Nettime mailing list archives

Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness [2x]
nettimes's digester on Sun, 19 Oct 2003 22:00:01 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness [2x]

Table of Contents:

   Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness [3x]; Linux strikes [1x]                           
     Florian Cramer <cantsin {AT} zedat.fu-berlin.de>                                     

   Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness                                                    
     Zak McGregor <zak {AT} mighty.co.za>                                                 


Date: Sun, 19 Oct 2003 16:01:25 +0200
From: Florian Cramer <cantsin {AT} zedat.fu-berlin.de>
Subject: Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness [3x]; Linux strikes [1x]

august <august {AT} alien.mur.at> wrote:

> > august <august {AT} alien.mur.at> writes:
> > 
> > > Stallman's bitterness is interesting to me.  His notions of
> > > 'freedom' have introduced a shouting match in his advertising
> > > scheme that he is apparently losing. I have to wince everytime I
> > > hear him say 'it's GNU-Linux, not Linux'.  [1]
> > It is not his notion of freedom that introduced the shouting match
> > about what to title the collection of Gnu and non-Gnu software
> > distributed with the linux kernel.  
> well, sort of.  People, according to stallman, are 'free' to use the
> code how they want, modify it and such....but they _should_ call it
> 'GNU Linux' and not 'Linux'.  My issue is partly with the liberal use
> of the word 'free' and the sort of contradictory implications of
> branding.  

This is just a question of proper attribution. Even the BSD license,
which permits forking of free code released under its terms into
proprietary projects, requires that the original work used is

In the case of "Linux" vs. "GNU/Linux", I think the FSF has a sound
point based simply on technical arguments. Linux is an operating system
kernel which is not usable as a piece of software on its own. If you
boot a computer just into the Linux kernel and nothing else, you
end up with a "kernel panic" (i.e. a crash) because in order for a
Unix-like system to function, it needs 

- - at (the very) least a shell; but if the shell is defined as the init
  process, this provides a functional system only in theory, since the 
  shell alone just provides control structures for external commands that
  need to be installed separately.

- - in practice, to be functional as a bare-bones OS, an init process 
  (which starts operating system services/background processes), a login 
  daemon (which handles user logins), a shell (i.e. an interactive 
  command interpreter), a base set of system tools for copying, moving,
  deleting, finding files, mounting filesystems, managing user accounts,
  formatting disks etc.. For Unix with its philosophy that (almost) 
  "everything is a stream of text", text-manipulation tools like grep,
  sed and awk are also part of the base system.
  Also, if the software is written in C, there needs to be a dynamic
  linker and a standard C library; if software needs to be installed from
  sources (as standard under Unix), there also needs to be a C compiler
  and a version of the "make" utility.

  In Unix, all this base system software conventionally resides in the
  folders /sbin, /bin and /lib, all additional, non-essential software 
  resides in subdirectories of /usr.

It happens that in all mainstream "Linux distributions" - including
RedHat, SuSE, Mandrake, Slackware, Debian, Gentoo, Conectiva, Lindows,
Lycoris, Knoppix - the base system described above consists to an amount
of roughly 90% of GNU software: the GNU C Library, the GNU dynamic linker,
the GNU Bash shell, the GNU file utilities (cp, mv, mkdir etc.), the GNU
text utilities (sed, grep etc.).

Beyond that, all software on such a "Linux software" talks to the kernel
via the GNU C library (glibc). If one would rip it out, all third-party
software would cease to work.

So I think it is fair, solely on technical grounds, to speak of
"GNU/Linux" or "Linux/GNU" systems. The old counter-argument that the
system also includes other important components like the XFree86 X11
windowing system, KDE, Apache, Samba, Perl/Python/PHP etc. does, in my
opinion, not count, since all these software pieces are optional and many
GNU/Linux installations run without them (GNU/Linux servers usually run
without X11, desktops without Apache and PHP, for example). So Linux and
GNU define the lowest common denominator of the whole. All of the "Linux
distributions" I mentioned above are, as a matter of fact, based on both
Linux and GNU.

Exceptions exist outside the mainstream, for example in embedded devices
like Linux-based routers or PDAs or on bootable Linux floppy disks which
use trimmed-down versions of the Libc (like uClibc and dietlibc), minimal
shells like ash and likewise reduced version of the login daemon (like
minilogin) and the file/text toolchain (like Busybox), although even these
operating systems couldn't be freely developed and customized without the
GNU C compiler.

