Linux / Think Different

Les Schaffer godzilla at
Fri Oct 2 09:30:12 PDT 1998

[what follows is a scatter-shot set of remarks on Linux and free source development; i wish i had more time to make it all coherent. this stuff has been swimming in my head for a while, and i need conversation with others to clean up some ideas, so feedback is very much requested]

>>>>> ">" == John K Taber <jktaber at> writes:

>> I thought that Linux has a graphical user interface, X-Windows,

>> the same as for Unix. Or, is X-Windows for Linux a purchase

>> item?

X-Windows is freely available on the Internet. Anyone can use it so long as there is an X-server written for their video card.

The OpenGroup, the consortium which maintains the main source code tree for X, tried to take X private a few months ago, and the hackers of the world whined like mad. The OpenGroup last week decided to reverse their decision and keep the main X source tree "open". Plans had been underway to have various "free" X developers simply take off from the last set of OpenGroup code that was openly available and develop separately a free X tree, which was already in existence (XFree86). I guess the OpenGroup got the message they'd be left behind and changed their minds.

But X is simply a windowing "environment" for an OS. On top of that windowing system traditionally sits a desktop environment. There are some interesting battles and developments right now going on in the freesource world over which desktops should be supported. There is a KDE desktop which is freely available and IMHO quite good, which uses freely available __libraries__ itself, but those libraries are not released __with__ source code, which means they don't satisfy GNU GPL (Gnu Public License) requirements. So now another desktop suite is being developed (GNOME) with specifically GNU GPL libraries, but there are lots of flames and arguments over having two or more development paths for a free desktop. Stallman clearly favors the GNOME approach, being free of non-GPL'ed libraries.

>> What I see going on is the beginnings of the expropriation of a

>> communal operating system. Linux is free, with a Stallman

>> "copyleft" (instead of "copyright"). Yet, it is already being

>> packaged and sold.

There are some interesting articles over at salon ( i think) and an editorial and responses over at Linux weekly news ( ) - see list of links below -- a few weeks ago, to the effect that a portion of the "free" software community wants to distance itself from Stallman and his ways. Roughly speaking, there is a whole class of Linux developers and mouthpieces that want more acceptance in the corporate community, and thus feel that the development of code should be tailored some to the needs of the corporate world. Eric Raymond, a developer who is credited with getting Netscape to release its source code, and Tim O'Reilly, of O'Reilly book, the main publisher of books on unix programming, are 2 examples of people who feel the need to slam Stallman for his ways. All this is public reading on various newsgroups and web sites. (see links below)

>> I would hope that this communal operating system can be kept

>> communal, and in the tradition of Stallman's GNU.

it looks like development of code and ideas is still very communal. But i am getting the sense that there is a certain commodification of Linux and OpenSource taking place, and i am curiously watching the changes taking place in the free software community.

For example, Eric Raymond, mentioned previously, is now getting flown around by Netscape and other large companies. Linux Torvalds, the creator of the Linux OS, now works at a company Transmeta that does ethereal, no-one-knows-what-they-are-doing hardware development. Alan Cox, one of the main developers of the Linux networking code, now has a job at RedHat, the Linux software company that just got an infusion of money from Netscape, Intel, and several venture capital firms. There are other examples of well known free software developers who are taking high profile jobs in private companies, and to me its not clear where the whole Linux thing, or at least a portion of it, is headed. For another example, one of the lead developers of KDE, the desktop environment mentioned earlier, just recently took a job at Troll Tech in Germany. Troll Tech is the company that developed and sells the Qt GUI (non GPL) library upon which KDE was developed, much to the consternation of the rest of the free software hacker world.

I'm not implying here that people don't need jobs, but only observing that while on the surface, free software is developed for free and without compensation, in fact a number of people involved in freeware development ultimately find their way into good jobs in private companies by virtue of their capabilities and proven leadership. So if you look at the real actual track record of developers in the free software world, you begin to see the emergence of a kind of 'farm system' devoted to the delivery of freely-trained software developers to the capitalist/corporate world. (Lou P. is much better at this kind of polemics than i)

There is some strange combination of tendencies in the free software world right now. for example, the rallying cry of Linux is "World domination", and the ambition of developers and users of free software is in part to to break the strangle-hold of microsoft on computers and software, yet you now see these splits and divisions surfacing as to how closely to stick to Stallman's ideas, how much does the community need to be responsive to private companies, etc.

While one may fantasize that "world domination" for free software is tantamount to revolution, the fact is that one sees the seeds of quite a different set of tendencies beginning to develop. All the more reason for stickin with the union, the Stallman Union, that is.


lead editorial article on stallman:

responses to previoud article:

stallman editorials:

salon article on stallman:

salon followup article on stallman and responses from Raymond and O'Reilly:

-- ____ Les Schaffer godzilla at ___| --->> Engineering R&D <<--- Theoretical & Applied Mechanics | Designspring, Inc. Center for Radiophysics & Space Research | Westport, CT USA Cornell Univ. schaffer at | les at

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