Chapter 9
Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software

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Table of Contents



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Project Gutenburg

By the spring of 1985, Richard Stallman had settled on
the GNU Project's first milestone-a Lisp-based free
software version of Emacs. To meet this goal, however,
he faced two challenges. First, he had to rebuild Emacs
in a way that made it platform independent. Second, he
had to rebuild the Emacs Commune in a similar fashion.

The dispute with UniPress had highlighted a flaw in the
Emacs Commune social contract. Where users relied on
Stallman's expert insight, the Commune's rules held. In
areas where Stallman no longer held the position of
alpha hacker-pre-1984 Unix systems, for
example-individuals and companies were free to make
their own rules.

The tension between the freedom to modify and the
freedom to exert authorial privilege had been building
before GOSMACS. The Copyright Act of 1976 had
overhauled U.S. copyright law, extending the legal
protection of copyright to software programs. According
to Section 102(b) of the Act, individuals and companies
now possessed the ability to copyright the "expression"
of a software program but not the "actual processes or
methods embodied in the program."See Hal Abelson, Mike Fischer, and Joanne
"Software and Copyright Law," updated version (1998).
 Translated, programmers and companies had the ability
to treat software programs like a story or song. Other
programmers could take inspiration from the work, but
to make a direct copy or nonsatirical derivative, they
first had to secure permission from the original
creator. Although the new law guaranteed that even
programs without copyright notices carried copyright
protection, programmers quickly asserted their rights,
attaching coypright notices to their software programs.

At first, Stallman viewed these notices with alarm.
Rare was the software program that didn't borrow source
code from past programs, and yet, with a single stroke
of the president's pen, Congress had given programmers
and companies the power to assert individual authorship
over communally built programs. It also injected a dose
of formality into what had otherwise been an informal
system. Even if hackers could demonstrate how a given
program's source-code bloodlines stretched back years,
if not decades, the resources and money that went into
battling each copyright notice were beyond most
hackers' means. Simply put, disputes that had once been
settled hacker-to-hacker were now settled
lawyer-to-lawyer. In such a system, companies, not
hackers, held the automatic advantage.

Proponents of software copyright had their
counter-arguments: without copyright, works might
otherwise slip into the public domain. Putting a
copyright notice on a work also served as a statement
of quality. Programmers or companies who attached their
name to the copyright attached their reputations as
well. Finally, it was a contract, as well as a
statement of ownership. Using copyright as a flexible
form of license, an author could give away certain
rights in exchange for certain forms of behavior on the
part of the user. For example, an author could give
away the right to suppress unauthorized copies just so
long as the end user agreed not to create a commercial offshoot.

It was this last argument that eventually softened
Stallman's resistance to software copyright notices.
Looking back on the years leading up to the GNU
Project, Stallman says he began to sense the beneficial
nature of copyright sometime around the release of
Emacs 15.0, the last significant pre-GNU Project
upgrade of Emacs. "I had seen email messages with
copyright notices plus simple `verbatim copying
permitted' licenses," Stallman recalls. "Those
definitely were [an] inspiration."

For Emacs 15, Stallman drafted a copyright that gave
users the right to make and distribute copies. It also
gave users the right to make modified versions, but not
the right to claim sole ownership of those modified
versions, as in the case of GOSMACS.

Although helpful in codifying the social contract of
the Emacs Commune, the Emacs 15 license remained too
"informal" for the purposes of the GNU Project,
Stallman says. Soon after starting work on a GNU
version of Emacs, Stallman began consulting with the
other members of the Free Software Foundation on how to
shore up the license's language. He also consulted with
the attorneys who had helped him set up the Free
Software Foundation.

Mark Fischer, a Boston attorney specializing in
intellectual-property law, recalls discussing the
license with Stallman during this period. "Richard had
very strong views about how it should work," Fischer
says, "He had two principles. The first was to make the
software absolutely as open as possible. The second was
to encourage others to adopt the same licensing practices."

