|The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin, Ch. 8 - by Peter Salus
Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 08:58 AM EDT
Here is Chapter 8 of Peter Salus' book, "The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin," which he is publishing in installments on Groklaw under the Creative Commons license, 2.0, attribution, noncommercial, noderivatives.
Here are the earlier chapters:
The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin
~ by Peter H. Salus
Chapter 8. "Free as in Freedom"
Richard M. Stallman, though a freshman at Harvard, began
working for Russ Noftsker at the MIT Artificial Intelligence
Lab in 1971. While still in high school (The Adams School
through junior year, senior year at Louis D. Brandeis on West
84th Street) in New York, he had worked briefly at the IBM
Science Center and at Rockefeller University.
As he put it,
I became part of a software-sharing community that had existed
for many years. Sharing of software was not limited to our
particular community; it is as old as computers, just as sharing
of recipes is as old as cooking. But we did it more than most.
The AI Lab used a time-sharing operating system called ITS (the
Incompatible Timesharing System) that the Lab's staff hackers
had designed and written in assembler language for the
Digital PDP-10... As a member of this community, an AI Lab staff
system hacker, my job was to improve this system.
We did not call our software "free software," because that term
did not yet exist, but that is what it was. Whenever people
from another university or a company wanted to port and use a
program, we gladly let them. If you saw someone using an
unfamiliar and interesting program, you could always ask to see
the source code, so that you could read it, change it, or
cannibalize parts of it to make a new program.1
Less than a decade later, everything changed for the worse.
"It was Symbolics that destroyed the community of the AI Lab,"
rms told me. "Those guys no longer came to the Lab. In 1980
I spent three or four months at Stanford and when I got back [to Tech Square], the guys were gone. The place was dead."
(Sam Williams says that Symbolics hired 14 AI Lab staff as
part-time "consultants." Richard was truly the "last of the
We see here what Richard wanted: a cooperative community
of hackers, producing software that got better and better.
"In January '82 they [Symbolics] came out with a first edition,"
rms continued. They didn't share. So I implemented a quite
different set of features and rewrote about half of the
code. That was in February. In March, on my birthday
[March 16], war broke out. Everyone at MIT chose a side:
use Symbolics' stuff, but not return source for development.
I was really unhappy. The community had been destroyed.
Now the whole attitude was changing."
In the essay cited above, rms continued:
When the AI Lab bought a new PDP-10 in 1982, its administrators
decided to use Digital's non-free timesharing system instead
I have quoted Richard at length, because I think that his
"voice" should be heard. He has frequently said that "Software
wants to be free." But in 1982 and 1983 his was a single,
lonely voice. He duplicated the work of the Symbolics programmers
in order to prevent the company from gaining a monopoly. He
refused to sign non-disclosure agreements, and he shared his
work with others in what he still regards as the "spirit of
scientific collaboration and openness."
The modern computers of the era, such as the VAX or the 68020,
had their own operating systems, but none of them were free
software: you had to sign a nondisclosure agreement even to
get an executable copy.
This meant that the first step in using a computer was to
promise not to help your neighbor. A cooperating community was
forbidden. The rule made by the owners of proprietary software
was, "If you share with your neighbor, you are a pirate. If you
want any changes, beg us to make them."
The idea that the proprietary software social system--the
system that says you are not allowed to share or change
software--is antisocial, that it is unethical, that it is
simply wrong, may come as a surprise to some readers. But
what else could we say about a system based on dividing the
public and keeping users helpless? Readers who find the idea
surprising may have taken the proprietary social system as given,
or judged it on the terms suggested by proprietary software
businesses. Software publishers have worked long and hard to
convince people that there is only one way to look at the
In September 1983, rms announced the GNU project. In January
1984 he resigned from his job at MIT.
He has written:
I began work on GNU Emacs in September 1984, and in early 1985
it was beginning to be usable. This enabled me to begin using
Unix systems to do editing; having no interest in learning to
use vi or ed, I had done my editing on other kinds of machines
At this point, people began wanting to use GNU Emacs, which raised
the question of how to distribute it. Of course, I put it on the
anonymous ftp server on the MIT computer that I used. (This
computer, prep.ai.mit.edu, thus became the principal GNU ftp
distribution site; when it was decommissioned a few years later,
we transferred the name to our new ftp server.) But at that time,
many of the interested people were not on the Internet and could
not get a copy by ftp. So the question was, what would I say to
I could have said, "Find a friend who is on the Net and who will
make a copy for you." Or I could have done what I did with the
original PDP-10 Emacs: tell them, "Mail me a tape and a SASE, and
I will mail it back with Emacs on it." But I had no job, and I was
looking for ways to make money from free software. So I announced
that I would mail a tape to whoever wanted one, for a fee of $150.
