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Linux links of the week

Sometimes life in the Linux world gets too serious, and that is not a good thing. It's worthwhile to remember that, after all, Linux is supposed to be fun. To that end, a visit to the Humorix page on occasion is worthwhile. Go and have a smile, then you can proceed to the rms flames below...:-)

Another venerable Linux site that we have not yet featured here is the Linux Web Watcher. It is organized as another hierarchical Linux link site, but with a twist: sites are listed by when they were last modified. A quick look at the tables for the last week can give an interesting view of where things are happening. The Web Watcher is definitely one of the more useful Linux web resources.

September 24, 1998



Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor should be sent to editor@lwn.net. Preference will be given to letters which are short, to the point, and well written. If you want your email address "anti-spammed" in some way please be sure to let us know. We do not have a policy against anonymous letters, but we will be reluctant to include them.

Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 08:32:43 -0400
From: Dave Phillips <dlphilp@bright.net>
To: lwn@eklektix.com
Subject: rms commentary (no flame)


  It was with great interest that I read your comments on Richard
Stallman. In my remarks that follow, please understand that I do not
know the man nor do I have any sort of dealings with him. What I know of
rms is primarily through Steve Levy's description in his book "Hackers"
and in various journal and news entries.

  I think you miss a point which perhaps rms himself does not make so
well: Linux did not begin with a plan for "enterprise" readiness, nor
was "world domination" its original brief. As far as I can tell, Linus
wanted to write a better version of Minix, and the rest is history. But
now, because it is indeed a full-fledged UNIX replacement, there seems
to be a strong trend to perceive it as a business solution, and many
people seem to want to cast its very survival into that arena, as though
without success in the marketplace Linux will somehow fail and cease to

  Yet I believe that very few Linux hackers ever cared much about that
market scenario, and it is somewhat insulting to them to insist that
it's "Business or Death". Eric Raymond's recent themes are focused on
Linux as business, and Tim O'Reilly has a company to run. I admire both
these men and their achievments, but frankly I don't believe they're
sharing anything like the space occupied by rms. Richard must indeed
feel sold out again whenever he sees a trademark after Linux, or
whenever he reads another article concerned with the Linux vs. M$ battle
for the market share. This man by himself kept alive the whole notion of
freely available software when the rest of us were hacking MS-DOS and
thinking it was 'way cool to pay so little for Borland's compilers.
Emacs, the FSF, the GPL, and GNU itself: the man's achievements speak
for themselves, and I would say rather than wondering what to do about
rms perhaps we should wonder how to live up to his vision.

  How could he not view the current trends as anything but backward
steps ? In his philosophy there isn't competition with the business
world because that's precisely where things go wrong, where software
becomes hidden again, where code goes proprietary, and programmers stop
sharing. Stallman has seen this happen, where the rest of us haven't
lived the history. Rather than disparaging rms I think we should
consider his views quite carefully, and perhaps we could scrutinize our
own motivations a little more squarely.

  Yes, I know rms isn't nearly as attractive an icon as Linus Torvalds
(Man Of The Century, IMHO). He is harsh-spoken, he looks weird, and he's
an Old Guy (Slashdot's poll indicated the vast majority of its readers
were in their 20s). Yet the substance of rms's life is a clear indicator
of his dedication to something we all now share and care for.
Personally, I don't think we need to do anything about rms except
listen, make an effort to understand him and where he's coming from, and
maybe learn something. After all he's done for Linux it is the very
least we can do for him.

Thank you for your time and patience.

== Dave Phillips


To: lwn@eklektix.com
Subject: Your editorial on RMS
From: David Kastrup <dak@neuroinformatik.ruhr-uni-bochum.de>
Date: 17 Sep 1998 11:08:37 +0200

Your editorial on RMS has left me speachless.  You ask the question
"What should be done about RMS?  Something should be done."  The
obvious solution, of course, is to crucify him.  This was the approach
taken almost twenty centuries ago towards one that rekindled searching
for the meaning instead of the letter of the law, but caused a ruckus
wherever he went, for example, upsetting the moneylender's tables in
the temple.  A lot of people seem to be eagerly waiting for RMS to
pass away so that they can interpret his visions in the matter they
find expedient.

The key thing to note is that Richard Stallman has not changed his
vision one bit since first starting in the free software movement.  He
was nice to show a vision when nobody else was really concerned about
matters, and served as a spearhead.  Now that many people feel that
things have arrived at a state that makes them feel somewhat
comfortable, they want to silence him in order not to upset the
authorities not really into the movement and let matters drift in the
direction suiting them.

He has been fighting for a completely free system from the beginning
of his actions in the area of free software.  Now people scald him for
not being enthused about offers of non-free components for otherwise
free systems.  People would be only to happy to slowly switch to a
system where they will have to pay for all but the core components
(and never get to see the source of either), while the usability of
the free parts alone slowly drifts into oblivion.

RMS reminds us that this is not the vision he has been fighting for
from the beginning.  While some people feel they should be allowed to
make pacts with the non-free sources in order to get their free pieces
a bit more lustre more quickly than achievable in other ways, it is a
good thing that RMS is around to remind people that this is not what
the vision of free software is about.

It is all very nice if people find that their personal utility of free
software does not require a vision.  But it is something entirely
different to demand that people with a vision need to have "something
done about them" so that one can boast of having a fulfilled vision
already without reproach from their side.