Encouraging others to adopt the same licensing
practices meant closing off the escape hatch that had
allowed privately owned versions of Emacs to emerge. To
close that escape hatch, Stallman and his free software
colleagues came up with a solution: users would be free
to modify GNU Emacs just so long as they published
their modifications. In addition, the resulting
"derivative" works would also have carry the same GNU
Emacs License.

The revolutionary nature of this final condition would
take a while to sink in. At the time, Fischer says, he
simply viewed the GNU Emacs License as a simple
contract. It put a price tag on GNU Emacs' use. Instead
of money, Stallman was charging users access to their
own later modifications. That said, Fischer does
remember the contract terms as unique.

"I think asking other people to accept the price was,
if not unique, highly unusual at that time," he says.

The GNU Emacs License made its debut when Stallman
finally released GNU Emacs in 1985. Following the
release, Stallman welcomed input from the general
hacker community on how to improve the license's
language. One hacker to take up the offer was future
software activist John Gilmore, then working as a
consultant to Sun Microsystems. As part of his
consulting work, Gilmore had ported Emacs over to
SunOS, the company's in-house version of Unix. In the
process of doing so, Gilmore had published the changes
as per the demands of the GNU Emacs License. Instead of
viewing the license as a liability, Gilmore saw it as
clear and concise expression of the hacker ethos. "Up
until then, most licenses were very informal," Gilmore recalls.

As an example of this informality, Gilmore cites a
copyright notice for trn, a Unix utility. Written by
Larry Wall, future creator of the Perl programming
language, patch made it simple for Unix programmers to
insert source-code fixes-" patches" in hacker
jargon-into any large program. Recognizing the utility
of this feature, Wall put the following copyright
notice in the program's accompanying README file:

Copyright (c) 1985, Larry Wall You may copy the trn kit
in whole or in part as long as you don't try to make
money off it, or pretend that you wrote it.See Trn Kit README.

Such statements, while reflective of the hacker ethic,
also reflected the difficulty of translating the loose,
informal nature of that ethic into the rigid, legal
language of copyright. In writing the GNU Emacs
License, Stallman had done more than close up the
escape hatch that permitted proprietary offshoots. He
had expressed the hacker ethic in a manner
understandable to both lawyer and hacker alike.

It wasn't long, Gilmore says, before other hackers
began discussing ways to "port" the GNU Emacs License
over to their own programs. Prompted by a conversation
on Usenet, Gilmore sent an email to Stallman in
November, 1986, suggesting modification: You should
probably remove "EMACS" from the license and replace it
with "SOFTWARE" or something. Soon, we hope, Emacs will
not be the biggest part of the GNU system, and the
license applies to all of it.See John Gilmore, quoted from email to author.
Gilmore wasn't the only
person suggesting a more general approach. By the end
of 1986, Stallman himself was at work with GNU
Project's next major milestone, a source-code debugger,
and was looking for ways to revamp the Emacs license so
that it might apply to both programs. Stallman's
solution: remove all specific references to Emacs and
convert the license into a generic copyright umbrella
for GNU Project software. The GNU General Public
License, GPL for short, was born.

In fashioning the GPL, Stallman followed the software
convention of using decimal numbers to indicate
prototype versions and whole numbers to indicate mature
versions. Stallman published Version 1.0 of the GPL in
1989 (a project Stallman was developing in 1985),
almost a full year after the release of the GNU
Debugger, Stallman's second major foray into the realm
of Unix programming. The license contained a preamble
spelling out its political intentions:

The General Public License is designed to make sure
that you have the freedom to give away or sell copies
of free software, that you receive source code or can
get it if you want it, that you can change the software
or use pieces of it in new free programs; and that you
know you can do these things.

To protect your rights, we need to make restrictions
that forbid anyone to deny you these rights or to ask
you to surrender the rights. These restrictions
translate to certain responsibilities for you if you
distribute copies of the software, or if you modify it.See Richard Stallman, et
al., "GNU General Public
License: Version 1," (February, 1989).