In this way, I started a free software distribution business, the
precursor of the companies that today distribute entire
Linux-based GNU systems.
That's it. In September 1983, the first draft of the
Manifesto announced Richard's intent; just over a year
later, his $150 GNU Emacs initiated an innovative business model.
Thanks to Patrick Henry Winston, director of the MIT AI Lab
from 1972-1997, Richard's resignation didn't have the expected
consequences. Winston allowed rms to continue to have office and
lab space at Tech Square. The AI Lab's computing facilities were
also available for Richard's use.
In his Defence of Poesy (1595), Sir Philip Sidney contrasts
the historian, who is obliged to be faithful to recorded events, to
the poet, who is capable of depicting ideals, employing
imaginative fictions. To Sidney, the poet's superiority lies
with clarity of moral vision, whereas the details of events may
result in the blurring of the historian's vision. Spenser
(1552-1599), referring to himself as a "Poet historical,"
views historians as being forced to follow orderly chronology,
where poets can move back and forth in time. All of this is to
attempt to excuse my moving ahead to 1984, perhaps illustrating my
drift between historian and "Poet historical."
Let me now move back in time and across the Atlantic.
Software, Free Society (FSF, 2002), p. 15.
Dr. Salus is the author of "A Quarter Century of UNIX" and several other books, including "HPL: Little Languages and Tools", "Big Book of Ipv6 Addressing Rfcs", "Handbook of Programming Languages (HPL): Imperative Programming Languages", "Casting the Net: From ARPANET to INTERNET and Beyond", and "The Handbook of Programming Languages (HPL): Functional, Concurrent and Logic Programming Languages". There is an interview with him, audio and video,"codebytes: A History of UNIX and UNIX Licences" which was done in 2001 at a USENIX conference. Dr. Salus has served as Executive Director of the USENIX Association.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License. To view
a copy of this license, visit
or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way,
Stanford, California 94305, USA.
|Authored by: josmith42 on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 09:12 AM EDT|
|You know the drill...|
This comment was typed using the Dvorak keyboard layout. :-)
[ Reply to This | # ]
|Authored by: fudisbad on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 09:13 AM EDT|
|For current events, legal filings and Caldera® collapses.|
Please make links clickable.
Example: <a href="http://example.com">Click here</a>
See my bio for copyright details re: this post.
Darl McBride, show your evidence!
[ Reply to This | # ]
- Off topic here please - Authored by: Weeble on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 09:32 AM EDT
- Is Sun getting it? - Authored by: MplsBrian on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 11:10 AM EDT
- Microsoft moving behind the scenes - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 11:22 AM EDT
- OT Gates says IPOD success wont last - Authored by: dodger on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 11:56 AM EDT
- Spam alert for anyone who posts feedback to "Linux Today" - Authored by: greyhat on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 01:07 PM EDT
- theinquirer - "[SCO] had hired snoops to find out more about her [PJ]" - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 02:19 PM EDT
- Good read - Authored by: k1773r37f on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 02:34 PM EDT
- Ot The Micro$oft credo "It ain't done un-till IT wont run" - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 03:36 PM EDT
- BBC opens content to developers - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 03:57 PM EDT
- THE GREENS/EFA conference on sofware patents at the EU Parliament. - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 08:30 PM EDT
- "Jury Fails to Determine Validity of Yahoo! Ad Tech Patent" - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 08:41 PM EDT
- "Microsoft tries to breathe life into older PCs" - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 09:17 PM EDT
- "Mozilla updates Firefox to fix flaws" - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 09:24 PM EDT
- "Microsoft share of browser market slips" - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 09:31 PM EDT
- " IBM, Red Hat widen Linux mainframe promotion" - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 09:52 PM EDT
- "Sun plays hide and seek with key Solaris 10 goodies" - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 10:00 PM EDT
- "OpenOffice, Free-Software Supporters Make Peace over Java" - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 10:04 PM EDT
- " - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 10:15 PM EDT
- "Indian Company Offers $230 Portable PC" - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 10:30 PM EDT
- An apology of sorts from Linux World - Authored by: Kosh Nanarek on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 11:06 PM EDT
- Sys-con non-specifically responds (including a message to PJ) - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 11:07 PM EDT
- The Editorial Staff Of LinuxWorld Magazine Would Like To Set The Record Straight. - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 11:07 PM EDT
- XBOX: Most Powerful Home Computer - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 13 2005 @ 01:52 AM EDT
- Wine development stifled by software patent - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 13 2005 @ 08:17 AM EDT
- Except that ... - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 13 2005 @ 10:13 AM EDT
- "Bloggers don't lie " - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 13 2005 @ 10:44 AM EDT
|Authored by: chrism on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 10:06 AM EDT|
|I've always had a hard time with Richard's contention that it is morally wrong|
for someone to attempt to sell software they wrote under the typical proprietary
license. I don't see that a closed source software business is necessairly
being dishonest or violent in any way, and I just don't get the idea that
peaceful and honest behavior can be morally wrong.
