GNU turns 25
Twenty five years ago , on September 27 1983, Richard Stallman announced his plans to “write a complete Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu’s Not Unix), and give it away free to everyone who can use it”.
It was the start of a life’s work that over the years produced the core utilities that form the basis of much of the free software world; tools that made it possible for operating systems such as Linux – or GNU-Linux as Stallman would prefer – to exist.
But, while Stallman was a software developer he always looked beyond just software, to the ecosystem in which software existed. GNU was motivated by “freedom”, something that Stallman has spent most of his life preaching. It has also seen him railing against proprietary software for just as long.
Aside from the software that Stallman and GNU brought to the world, GNU’s other pivotal contribution to the world has been the GNU General Public Licence. Stallman produced the first GPL in 1989 and the second in 1992. Both of these proved to be critical to the ongoing work of the free software movement over the coming years.
Both revered and reviled, Stallman is a controversial figure in the software world but his and GNU’s contribution to free software is undeniable. Happy 25 years.
Archival interest: Richard Stallman visited South Africa in 2001. I met him and wrote this piece about my impressions. (The formatting is a bit messed up but Tectonic has been moved many times since 2001.)