In fashioning the GPL, Stallman had been forced to make
an additional adjustment to the informal tenets of the
old Emacs Commune. Where he had once demanded that
Commune members publish any and all changes, Stallman
now demanded publication only in instances when
programmers circulated their derivative versions in the
same public manner as Stallman. In other words,
programmers who simply modified Emacs for private use
no longer needed to send the source-code changes back
to Stallman. In what would become a rare compromise of
free software doctrine, Stallman slashed the price tag
for free software. Users could innovate without
Stallman looking over their shoulders just so long as
they didn't bar Stallman and the rest of the hacker
community from future exchanges of the same program.

Looking back, Stallman says the GPL compromise was
fueled by his own dissatisfaction with the Big Brother
aspect of the original Emacs Commune social contract.
As much as he liked peering into other hackers'
systems, the knowledge that some future source-code
maintainer might use that power to ill effect forced
him to temper the GPL.

"It was wrong to require people to publish all
changes," says Stallman. "It was wrong to require them
to be sent to one privileged developer. That kind of
centralization and privilege for one was not consistent
with a society in which all had equal rights."

As hacks go, the GPL stands as one of Stallman's best.
It created a system of communal ownership within the
normally proprietary confines of copyright law. More
importantly, it demonstrated the intellectual
similarity between legal code and software code.
Implicit within the GPL's preamble was a profound
message: instead of viewing copyright law with
suspicion, hackers should view it as yet another system
begging to be hacked.

"The GPL developed much like any piece of free software
with a large community discussing its structure, its
respect or the opposite in their observation, needs for
tweaking and even to compromise it mildly for greater
acceptance," says Jerry Cohen, another attorney who
helped Stallman with the creation of the license. "The
process worked very well and GPL in its several
versions has gone from widespread skeptical and at
times hostile response to widespread acceptance."

In a 1986 interview with Byte magazine, Stallman summed
up the GPL in colorful terms. In addition to
proclaiming hacker values, Stallman said, readers
should also "see it as a form of intellectual jujitsu,
using the legal system that software hoarders have set
up against them."See David Betz and Jon Edwards, "Richard Stallman
discusses his public-domain [sic] Unix-compatible
software system with BYTE editors," BYTE (July, 1996).
(Reprinted on the GNU Project web site: This
interview offers an interesting, not to mention candid,
glimpse at Stallman's political attitudes during the
earliest days of the GNU Project. It is also helpful in
tracing the evolution of Stallman's rhetoric.
Describing the purpose of the GPL, Stallman says, "I'm
trying to change the way people approach knowledge and
information in general. I think that to try to own
knowledge, to try to control whether people are allowed
to use it, or to try to stop other people from sharing
it, is sabotage." Contrast this with a statement to the
author in August 2000: "I urge you not to use the term
`intellectual property' in your thinking. It will lead
you to misunderstand things, because that term
generalizes about copyrights, patents, and trademarks.
And those things are so different in their effects that
it is entirely foolish to try to talk about them at
once. If you hear somebody saying something about
intellectual property, without quotes, then he's not
thinking very clearly and you shouldn't join."
Years later, Stallman would describe the GPL's creation
in less hostile terms. "I was thinking about issues
that were in a sense ethical and in a sense political
and in a sense legal," he says. "I had to try to do
what could be sustained by the legal system that we're
in. In spirit the job was that of legislating the basis
for a new society, but since I wasn't a government, I
couldn't actually change any laws. I had to try to do
this by building on top of the existing legal system,
which had not been designed for anything like this."

About the time Stallman was pondering the ethical,
political, and legal issues associated with free
software, a California hacker named Don Hopkins mailed
him a manual for the 68000 microprocessor. Hopkins, a
Unix hacker and fellow science-fiction buff, had
borrowed the manual from Stallman a while earlier. As a
display of gratitude, Hopkins decorated the return
envelope with a number of stickers obtained at a local
science-fiction convention. One sticker in particular
caught Stallman's eye. It read, "Copyleft (L), All
Rights Reversed." Following the release of the first
version of GPL, Stallman paid tribute to the sticker,
nicknaming the free software license "Copyleft." Over
time, the nickname and its shorthand symbol, a
backwards "C," would become an official Free Software
Foundation synonym for the GPL.

