[Fsfe-ie] Irish Times article, my feedback

Ciaran O'Riordan ciaran at member.fsf.org
Sun Jul 27 00:04:53 CEST 2003

Hi all,
  In Friday's Irish Times there was an article on page 4 of the
business section titled
 "Linux popularity is swelling but advocates must spread the word".

  It was a journalists account of a "Linux" press conference chaired
by Linus Torvalds, John Hall, and spokesmen from Oracle, SuSE, RedHat,
and VA Software.

  I mailed the following response to the author, the jist of it is
that it's the GNU project and the Free Software movement that really
needs advocates.  I thought I'd forward it here in case anyones
interested.  I'll let the list know if I get a response.

  My comments near the end about an Irish Free Software organisation
are hopeful guesses.  I made no reference to this list so I'm
representing myself alone.  I'd like to see such an organisation
emerge from this list, I have some ideas which I'll mail to the list


----- Forwarded message from Ciaran O'Riordan <ciaran at member.fsf.org> -----

Date: Sat, 26 Jul 2003 22:23:31 +0100
From: Ciaran O'Riordan <ciaran at member.fsf.org>
To: klillington at irish-times.ie
Subject: July 25th article, Linux needs advocates...

Dear Ms. LIllington,
  I read your July 25th article "Linux polularity swells but..." with
great interest.  The semi-uncomfortable interaction that you noted
between the press and the panel was interesting but it hides a deeper

  The operating system that is commonly called "Linux", began
development in 1984 and initially had nothing to do with Linus
Torvalds or Linux.  In 1984, Richard Stallman began a project to write
a completely free operating system called GNU, free in every sense, as
Stallman says "think free speech, not free beer".  Starting with
nothing, Stallman spent years hacking away, building component after
component and gathering more developers has he went.  Along the way,
he established the Free Software Foundation (FSF) to help coordinate
and fund the GNU project.  The FSF created the Free Software
Definition, a set of criteria that software must fulfill in order to
be Free Software.  A brief summary is that software users must be
given the freedom to use, alter, and distribute the software they
receive.  Permissions to do these things must not be charged for but
people can charge for related services such as distribution or
technical support.

  At the start of the nineties, some of the GNU components had become
industry leaders due to their stability and completeness (examples:
GCC, GDB, Emacs).  The most notable missing component was a kernel,
the piece of software that lies at the heart of an operating system to
take care of the hardware and share resources.  Enter Linux.

  In 1991, Torvalds began working on a kernel out of his own interest,
his kernel became known as Linux.  Without applications, Linux systems
were useless though, so the Linux developers looked around for other
software they could use and found the GNU software.  They continued to
use the name "Linux" for what they were using.

  When the GNU developers noticed this, they asked that the operating
system should be called "GNU/Linux" on the grounds that they had
written the great majority of the code and if people didn't know that
it was the GNU projects that created it, they would not find out that
all the software is completely free, as in speech.

  In the late nineties, Big Business began to take notice of
GNU/Linux.  For them it represented liberation from the desktop
dictator role that Microsoft had.  Using GNU/Linux could save them
millions in licensing fees and advocating the use of GNU/Linux would
give them a platform for their software that didn't required
Microsofts permission or help.

  But there was an issue.  If they released their own software as Free
Software they would lose revenue because their business models relied
on users having to pay for permission to use, copy, or distribute it.
They decided it would be best to keep quite about Free Software, and
to cut off the information pathway they decided they'd just call it

  It is hard for a panel to discuss the interests of GNU/Linux users
at a press conference because they differ so greatly from company to
company.  Torvalds prefers coding to politics so he likes to stay
outside of the issue of software freedom.  Companies such as Oracle
and VA Software are users that don't want to contribute, SuSE
contributes but doesn't want to commit, and RedHat contributes greatly
but say they have to use the term "Linux" because it's the most
recognisable to other businesses.

  The GNU project is going from strength to strength but keeping up
with Big Business takes a lot of work from mostly unpaid people.  The
FSF has spread and now has chapters in America, Europe, India, and
China.  Most european countries also have national Free Software
organisations.  France has APRIL, UK has AFFS, Italy has ASL, Portugal
has ANSOL.  Ireland is on the verge of having it's own Free Software
coordination organisation, I am working on it along with many
interested comrades.  We hope to have this organisation established
before October of this year.

  Free Software has the potential to cut goverment spending on
software, right now the Irish goverment is Microsofts largest Irish
customer.  It will also cut educational spending on software and
decrease the cost of computing for the general public.  GNU/Linux has
a Free Software desktop, office suite, and all the applications people
expect with a modern desktop computer.  What it needs is that, as the
end of your article title says, "...advocates must spread the word".

  Before the end of the year, we hope to have a press pack and a
website for information about Free Software and GNU/Linux.  Until
then, please feel free to email me with any questions you have about
Free Software, GNU, Linux, "Linux", or similar topics.

Ciaran O'Riordan

Related documents:
Free Software Foundation : www.fsf.org
FSF, European chapter    : www.fsfeurope.org

About the name "GNU/Linux" Vs. "Linux":

The Free Software Definition:

----- End forwarded message -----

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