customers ranging from Web startups to global enterprises. SoftLayer's modular architecture, full-featured API, and sophisticated automation provide unparalleled performance and control. Its flexible unified platform seamlessly spans physical and virtual devices linked via a world...
SYS-CON Events announced today that ContentMX, the marketing technology and services company with a singular mission to increase engagement and drive more conversations for enterprise, channel and SMB technology marketers, has been named “Sponsor & Exhibitor Lounge Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. “CloudExpo is a great opportunity to start a conversation with new prospects, but what happens after the...
Companies can harness IoT and predictive analytics to sustain business continuity; predict and manage site performance during emergencies; minimize expensive reactive maintenance; and forecast equipment and maintenance budgets and expenditures. Providing cost-effective, uninterrupted service is challenging, particularly for organizations with geographically dispersed operations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that BMC Software has been named "Siver Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2015 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. BMC is a global leader in innovative software solutions that help businesses transform into digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive advantage. BMC Digital Enterprise Management is a set of innovative IT solutions designed to make digital business fast, seamless, and optimized from mainframe to mo...
The IoT is changing the way enterprises conduct business. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, discuss how businesses can gain an edge over competitors by empowering consumers to take control through IoT. We'll cite examples such as a Washington, D.C.-based sports club that leveraged IoT and the cloud to develop a comprehensive booking system. He'll also highlight how IoT can revitalize and restore outdated business models, making them profitable...
IoT generates lots of temporal data. But how do you unlock its value? How do you coordinate the diverse moving parts that must come together when developing your IoT product? What are the key challenges addressed by Data as a Service? How does cloud computing underlie and connect the notions of Digital and DevOps What is the impact of the API economy? What is the business imperative for Cognitive Computing? Get all these questions and hundreds more like them answered at the 18th Cloud Expo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that EastBanc Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. EastBanc Technologies has been working at the frontier of technology since 1999. Today, the firm provides full-lifecycle software development delivering flexible technology solutions that seamlessly integrate with existing systems – whether on premise or cloud. EastBanc Technologies partners with p...
SYS-CON Events announced today Object Management Group® has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Commvault, a global leader in enterprise data protection and information management, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Commvault is a leading provider of data protection and information management...
In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Adobe, will discuss how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects). Bruce Swann has more than 15 years of experience working with digital marketing disciplines like web analytics, social med...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Tintri Inc., a leading producer of VM-aware storage (VAS) for virtualization and cloud environments, will exhibit at the 18th International CloudExpo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The IoTs will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and share the must-have mindsets for removing complexity from the development proc...
What a difference a year makes. Organizations aren’t just talking about IoT possibilities, it is now baked into their core business strategy. With IoT, billions of devices generating data from different companies on different networks around the globe need to interact. From efficiency to better customer insights to completely new business models, IoT will turn traditional business models upside down. In the new customer-centric age, the key to success is delivering critical services and apps wit...
Join us at Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo 2016 – June 7-9 at the Javits Center in New York City and November 1-3 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – and deliver your unique message in a way that is striking and unforgettable by taking advantage of SYS-CON's unmatched high-impact, result-driven event / media packages.
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, will provide an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life ...
As cloud and storage projections continue to rise, the number of organizations moving to the cloud is escalating and it is clear cloud storage is here to stay. However, is it secure? Data is the lifeblood for government entities, countries, cloud service providers and enterprises alike and losing or exposing that data can have disastrous results. There are new concepts for data storage on the horizon that will deliver secure solutions for storing and moving sensitive data around the world. ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. MobiDev is a software company that develops and delivers turn-key mobile apps, websites, web services, and complex software systems for startups and enterprises. Since 2009 it has grown from a small group of passionate engineers and business managers to a full-scale mobile software company with over 200 develope...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, will discuss the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to fo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. MangoApps provides modern company intranets and team collaboration software, allowing workers to stay connected and productive from anywhere in the world and from any device. For more information, please visit https://www.mangoapps.com/.
SYS-CON Events announced today TechTarget has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TechTarget is the Web’s leading destination for serious technology buyers researching and making enterprise technology decisions. Its extensive global networ...