The German sociologist Max Weber once proposed that all
great religions are built upon the "routinization" or
"institutionalization" of charisma. Every successful
religion, Weber argued, converts the charisma or
message of the original religious leader into a social,
political, and ethical apparatus more easily
translatable across cultures and time.

While not religious per se, the GNU GPL certainly
qualifies as an interesting example of this
"routinization" process at work in the modern,
decentralized world of software development. Since its
unveiling, programmers and companies who have otherwise
expressed little loyalty or allegiance to Stallman have
willingly accepted the GPL bargain at face value. A few
have even accepted the GPL as a preemptive protective
mechanism for their own software programs. Even those
who reject the GPL contract as too compulsory, still
credit it as influential.

One hacker falling into this latter group was Keith
Bostic, a University of California employee at the time
of the GPL 1.0 release. Bostic's department, the
Computer Systems Research Group (SRG), had been
involved in Unix development since the late 1970s and
was responsible for many key parts of Unix, including
the TCP/IP networking protocol, the cornerstone of
modern Internet communications. By the late 1980s,
AT&T, the original owner of the Unix brand name, began
to focus on commercializing Unix and began looking to
the Berkeley Software Distribution, or BSD, the
academic version of Unix developed by Bostic and his
Berkeley peers, as a key source of commercial technology.

Although the Berkeley BSD source code was shared among
researchers and commercial programmers with a
source-code license, this commercialization presented a
problem. The Berkeley code was intermixed with
proprietary AT&T code. As a result, Berkeley
distributions were available only to institutions that
already had a Unix source license from AT&T. As AT&T
raised its license fees, this arrangement, which had at
first seemed innocuous, became increasingly burdensome.

Hired in 1986, Bostic had taken on the personal project
of porting BSD over to the Digital Equipment
Corporation's PDP-11 computer. It was during this
period, Bostic says, that he came into close
interaction with Stallman during Stallman's occasional
forays out to the west coast. "I remember vividly
arguing copyright with Stallman while he sat at
borrowed workstations at CSRG," says Bostic. "We'd go
to dinner afterward and continue arguing about
copyright over dinner."

The arguments eventually took hold, although not in the
way Stallman would have liked. In June, 1989, Berkeley
separated its networking code from the rest of the
AT&T-owned operating system and distributed it under a
University of California license. The contract terms
were liberal. All a licensee had to do was give credit
to the university in advertisements touting derivative programs.The University
of California's "obnoxious advertising
clause" would later prove to be a problem. Looking for
a less restrictive alternative to the GPL, some hackers
used the University of California, replacing
"University of California" with the name of their own
instution. The result: free software programs that
borrowed from dozens of other programs would have to
cite dozens of institutions in advertisements. In 1999,
after a decade of lobbying on Stallman's part, the
University of California agreed to drop this clause.
 In contrast to the GPL, proprietary offshoots were
permissible. Only one problem hampered the license's
rapid adoption: the BSD Networking release wasn't a
complete operating system. People could study the code,
but it could only be run in conjunction with other
proprietary-licensed code.

Over the next few years, Bostic and other University of
California employees worked to replace the missing
components and turn BSD into a complete, freely
redistributable operating system. Although delayed by a
legal challenge from Unix Systems Laboratories-the AT&T
spin-off that retained ownership of the Unix brand
name-the effort would finally bear fruit in the early
1990s. Even before then, however, many of the Berkeley
utilities would make their way into Stallman's GNU Project.

"I think it's highly unlikely that we ever would have
gone as strongly as we did without the GNU influence,"
says Bostic, looking back. "It was clearly something
where they were pushing hard and we liked the idea."

By the end of the 1980s, the GPL was beginning to exert
a gravitational effect on the free software community.
A program didn't have to carry the GPL to qualify as
free software-witness the case of the BSD utilities-but
putting a program under the GPL sent a definite
message. "I think the very existence of the GPL
inspired people to think through whether they were
making free software, and how they would license it,"
says Bruce Perens, creator of Electric Fence, a popular
Unix utility, and future leader of the Debian GNU/Linux
development team. A few years after the release of the
GPL, Perens says he decided to discard Electric Fence's
homegrown license in favor of Stallman's lawyer-vetted
copyright. "It was actually pretty easy to do," Perens recalls.

