Saturday, December 4, 2010

Free Software and GNU

In a series of events that have almost become legend through constant repetition, Richard M. Stallman created the concept of free software in 1983. Stallman grew up with computers in the 1960s and 1970s, when computer users purchased very large and extremely expensive mainframe computers, which were then shared among large numbers of programmers. Software was, for the most part, seen as an add-on to the hardware, and every user had the ability and the right to modify or rewrite the software on his or her computer and to freely share this software. As computers became cheaper and more numerous in the late 1970s, producers of software began to see value in the software itself. Producers of computers began to argue that their software could be copyrighted and was a form of intellectual property much like a music recording, a film, or a book’s text. They began to distribute their software under licenses and in forms that restricted its users’ abilities to use, redistribute, or modify the code. By the early 1980s, restrictive software licenses had become the norm.

Stallman, then a programmer at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, became increasingly concerned with what he saw as a dangerous loss of the freedoms that software users and developers had previously enjoyed. He was concerned with computer users’ ability to be good neighbors and members of what he thought was an ethical and efficient computer-user community. To fight against this negative tide, Stallman articulated a vision for a community that developed liberated code—in his words, “free software.” He defined free software as software that had the following four characteristics—labeled as freedoms 0 through 3 instead of 1 through 4 as a nod to computer programming tradition and a bit of an inside joke:

» The freedom to run the program for any purpose (freedom 0)

» The freedom to study how the program works and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1)

» The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2)

» The freedom to improve the program and release your improvements to the public so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3)

Access to source code—the human-readable and modifiable blueprints of any piece of software that can be distinguished from the computer-readable version of the code that most software is distributed as—is a prerequisite to freedoms 1 and 3. In addition to releasing this definition of free software, Stallman created a project with the goal of creating a completely free OS to replace the then-popular UNIX. In 1984, Stallman announced this project and called it GNU—also in the form of common programmer humor, a recursive acronym that stands for “GNU’s Not UNIX.”

Source of Information :  Prentice Hall The official Ubuntu Book 5th Edition 2010
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