Monday, December 22, 2008

GNU, Linux, and the Free Software Movement

In 1983, a computer programmer from MIT by the name of Richard M. Stallman grew skeptical of the commercial software packages that were selling for big bucks at computer stores. Since this software was a commercial product, its source code was often protected, and the alteration, or hacking, of the code was prohibited. A product of the early days of computers when programmers shared software code with one another, Stallman encouraged the use of what was known as free software, to give computer programmers and developers the ability to once again alter a program’s source code to make it better. Free software didn’t mean that it shouldn’t be sold, but rather that the code should be allowed to be viewed and modified by the people using it. Stallman believed that people who use computers and software are entitled to four essential freedoms, described as follows.

Freedom 0. The freedom to run the program for any purpose. Stallman wanted to make sure that people who wrote, enhanced, hacked, or used free software could use it any way they wished. Eventually, this freedom would also come to mean that the software could be run on any operating system as well.

Freedom 1. The freedom to study the software’s source code and modify it to do what you want it to do. This is one of the main ideals behind the open source movement as well. The ability to study a program’s source code means you can read all of the commands and programming that the programmer used to write the software. This may not mean much to many people, but to software developers, it not only gives them a way to learn new things, but it also gives them a foundation on which to build a newer, better program. This is done through modifying, or hacking, the source code. “Hacking” to the early programmers merely meant changing something around so that it works better.

Freedom 2. The freedom to distribute copies of your software to other people. This was an essential characteristic, as much of the focus of the early computer programmers was to help out others in the computer community. So even years before Ubuntu was to enter this community, the fundamental philosophy was there! Adding on to this freedom, Stallman also stated that in addition to being able to freely distribute software, others should be allowed to republish the software and source code as well.

Freedom 3. The freedom to publish your modifications of a software package. Again, this is one of the fundamental beliefs in the early computing community. If you make a program better through hacking and modifying the source code, share your findings with others! Think back to Mandela’s quote on Ubuntu, “Are you doing so in order to enable the community around you to improve?”

One of the biggest projects to come out of Stallman’s free software movement was an operating system that he and other programmers wrote in 1990 called GNU, a recursive acronym for GNU’s Not Unix. This operating system was designed as a completely free OS. Not only would programmers have the opportunity to modify the source code, but the operating system software itself would cost the user nothing!

However, this operating system was not yet complete. It was missing a vital component called a kernel. This essential piece of the operating system controls things like the allocation of a computer’s resources, interfacing with hardware devices, accessing programs, and security, to name a few. The GNU team found this central piece of their operating system in a kernel written in 1991 by a programmer named Linus Torvalds. “Linus’ Unix,” or “Linux,” was the name given to this kernel. The operating system born of this marriage was called the GNU/Linux operating system. Since then, the “GNU” has been dropped from the name in many circles, and the operating system is known simply as Linux. However, Stallman and others still refer to the operating system by its full name, stating that Linux is the name of the kernel that runs the operating system not the software as a whole. According to Stallman, not referring to GNU/Linux by its whole name does not give credit to those who worked so hard on other aspects of the operating system.

Source of Information : McGraw Hill Osborne Media How to Do Everything Ubuntu

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