Rich Morin, the programmer who had viewed Stallman's
initial GNU announcement with a degree of skepticism,
recalls being impressed by the software that began to
gather under the GPL umbrella. As the leader of a SunOS
user group, one of Morin's primary duties during the
1980s had been to send out distribution tapes
containing the best freeware or free software
utilities. The job often mandated calling up original
program authors to verify whether their programs were
copyright protected or whether they had been consigned
to the public domain. Around 1989, Morin says, he began
to notice that the best software programs typically
fell under the GPL license. "As a software distributor,
as soon as I saw the word GPL, I knew I was home free,"
recalls Morin.

To compensate for the prior hassles that went into
compiling distribution tapes to the Sun User Group,
Morin had charged recipients a convenience fee. Now,
with programs moving over to the GPL, Morin was
suddenly getting his tapes put together in half the
time, turning a tidy profit in the process. Sensing a
commercial opportunity, Morin rechristened his hobby as
a business: Prime Time Freeware.

Such commercial exploitation was completely within the
confines of the free software agenda. "When we speak of
free software, we are referring to freedom, not price,"
advised Stallman in the GPL's preamble. By the late
1980s, Stallman had refined it to a more simple
mnemonic: "Don't think free as in free beer; think free
as in free speech."

For the most part, businesses ignored Stallman's
entreaties. Still, for a few entrepreneurs, the freedom
associated with free software was the same freedom
associated with free markets. Take software ownership
out of the commercial equation, and you had a situation
where even the smallest software company was free to
compete against the IBMs and DECs of the world.

One of the first entrepreneurs to grasp this concept
was Michael Tiemann, a software programmer and graduate
student at Stanford University. During the 1980s,
Tiemann had followed the GNU Project like an aspiring
jazz musician following a favorite artist. It wasn't
until the release of the GNU C Compiler in 1987,
however, that he began to grasp the full potential of
free software. Dubbing GCC a "bombshell," Tiemann says
the program's own existence underlined Stallman's
determination as a programmer.

"Just as every writer dreams of writing the great
American novel, every programmer back in the 1980s
talked about writing the great American compiler,"
Tiemman recalls. "Suddenly Stallman had done it. It was
very humbling."

"You talk about single points of failure, GCC was it,"
echoes Bostic. "Nobody had a compiler back then, until
GCC came along."

Rather than compete with Stallman, Tiemann decided to
build on top of his work. The original version of GCC
weighed in at 110,000 lines of code, but Tiemann
recalls the program as surprisingly easy to understand.
So easy in fact that Tiemann says it took less than
five days to master and another week to port the
software to a new hardware platform, National
Semiconductor's 32032 microchip. Over the next year,
Tiemann began playing around with the source code,
creating a native compiler for the C+ programming
language. One day, while delivering a lecture on the
program at Bell Labs, Tiemann ran into some AT&T
developers struggling to pull off the same thing.

"There were about 40 or 50 people in the room, and I
asked how many people were working on the native code
compiler," Tiemann recalls. "My host said the
information was confidential but added that if I took a
look around the room I might get a good general idea."

It wasn't long after, Tiemann says, that the light bulb
went off in his head. "I had been working on that
project for six months," Tiemann says. I just thought
to myself, whether it's me or the code this is a level
of efficiency that the free market should be ready to reward."

Tiemann found added inspiration in the GNU Manifesto,
which, while excoriating the greed of some software
vendors, encourages other vendors to consider the
advantages of free software from a consumer point of
view. By removing the power of monopoly from the
commerical software question, the GPL makes it possible
for the smartest vendors to compete on the basis of
service and consulting, the two most profit-rich
corners of the software marketplace.

In a 1999 essay, Tiemann recalls the impact of
Stallman's Manifesto. "It read like a socialist
polemic, but I saw something different. I saw a
business plan in disguise."7. See Michael Tiemann, "Future of Cygnus Solutions:
Entrepreneur's Account," Open Sources (O'Reilly &
Associates, Inc., 1999): 139.

