Mast Kalandar

bandar's colander of random jamun aur aam

Thu, 04 Sep 2008

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Happy Birthday to GNU

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The FSF is celebrating the birth of the idea that is GNU. There is a video which I have mirrored here for local users. So I plan to sing "Happy Birthday to GNU" on 27th September 2008 as well.

It seems like some people are not quite so happy. One correspondent wrote that it was not the 25th birthday of the "GNU Operating System" since that would mean the GNU+HURD which he feels is still not ready.

In my opinion the term "GNU Operating System" represents in loose terms "a free alternative to Unix" (free as in mukta). And that idea was born 25 years ago.2

I think that the HURD was just the "concept of a notion of an idea" 25 years ago. (The first article about the HURD was on the net about 1990 or so). Moreover, in comparison with Unix of 25 years ago, the GNU+HURD combination could be considered "ready".

Thus, there is indeed much to celebrate. For example,

  1. There is not one --- there are many free alternatives to Unix. In fact, there are perhaps no non-free Unixes visible anymore!

    Does this owe a lot to the resolution made by RMS 25 years ago? Absolutely. Of course, it also owes a lot to the resolve of the hackers who followed up on this and took it well beyond what he had in mind.

  2. One can run the GNU tools + HURD combination to get an environment as good or better than what was available as Unix 25 years ago.

    Does a general member of the public really need to do this? No. There are currently a number of far superior solutions. Does the software community need this? Yes. (See below.)

I think that there are a lot of people who disagree with RMS and FSF today on a number of issues --- and these detractors may even be right. Perhaps this makes some people begrudge FSF celebrating the 25th anniversary/birthday of GNU. I offer the following points for their consideration:

  1. The vision and resolve RMS and the FSF put behind the vision --- starting 25 years ago --- have got us here.

  2. The FSF's astuteness in getting a rather well-known person like Stephen Fry 1 to celebrate GNU. If any of the distros had managed it, it would have been considered a coup!

  3. While Linux may be the dominant player in Unix today, the alternatives like *BSD, Solaris and even the HURD have an important role to play in the development of free software.

  4. That chocolate cake looks really delicious. :-)

So here's to (at least) another 25 years for GNU!

  1. Perhaps most famous in his roles as Jeeves and as the voice of the Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy).

  2. Of course, the practical-minded people may disagree and say we should celebrate "things" and not "ideas". Like it or not, the FSF has always valued the latter over the former.


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