FREE SOFTWARE - OPEN SOFTWARE - Short History and Structure

AUTHOR: Gerd Döben-Henisch
DATE OF LAST CHANGE: Sept-10, 2002
EMAIL: Gerd Döben-Henisch

 The following facts are mostly extracted from the wonderful paper of Richard Stallmann

The following informal view is still incomplete; by the time I will try to enhance it. The pace of the growing numbers of started free software projects has been accelerated since about 1997 in a way which makes it more and more impossible to keep up!!!







R.Stalmann at MIT AI Lab

Richard Stalmann

ICS := Incompatible Timesharing System

The basic experience ...
hacker := someone who loves to program and enjoys being clever about it

Early 1980s

New Hardware making Software obsolet; nondisclosure agreements is stopping freedom of Software

Symbolics, DEC

Proprietary Operating Systems (VMS, UNIX)

Not allowed to help your neighbour => antisocial, unethical


Richard Stalmann is quitting his job at MIT and is starting the GNU-Project ; Prof. Winston allowed to use the facility of the MIT AI-lab for the idas of the GNU-project

Richard Stalmann

The idea is to have 'free software': fredom to run, to modify, of having access to the source code, to redistribute (gratis or for a fee), to distribute with modifications.
The basis of free software should be a free operating system called GNU (:= 'GNU is not Unix')

Used TeX as principal Textformatter
Later included the X-Window System . These software was not GNU-Software, but was free and therefore could be used in the GNU-project

Sept 1984

Richard Stalmann start working on emacs

Richard Stalmann

emacs, the GNU editor

Basis for the other work

Early 1985

emacs can be used

Richard Stalmann

emacs, the GNU editor

Starting free distributions by an anonymous ftp-server


Foundation of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) , a tax-free charity for free software development.

Richard Stalmann and others

Distributing emacs

Introduction of the GNU General Public License (GPL); the idea of 'copyleft', thus enabling real freedom in the usage of software, not only 'becoming popular' by great numbers of users.

Since 1985

Funding the development of the GNU C library and the BASH-Shell ('Bourne-again-Shell'); GNU C-compiler (GCC), GNU tar, GNU make

Roland McGrath - C Library, Brian Fox - BASH

C Library, Bash, GNU C-compiler (GCC), GNU tar, GNU make

  • Free Software support is e.g. compatible with selling copies (which as such are 'free'!), selling services, teaching, port software on platforms

  • GNU did not accept the technical limits of the UNIX-Industry at that time

  • In the beginning one was using donate Computers with UNIX only as long as there was no compatible piece of free software available

  • There was a task list of missing software including besides system software also applications and even games

  • For GNU Libraries the GPL was modified as LGPL which allows the linkage of GNU Libraries with proprietary software


GNU system almost complete, missing only a free kernel. But the MACH kernel was not yet released as free software

Carnegie Mellon University, University of Utah

No Kernel for GNU System at that time ...

The idea was to have GNU HURD (:= a 'herd of servers') as a bundle of GNU servers running on top of a MACH-kernel.


Linus Torvalds is developing a new free kernel called Linux

Linus Torvalds

Linux is becoming into live ...

The combination of LINUX as a new free kernel with all the other GNU tools could result in the intended GNU operating system.


Combining the Linux kernel with the GNU system

Linus Torvalds and others

The GNU/Linux operating system is borne

Principially one could replace the Linux kernel by other kernels, but .....

After 1997

Many new projects ...

Many ...

GNOME, harmony, xfree86, X toolkit widgets, LessTif, Qt ...
More and more new GNU/Linux distributions Red Hat, Debian, SuSe ...

  • Main problem ist still a good documentation.

  • The success of free software induces more companies to use free software and bubdle it in a way, which tends to diminish the freedom of software (:= Open Software...)

  • The 'Linux'-magazins are mostly not clear with regard to the philosophy of 'free software'...

After 2000

Linux is entering all levels of operating systems, from smallest ones until cluster computing with 500 and more nodes

Many...; the big companies are including Linux in their strategy; big customers are replacing their proprietary software with GNU/Linux operating system and GNU software...

More than 46.000 free software projects registered in September 2002 ...

The free software philosophy is for most users 'hidden' behind the big commercial success of the growing number of companies