Teaming up with John Gilmore, another GNU Project fan,
Tiemann launched a software consulting service
dedicated to customizing GNU programs. Dubbed Cygnus
Support, the company signed its first development
contract in February, 1990. By the end of the year, the
company had $725,000 worth of support and development contracts.

GNU Emacs, GDB, and GCC were the "big three" of
developer-oriented tools, but they weren't the only
ones developed by Stallman during the GNU Project's
first half decade. By 1990, Stallman had also generated
GNU versions of the Bourne Shell (rechristened the
Bourne Again Shell, or BASH), YACC (rechristened
Bison), and awk (rechristened gawk). Like GCC , every
GNU program had to be designed to run on multiple
systems, not just a single vendor's platform. In the
process of making programs more flexible, Stallman and
his collaborators often made them more useful as well.

Recalling the GNU universalist approach, Prime Time
Freeware's Morin points to a critical, albeit mundane,
software package called hello. "It's the hello world
program which is five lines of C, packaged up as if it
were a GNU distribution," Morin says. "And so it's got
the Texinfo stuff and the configure stuff. It's got all
the other software engineering goo that the GNU Project
has come up with to allow packages to port to all these
different environments smoothly. That's tremendously
important work, and it affects not only all of
[Stallman's] software, but also all of the other GNU
Project software."

According to Stallman, improving software programs was
secondary to building them in the first place. "With
each piece I may or may not find a way to improve it,"
said Stallman to Byte. "To some extent I am getting the
benefit of reimplementation, which makes many systems
much better. To some extent it's because I have been in
the field a long time and worked on many other systems.
I therefore have many ideas to bring to bear."See Richard Stallman, BYTE

Nevertheless, as GNU tools made their mark in the late
1980s, Stallman's AI Lab-honed reputation for design
fastidiousness soon became legendary throughout the
entire software-development community.

Jeremy Allison, a Sun user during the late 1980s and
programmer destined to run his own free software
project, Samba, in the 1990s, recalls that reputation
with a laugh. During the late 1980s, Allison began
using Emacs. Inspired by the program's
community-development model, Allison says he sent in a
snippet of source code only to have it rejected by Stallman.

"It was like the Onion headline," Allison says.
"`Child's prayers to God answered: No.'"

Stallman's growing stature as a software programmer,
however, was balanced by his struggles as a project
manager. Although the GNU Project moved from success to
success in creation of developer-oriented tools, its
inability to generate a working kernel-the central
"traffic cop" program in all Unix systems that
determines which devices and applications get access to
the microprocessor and when-was starting to elicit
grumbles as the 1980s came to a close. As with most GNU
Project efforts, Stallman had started kernel
development by looking for an existing program to
modify. According to a January 1987 "Gnusletter,"
Stallman was already working to overhaul TRIX, a Unix
kernel developed at MIT.

A review of GNU Project "GNUsletters" of the late 1980s
reflects the management tension. In January, 1987,
Stallman announced to the world that the GNU Project
was working to overhaul TRIX, a Unix kernel developed
at MIT. A year later, in February of 1988, the GNU
Project announced that it had shifted its attentions to
Mach, a lightweight "micro-kernel" developed at
Carnegie Mellon. All told, however, official GNU
Project kernel development wouldn't commence until 1990.See "HURD History."

The delays in kernel development were just one of many
concerns weighing on Stallman during this period. In
1989, Lotus Development Corporation filed suit against
rival software company, Paperback Software
International, for copying menu commands in Lotus'
popular 1-2-3 Spreadsheet program. Lotus' suit, coupled
with the Apple -Microsoft "look and feel" battle,
provided a troublesome backdrop for the GNU Project.
Although both suits fell outside the scope of the GNU
Project, both revolved around operating systems and
software applications developed for the personal
computer, not Unix-compatible hardware systems-they
threatened to impose a chilling effect on the entire
culture of software development. Determined to do
something, Stallman recruited a few programmer friends
and composed a magazine ad blasting the lawsuits. He
then followed up the ad by helping to organize a group
to protest the corporations filing the suit. Calling
itself the League of Programming Freedom, the group
held protests outside the offices of Lotus, Inc. and
the Boston courtroom hosting the Lotus trial.