Personally, I am glad that RMS is around to tell the unmasked and
inconvenient truths from time to time.  He is a blockhead, arrogant,
self-conscious and other things, but he has always been that and
people had no problem with it as long as they had him clearing the
paths ahead they personally found nice to have.

It is, BTW, also a lie that the GNU system is drifting into
unimportance.  All of its major components are in use in free software
systems such as Linux, and more and more are being added.  Any free
software developer with a conscience tries making his software as
portable as possible, sharing the original vision that free software
should be available on any system, not just on certain, isolated and
dedicated systems like Linux or the Hurd.

David Kastrup                                     Phone: +49-234-700-5570
Email: dak@neuroinformatik.ruhr-uni-bochum.de       Fax: +49-234-709-4209
Institut für Neuroinformatik, Universitätsstr. 150, 44780 Bochum, Germany

Subject: Re: What do we do about Richard M. Stallman?
To: lwn@eklektix.com
Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 23:32:00 +1000 (EST)
From: "Danny Yee" <danny@staff.cs.usyd.edu.au>

For once I find myself stunned by an LWN editorial.


What do we do about Richard M. Stallman?

If Richard Stallman is, as your editorial depicts him, a lone figure
with bizarre and idiosyncratic ideas, then I suggest that you simply
ignore him: giving him editorial attention can only make things worse.
If, on the other hand, Stallman's ides are shared by a large, albeit
minority, fraction of the free software community (as is most patently the
case), then your editorial is rudely patronising, denying that those of
us in that part of the community even exist and dismissing our concerns
without any consideration at all.

Regardless of the good intentions of O'Reilly and the quality of their
books, the issue of freedom of documentation *is a real issue* and can
not be ignored.  Being able to share documentation is a critical part
of being able to share software - yet the typical price of an O'Reilly
book is greater than the average monthly income in most of the world.
Perhaps it would solve the problem if O'Reilly (and others) GPLed their
books after a year in print (Stallman is not too critical of the Aladdin
ghostscript licensing scheme).  Perhaps not.  But such ideas deserve
a discussion.

It seems _prima facie_ obvious that Oracle and Informix ports to Linux
will be good for Linux but bad for the development of industrial strength
free database systems.  Surely there is room for disagreement about the
net value of such a tradeoff?  And the GNU/Linux naming issue may be
parochial, but it is hardly a threat to anyone.

Your attempt to make everything a matter of Stallman's personality
is just a lazy way to avoid facing some real and important issues.
People do matter, but ideas matter more -- there is no point asking
"What do we do about Tim O'Reilly and Eric S. Raymond?".

Danny Yee.


Date: Fri, 18 Sep 1998 12:37:06 -0700 (PDT)
From: Jason McNeill <mcneill@xenon.cchem.berkeley.edu>
To: lwn@eklektix.com
Subject: The "Problem" With rms


I had a completely different impression than yours after reading the Salon
article.  I feel there is room for reasoned dissent within the free
software / open source (tm) community.  I also found esr's comments to be
highly hypocritical.  He wanted to present a very one-sided view of free
software and was incensed that rms wanted to offer reasoned counter
arguments.  Who's bullying whom?

I think it is counterproductive to insist the the free software / open
source (tm) community present a united front.  We are not a corporation,
we are a collection of independent agents.  When, say, Larry Ellison and
Bill Gates disagree, does this reflect poorly on the computer industry as
a whole (assuming they represent some important or relevant part of that
industry)?  They might even openly disagree at the same conference, but it
doesn't send the industry into a tailspin or threaten to ruin the
conference.  I oppose the type of closed-mindedness promoted by some free
software advocates and think the free software movement is big enough to
accommodate differing views such as those of rms.

rms is not a spoiler or splitter.  He says a lot of things that need to be
said, and says so without resorting to ad-hominem attacks (in contrast to
esr's actions, in my opinion). I think he was right to question the "get
the software for free and buy the book" business model.  He was voicing a
valid concern that many of us share.  Importantly, he's not compelling
anyone to follow his advice or attempting to shut anyone up.  When you
call for the silencing of rms, you are attempting to silence an important
voice in the free software movement. Paraphrasing loosely the quote from
Chris Hanson in the Salon article, rms' ideas and philosophy are
well-reasoned and hold up well to intense scrutiny and analysis.  I
believe they will stand the test of time. 

I doubt I'll convince you that your representation of rms is unfair, but
after reading your analysis I felt compelled to respond.  Please feel free
to quote this letter in whole or in part.


Jason D. McNeill
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720 USA
GNU software user since '92,
GNU/Linux user since '94.



Editor's note

Last week's editorial on Richard Stallman drew more hostile responses than anything else LWN has ever run (indeed, more than all the rest combined). I feel that the column was badly misunderstood. If there is fault to be assigned for that, of course, it belongs with the author; clearly the quality of the writing was not what it should have been. Nonetheless, I do feel the need to point out that nowhere in the text was there any call to "censor," "silence," or "crucify" (!) rms. Indeed, I said that he still had much to contribute, and that we still need him.

This author has been a fan of rms ever since first struggling to get GNU emacs running under VMS many years ago. That has not changed. That is not inconsistent with pointing out that some of his actions are harmful to those who, really, are on the same side. When I asked "what do we do," I really wanted to say "how do we come to an understanding that we have the same goal, even if our tactics differ?"

Your editor hereby promises to try not to write any more columns far after his bedtime.




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