The free variants of BSD - FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD - have their own C
library and their own, non-GNU system toolset of login daemons, shells,
file and text utilities (although they still rely on the GNU C compiler
and, for example, on GNU groff as the formatting backend of their manual

The politics of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation is
consistent insofar as they only ask to call the mainstream "Linux"
installations GNU/Linux and thereby give due credit to the contribution of
the GNU project without which also Linux, the kernel, wouldn't have been
possible. (Linux is written, btw., in GNU C, using specific extensions of
the GNU C Compiler, and not in ANSI C.) And indeed, the GNU/Linux issue is
useful to debunk the mass media hype of the wonderboy from Finland who
simply wrote his own operating system out of frustration with the existing
ones, a myth which puts a whole decade of hard volunteer work and
self-exploitation into oblivion.

> Here is what I see.  I see free software as an inevitability.  A lot of
> forces are converging towards this.  And, I can't really think of a good
> example where a commercial venture has successfully exploited the work of
> a free software project.   I like RedHat, but prefer gentoo.  I like
> Mozilla as well.
> But, the fact that it hasn't happend, doesn't mean it can't.  
> I'm certainly paranoid, and see a danger there.  Maybe, as you suggest, it
> doesn't have anything to do with software.

In a way, RedHat _has_ successfully exploited the work of free software
developers because the founders of the company got millionaires by the
IPO. On the other hand, the RedHat distribution itself is free software
under the GPL, and the company has a good record of employing free
developers and putting a lot of money into community projects (like, for
example, the development of Gnome), and no free software license forbids
to commercially distribute free code.

But I think this coexistence of volunteer community work and commercialism
can only work in software development where programmers are, still,
comparatively well paid and can afford to work, for example, half-time for
a company and half-time for their own projects. Also, most computer
software is not being developed as a "shrink-wrap" boxed product  la
Microsoft, Adobe, Macromedia or Oracle, but in companies and public
institutions as in-house solutions to administrative problems, so that
many of the companies and institutions don't mind if a piece of software,
as the by-product of a programmer's service, gets distributed freely. (I
guess they frequently don't even know of that software at all.)

The same model ultimately wouldn't work, for example, for fiction writers
who make their living on publishing contracts.
> Maybe you can answer a question for me.  If a company like nike can
> litigate to have the t0 and 010..0101 crew take down their nikeplatz
> project, could a free software project sue in the case that their name and
> project was reappropriated for other, maybe less idealistic, means?  

Maybe I can step in here: Yes, it can, if the reappropriation means a
breach of the license (i.e. the GPL). But it cannot sue against the
reappropriation on ethical grounds that are not covered by the license.

If, for example, a fascist dictatorship would use and extend the GPLed
MySQL database for the purpose of a racist population profiling, but make
all code extensions available under the GPL, there would be no legal way
of intervening against that appropriation.

The FSF defines as the base "freedom 0" of all free software, quote, "The
freedom to run the program, for any purpose"
<http://www.gnu.org/graphics/philosophicalgnu.html> which explicitely
includes controversial purposes as well. The Debian project, accordingly,
does not approve licenses as "free" which preclude the use of software in
any way, including for political and ethical reasons.

- -F
- -- 
GnuPG/PGP public key ID 3200C7BA, finger cantsin {AT} mail.zedat.fu-berlin.de


Date: Sun, 19 Oct 2003 16:52:26 +0200
From: Zak McGregor <zak {AT} mighty.co.za>
Subject: Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness

On Fri, 17 Oct 2003 18:42:51 +0200 (CEST)
august <august {AT} alien.mur.at> wrote:

> On Fri, 17 Oct 2003, Francis Hwang wrote:
> > ... so even if you think he's [Stallman] too prone to get into
> > internecine squabbles or that he should pipe down about calling it
> > "GNU-Linux", he gets more geek points than you'll ever have. 
> Stallman's bitterness is interesting to me.  His notions of 'freedom' have
> introduced a shouting match in his advertising scheme that he is
> apparently losing. I have to wince everytime I hear him say 'it's
> GNU-Linux, not Linux'.  [1]


> 1: For those who don't know, GNU is Stallman's organization that started a
> legal idea of free software.  Linux is 'just' the kernel that is part of a
> larger operating system.  There is a GNU kernel which would make for a
> rather complete GNU unix clone, but most just uses the linux kernel.

The GNU organisation has done far more than 'just' the license and a less
popular kernel. Little things like GCC (the Gnu C Compiler), GLIBC, and
GPLd ports of many 'nix system utilities. Stallman's argumant has always
been that the kernel is but a part of the whole system, and while the
kernel is "Linux", the rest of what makes a usable OS with the Linux
kernel mostly comes courtesy of GNU, therefore it is more properly called
"GNU/Linux" than simply "Linux". In my opinion a fairly reasonable stance.

Stallman is uncompromising and committed to what he believes in - two
traits without which I'm sure any Free Software efforts would have been
completely undermined, raped and pillaged by Silicon Valley (and, let's be
honest, Redmondian) software vendors. That these essential qualities are
seen in any way as being negative is frankly disturbing. If one were to be
judged only by one's peers, Stallman could have few detractors indeed.



#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net