The protests were notable.According to a League of Programming Freedom Press,
protests were notable for featuring the first
hexadecimal protest chant: 1-2-3-4, toss the lawyers
out the door; 5-6-7-8, innovate don't litigate;
9-A-B-C, 1-2-3 is not for me; D-E-F-O, look and feel
have got to go
 They document the evolving nature of software
industry. Applications had quietly replaced operating
systems as the primary corporate battleground. In its
unfulfilled quest to build a free software operating
system, the GNU Project seemed hopelessly behind the
times. Indeed, the very fact that Stallman had felt it
necessary to put together an entirely new group
dedicated to battling the "look and feel" lawsuits
reinforced that obsolescence in the eyes of some observers.

In 1990, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur
Foundation cerified Stallman's genius status when it
granted Stallman a MacArthur fellowship, therefore
making him a recipient for the organization's so-called
"genius grant." The grant, a $240,000 reward for
launching the GNU Project and giving voice to the free
software philosophy, relieved a number of short-term
concerns. First and foremost, it gave Stallman, a
nonsalaried employee of the FSF who had been supporting
himself through consulting contracts, the ability to
devote more time to writing GNU code.I use the term "writing" here loosely.
About the time
of the MacArthur award, Stallman began suffering
chronic pain in his hands and was dictating his work to
FSF-employed typists. Although some have speculated
that the hand pain was the result of repetitive stress
injury, or RSI, an injury common among software
programmers, Stallman is not 100% sure. "It was NOT
carpal tunnel syndrome," he writes. "My hand problem
was in the hands themselves, not in the wrists."
Stallman has since learned to work without typists
after switching to a keyboard with a lighter touch.

Ironically, the award also made it possible for
Stallman to vote. Months before the award, a fire in
Stallman's apartment house had consumed his few earthly
possessions. By the time of the award, Stallman was
listing himself as a "squatter"See Reuven Lerner, "Stallman wins $240,000
award," MIT, The Tech (July 18, 1990).
 at 545 Technology Square. "[The registrar of voters]
didn't want to accept that as my address," Stallman
would later recall. "A newspaper article about the
MacArthur grant said that and then they let me register."See Michael Gross,
"Richard Stallman: High School
Misfit, Symbol of Free Software, MacArthur-certified
Genius" (1999).

Most importantly, the MacArthur money gave Stallman
more freedom. Already dedicated to the issue of
software freedom, Stallman chose to use the additional
freedom to increase his travels in support of the GNU
Project mission.

Interestingly, the ultimate success of the GNU Project
and the free software movement in general would stem
from one of these trips. In 1990, Stallman paid a visit
to the Polytechnic University in Helsinki, Finland.
Among the audience members was 21-year-old Linus
Torvalds, future developer of the Linux kernel-the free
software kernel destined to fill the GNU Project's most
sizable gap.

A student at the nearby University of Helsinki at the
time, Torvalds regarded Stallman with bemusement. "I
saw, for the first time in my life, the stereotypical
long-haired, bearded hacker type," recalls Torvalds in
his 2001 autobiography Just for Fun. "We don't have
much of them in Helsinki."See Linus Torvalds and David Diamond, Just For Fun:
Story of an Accidentaly Revolutionary (HarperCollins
Publishers, Inc., 2001): 58-59.

While not exactly attuned to the "sociopolitical" side
of the Stallman agenda, Torvalds nevertheless
appreciated the agenda's underlying logic: no
programmer writes error-free code. By sharing software,
hackers put a program's improvement ahead of individual
motivations such as greed or ego protection.

Like many programmers of his generation, Torvalds had
cut his teeth not on mainframe computers like the IBM
7094, but on a motley assortment of home-built computer
systems. As university student, Torvalds had made the
step up from C programming to Unix, using the
university's MicroVAX. This ladder-like progression had
given Torvalds a different perspective on the barriers
to machine access. For Stallman, the chief barriers
were bureaucracy and privilege. For Torvalds, the chief
barriers were geography and the harsh Helsinki winter.
Forced to trek across the University of Helsinki just
to log in to his Unix account, Torvalds quickly began
looking for a way to log in from the warm confines of
his off-campus apartment.

