Pick a Free OS

Linux, GNU, and freedom


Just consider: the GNU Project starts developing an operating system, and years later Linus Torvalds adds one important piece. The GNU Project says, \"Please give our project equal mention,\" but Linus says, \"Don\'t give them a share of the credit; call the whole thing after my name alone!\" Now envision the mindset of a person who can look at these events and accuse the GNU Project of egotism. It takes strong prejudice to misjudge so drastically.

A person who is that prejudiced can say all sorts of unfair things about the GNU Project and think them justified; his fellows will support him, because they want each other\'s support in maintaining their prejudice. Dissenters can be reviled; thus, if I decline to participate in an activity under the rubric of \"Linux\", they may find that inexcusable, and holds me responsible for the ill will they feel afterwards. When so many people want me to call the system \"Linux\", how can I, who merely launched its development, not comply? And forcibly denying them a speech is forcibly making them unhappy. That\'s coercion, as bad as Microsoft!

Now, you might wonder why I don\'t just duck the issue and avoid all this grief. When SIGLINUX invited me to speak, I could simply have said \"No, sorry\" and the matter would have ended there. Why didn\'t I do that? I\'m willing to take the risk of being abused personally in order to have a chance of correcting the error that undercuts the GNU Project\'s efforts.

Calling this variant of the GNU system \"Linux\" plays into the hands of people who choose their software based only on technical advantage, not caring whether it respects their freedom. There are people like Barr, that want their software \"free from ideology\" and criticize anyone that says freedom matters. There are people like Torvalds that will pressure our community into use of a non-free program, and challenge anyone who complains to provide a (technically) better program immediately or shut up. There are people who say that technical decisions should not be \"politicized\" by consideration of their social consequences.

In the 70s, computer users lost the freedoms to redistribute and change software because they didn\'t value their freedom. Computer users regained these freedoms in the 80s and 90s because a group of idealists, the GNU Project, believed that freedom is what makes a program better, and were willing to work for what we believed in.