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Stallman to Linux.SYS-CON.com: "We Developed a Free-Software Operating System So Users Could Live in Freedom."

Stallman to Linux.SYS-CON.com: "We Developed a Free-Software Operating System So Users Could Live in Freedom."

[responding to the Linux.SYS-CON.com item last week announcing the initiative by Bruce Perens, James Anthill and others to develop what they are calling "UserLinux" - a single distro based on Debian GNU/Linux, free software activist Richard Stallman writes the following Letter to the Editors of Linux.SYS-CON.com]

Dear Editors,

James Anthill, who is helping to develop a version of the GNU/Linux operating system with added non-free software, says that "people always go for the path of least resistance". Ironically, there is no clearer counterexample to this supposed rule than the GNU system itself. The path of least resistance for the developers of GNU, in 1984, would have been to accept non-free software and use Unix. Instead we worked for years to develop a free software replacement, the GNU system. Today's GNU/Linux system comes from that effort.

True, some parts of the GNU/Linux system, such as the kernel, Linux, and the window system, X11, were motivated by other goals. But there would be no free system at all if we had followed the path of least resistance. We made a strenuous effort specifically to remove non-free software from our lives.

Perhaps the reason Anthill overlooked this contradiction is that he was thinking of the system as "Linux", as having been started in 1991 by Linus Torvalds. The practice of calling the system "Linux" can lead even experts to forget its history.

Since you have published a criticism of my views, I think it is proper for me to have a chance to state them properly. We developed a free-software operating system so users could live in freedom. But if you add a non-free program to the system, you lose some of your freedom. This defeats the purpose of developing the system in the first place. A non-free program is worse than no program, because no program doesn't trample your freedom, doesn't tempt you to give it up, but a non-free program does. In the long term, the only way we will ever secure our freedom is by rejecting the idea that a non-free program is "better than nothing".

On the other hand, Anthill could be right in saying that User"Linux" is a step forward from today's commercial GNU/Linux distros, which typically support many non-free programs. I'm all in favor of encouraging people to take a step towards freedom, large or small, even if the step does not arrive all the way there, provided we remember afterward to remind them that further steps are necessary to have freedom.

Sincerely,
Richard Stallman
President, Free Software Foundation
Chief GNUisance of the GNU Project

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