Richard once proposed a tax on software to pay for the development of free
software (I've quoted this part of the GNU Manifesto below). It is hard not to
be grateful to Richard for what he has done for the world of free software (he's
certainly done more than I have or probably will) but it is equally hard for me
to respect someone who thinks they are entitled to tax me to fund the sort of
work they find personally rewarding.
These days, however, the threat of software patents is so dire, I almost feel
like the proverbial peasant caught between the entrenched king (whose abuse of
my village has been steadily increasing for ages) and an upstart looking to
raise an army to unseat the king. Tempting as it is to aid the upstart in any
way I can, I don't feel like the king or the upstart has much respect for me.
Richard consistently comes off as being anti-business, often saying nasty things
to decent people/companies that we should be thanking. Like Nvidia and their X
driver (a closed source firmware image with an open source wrapper that
interfaces with the kernel). Nvidia could not release an open source driver
even if they wanted to because even to write their closed source driver they
have to obtain patent licenses from other companies. The abysmal state of the
patent system is not their fault.
p.s. Here's Richard's hardware tax proposal from the GNU Manifesto:
All sorts of development can be funded with a Software Tax:
Suppose everyone who buys a computer has to pay x percent of the price as a
software tax. The government gives this to an agency like the NSF to spend on
But if the computer buyer makes a donation to software development himself, he
can take a credit against the tax. He can donate to the project of his own
choosing--often, chosen because he hopes to use the results when it is done. He
can take a credit for any amount of donation up to the total tax he had to pay.
The total tax rate could be decided by a vote of the payers of the tax, weighted
according to the amount they will be taxed on.
* The computer-using community supports software development.
* This community decides what level of support is needed.
* Users who care which projects their share is spent on can choose this for
[ Reply to This | # ]
- respecting Richard Stallman - Authored by: ssavitzky on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 10:31 AM EDT
- Small correction - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 11:06 AM EDT
- no proprietary commercial software is NOT moral - Authored by: dyfet on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 10:38 AM EDT
- respecting Richard Stallman - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 10:49 AM EDT
- respecting Richard Stallman -- I've also found it hard but... - Authored by: ansak on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 10:54 AM EDT
- Richard Stallman - the visionary - Authored by: freeio on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 10:55 AM EDT
- respecting Richard Stallman - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 10:59 AM EDT
- respecting Richard Stallman - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 11:12 AM EDT
- General Computer Tax - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 11:23 AM EDT
- respecting Richard Stallman - Authored by: Nick Bridge on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 12:14 PM EDT
- It's natural to hate many proprietary software makers... - Authored by: greyhat on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 01:51 PM EDT
- respecting Richard Stallman - Authored by: mossc on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 01:55 PM EDT
- Taxation - Authored by: gleef on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 08:05 PM EDT
- Unfortunately - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 09:41 PM EDT
- respecting Richard Stallman - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 13 2005 @ 01:17 AM EDT
- respecting Richard Stallman - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 13 2005 @ 09:25 AM EDT
|Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 11:03 AM EDT|
|This reminds me of the serialized stories in the past. I look forward to next|
This method of development should produce a high quality end product. All errors
should be caught and additional information may get included prior to
publication. Already have a place reserved in the bookshelves for the bound
[ Reply to This | # ]
|Authored by: PSaltyDS on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 12:05 PM EDT|
|"Sharing of software was not limited to our particular community; it is as
old as computers, just as sharing of recipes is as old as
Maybe just me, but that struck me as a very powerful
analogy, on par with "the car with the hood welded shut". You can take that
pretty far in relation to software patents, for example.
