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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

RMS On BitKeeper

Richard Stallman writes, there are thousands of non-free programs, and most merit no special attention other than developing a free replacement. BitKeeper became infamous and dangerous was its marketing approach: inviting high-profile free software projects to use it, so as to attract other paying users. Larry McVoy made the program available gratis to free software developers. This did not mean it was free software for them: they were privileged not to part with their money, but they still had to part with their freedom. They gave up the fundamental freedoms that define free software: freedom to run the program as you wish for any purpose, freedom to study and change the source code as you wish, freedom to make and redistribute copies, and freedom to publish modified versions.
McVoy's great triumph was the adoption of this program for Linux development. No free software project is more visible than Linux. It is the kernel of the GNU/Linux operating system, an essential component, and users often mistake it for the entire system.The use of his program in Linux development was powerful publicity for it. A free kernel, even a whole free operating system, is not sufficient to use your computer in freedom; we need free software for everything else, too. Free applications, free drivers, free BIOS: some of those projects face large obstacles - the need to reverse engineer formats or protocols or pressure companies to document them, or to work around or face down patent threats, or to compete with a network effect. Success will require firmness and determination. A better kernel is desirable, to be sure, but not at the expense of weakening the impetus to liberate the rest of the software world. Whether one likes it or not - RMS is always a pleasure to read.

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