Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the GNU project

Few people had access to computers back when Richard Matthew Stallman realized the then-nascent software industry was adopting a business model based on denying software users their four essential freedoms, and that he could do something about it. Today, millions of people, businesses and governments run the result of the efforts to preserve and defend their freedoms he started 25 years ago, but few even know about the GNU project. Let's celebrate the accomplishments, and spread the word!

On Sept 27, 1983, RMS announced to the world his goal of writing a Free UNIX-compatible operating system, i.e., one that wouldn't demand users to give up their freedoms to run, study, modify and distribute any software, modified or not. He invited programmers to join him in this task of developing a sufficiently large body of software to enable people to use computers in freedom, and in accordance with the moral foundations of sharing, solidarity and reciprocity.

After the initial focus on development tools such as a compiler, a debugger, an integrated development environment and a system library (GCC, GDB, Emacs and glibc, respectively), hundreds of other applications, utilities and libraries were contributed by a growing army of volunteers.

Most of these programs were released under the GNU GPL, a license that not only respects users' freedoms, granting enough permissions to counter copyright's anti-social default provisions, but that also defends the freedoms, introducing copyleft as a means to use the remaining power of copyright to keep the software Free for all its users.

Almost 8.5 years after the initial announcement, a kernel designed to work with the GNU operating system was released as Free Software, under the GNU GPL, providing the missing piece to form a completely Free operating system.

Other major accomplishments followed, such as the image processor GIMP, the GUI toolkit GTK, the desktop environment GNOME, the educational suite GCompris, the browser GNUZilla IceCat, the Java library and interpreter, GNU Classpath, and GCJ, the GNU Compiler for Java, the Flash player Gnash, the GNUstep framework, the DotGNU runtime, the accounting program GNU Cash, the boot loader GRUB, and the software forge Savannah, among too many others to mention by name.

Ever since the combination of the operating system GNU with the kernel Linux became usable, people and businesses started publishing distributions that could be installed on bare hardware. Such distributions run today on servers, workstations, desktops, laptops, mainframes, ATMs, phones, media players and recorders, routers, automobiles, aircraft, and all sorts of computers.

Alas, although distributions have always contained, far more than anything else, GNU system libraries, operating system utilities, tools and applications, i.e., the GNU operating system, they have most often been named after Linux. As a result, most GNU users don't realize they are running the operating system created to restore and preserve their freedom. In fact, most aren't even aware of this purpose, and of the ethical and moral principles and the philosophy behind it.

Indeed, nearly all GNU+Linux distributions, and even Linux itself, have been contaminated with software that does not respect users' four essential freedoms, denying most users of the GNU operating system the realization of its purpose. However, the GNU project maintains a list of distributions committed to offering their users only Free Software.

UTUTO XS was the first to take this stand. gNewSense (based on one of the most popular .deb-package distributions) was the first to ship a cleaned-up, Free version of the kernel Linux. BLAG Linux and GNU (based on one of the most popular .rpm-package distributions) evolved this effort into Linux-libre, a project adopted by FSFLA to maintain Free versions of Linux, in use by several GNU + Linux-libre distributions and by individual users pursuing freedom.

There is still a long way to go to achieve freedom for all software users. However, more than developing more Free Software, the current priorities are spreading awareness of software freedom issues, and encouraging users to value their freedoms and demand respect for them. It is in this spirit that FSFLA launched the campaign “Be Free!”

Let us all celebrate a quarter century of the GNU project and of work for freedom, and help more people realize why the software they run was developed, and why it is so important that they pursue freedom, for their own sake and for that of all the community.

May every day be a software freedom day. Be Free!

About Free Software Foundation Latin America

FSFLA joined in 2005 the FSF network, previously formed by Free Software Foundations in the United States, in Europe and in India. These sister organizations work in their corresponding geographies towards promoting the same Free Software ideals and defending the same freedoms for software users and developers, working locally but cooperating globally. For more information about FSFLA and to contribute to our work, visit our web site at http://www.fsfla.org or write to info@fsfla.org.

Copyright 2008 FSFLA

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