Crocker and Nabisco getting together with their congress-critters to push for
"Recipie Patent" legislation. They go on to argue that the publishers of
fund-raising cookbooks made by elementry school classes owe them huge royalties
for use of the "methods and priciples" of using salt in a specific 2:1 ratio
with pepper as a seasoning for poultry (US Patent 20051234). A national add
campaign decries the baking of cookies containing the pirated combination of a
pinch of ginger and any amount of brown sugar(US Patent 20052345). The entire
fast-food stand market of San Diego is wiped out over expensive Fish Taco
legislation regarding US Patent 20053456. McDonalds demands an end to the
blatant violation of its Trade-Secret Special Sauce by those who mix ketchup
with their thousand island dressing...
Oh the Humanity!
[Dunks chocolate bar in peanut butter and eats
it, in violation of Reeses US Patent 20054567...]
It's OK, I'm feeling
much better now... :-)
"Any technology distinguishable from magic is insuficiently advanced." - Geek's
Corrolary to Clarke's Law
[ Reply to This | # ]
|Authored by: Nick Bridge on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 12:27 PM EDT|
[ Reply to This | # ]
|Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 12:32 PM EDT|
|I'm actually a veteran of the same era as Stallman, not at MIT but in the|
broader (academic Arpanet) community. My experience is different only in degree
from his. There *was* a community of code sharers. Lots of the code for the
net worked under that paradigm. Lots didn't; there were proprietary O/Ss with
different degrees of cost and openness. Stallman was lucky in that the MIT AI
Lab staff was so skilled that they could build their own full O/S stack and have
it be competitive and used for so long.
I'm tempted to re-parse the Symbolics episode, though. I don't know details.
Potentially, two things were lost from the open community of software sharing:
certainly the code hackers, but perhaps the code as well. That is, it's clear
that lots of the people of the community were folded into the private enterprise
model (at Symbolics). (And, that's in some sense the right of the individuals
to walk.) But was the once-public MIT source code also copied and modified and
licensed? Is what happened that the programming work that had been done under
the implicit free-license model was taken private, forked into a commercial
sphere? Where the modifications to this private copy were paid for by the
private concern, and the source to this modified, private copy was kept private?
If this is what happened, this would indeed rankle deeply.
Imagine, if this is the case. You're in a community of free sharers, paid for
by a benevolent administration that reaps the fruits of your work by having its
user community supported. Then someone takes your work and starts charging for
the whole package, your work plus their private modifications. Maybe you get to
use their work in binary form, or some such thing, but you no longer get to
modify it (though you may have written it in the first place).
So it's clear that some people (hackers) in the community traded the membership
in the community of sharers for the membership in the commercial enterprise (and
doubtless a different kind of paycheck). But it would be much more rankling if
they did their work not by coding from scratch, but rather by starting with a
body of work that had had other contributors as well. Gee, the GNU Public
License sounds like a sensible reaction to such an event.
[ Reply to This | # ]
|Authored by: stevenj on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 12:49 PM EDT|
He has frequently said that "Software wants to
Does anyone have any evidence that RMS has
actually said this? Via Google, I can find lots of instances of
attributing this sentiment to him, but no actual quotations with context.
Nothing on gnu.org contains this phrase.
Nor does it seem like
particularly good description of his philosophy...it seems like a more
paraphrase might be, "Users should be free."
We see here
Richard wanted: a cooperative community of hackers, producing software that
better and better.
The connotations of this sentence
me, to be somewhat misleading. RMS has frequently emphasized that better
are is not his primary goal (unlike ESR's
Whether or not you agree with RMS, let's not put
words in his
[ Reply to This | # ]
|Authored by: dmarker on Thursday, May 12 2005 @ 06:28 PM EDT|
because of the wealth of very interesting discussion.
This type of debate makes Groklaw such a great place. It is easy to believe that
powerful and inquiring minds are working to capacity and the result is being
[ Reply to This | # ]
|Authored by: Stumbles on Friday, May 13 2005 @ 09:48 AM EDT|
|This one is interesting,
– part 94 |
You can tune a piano but you can't tune a fish.
[ Reply to This | # ]