The search led Torvalds to the operating system Minix,
a lightweight version of Unix developed for
instructional purposes by Dutch university professor
Andrew Tanenbaum. The program fit within the memory
confines of a 386 PC, the most powerful machine
Torvalds could afford, but still lacked a few necessary
features. It most notably lacked terminal emulation,
the feature that allowed Torvalds' machine to mimic a
university terminal, making it possible to log in to
the MicroVAX from home.

During the summer of 1991, Torvalds rewrote Minix from
the ground up, adding other features as he did so. By
the end of the summer, Torvalds was referring to his
evolving work as the "GNU/Emacs of terminal emulation programs."See Linus
Torvalds and David Diamond, Just For Fun: The
Story of an Accidentaly Revolutionary (HarperCollins
Publishers, Inc., 2001): 78.
 Feeling confident, he solicited a Minix newsgroup for
copies of the POSIX standards, the software blue prints
that determined whether a program was Unix compatible.
A few weeks later, Torvalds was posting a message
eerily reminiscent of Stallman's original 1983 GNU posting:

Hello everybody out there using minix-

I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby,
won't be big and professional like gnu for 386 (486) AT
clones). This has been brewing since April, and is
starting to get ready. I'd like any feedback on things
people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it
somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due
to practical reasons) among other things).See "Linux 10th Anniversary."

The posting drew a smattering of responses and within a
month, Torvalds had posted a 0.01 version of the
operating system-i.e., the earliest possible version
fit for outside review-on an Internet FTP site. In the
course of doing so, Torvalds had to come up with a name
for the new system. On his own PC hard drive, Torvalds
had saved the program as Linux, a name that paid its
respects to the software convention of giving each Unix
variant a name that ended with the letter X. Deeming
the name too "egotistical," Torvalds changed it to
Freax, only to have the FTP site manager change it back.

Although Torvalds had set out build a full operating
system, both he and other developers knew at the time
that most of the functional tools needed to do so were
already available, thanks to the work of GNU, BSD, and
other free software developers. One of the first tools
the Linux development team took advantage of was the
GNU C Compiler, a tool that made it possible to process
programs written in the C programming language.

Integrating GCC improved the performance of Linux. It
also raised issues. Although the GPL's "viral" powers
didn't apply to the Linux kernel, Torvald's willingness
to borrow GCC for the purposes of his own free software
operating system indicated a certain obligation to let
other users borrow back. As Torvalds would later put
it: "I had hoisted myself up on the shoulders of giants."See Linus Torvalds and
David Diamond, Just For Fun: The
Story of an Accidentaly Revolutionary (HarperCollins
Publishers, Inc., 2001): 96-97.
 Not surprisingly, he began to think about what would
happen when other people looked to him for similar
support. A decade after the decision, Torvalds echoes
the Free Software Foundation's Robert Chassel when he
sums up his thoughts at the time: You put six months of
your life into this thing and you want to make it
available and you want to get something out of it, but
you don't want people to take advantage of it. I wanted
people to be able to see [Linux], and to make changes
and improvements to their hearts' content. But I also
wanted to make sure that what I got out of it was to
see what they were doing. I wanted to always have
access to the sources so that if they made
improvements, I could make those improvements myself.See Linus Torvalds and
David Diamond, Just For Fun: The
Story of an Accidentaly Revolutionary (HarperCollins
Publishers, Inc., 2001): 94-95.
 When it was time to release the 0.12 version of Linux,
the first to include a fully integrated version of GCC,
Torvalds decided to voice his allegiance with the free
software movement. He discarded the old kernel license
and replaced it with the GPL. The decision triggered a
porting spree, as Torvalds and his collaborators looked
to other GNU programs to fold into the growing Linux
stew. Within three years, Linux developers were
offering their first production release, Linux 1.0,
including fully modified versions of GCC, GDB, and a
host of BSD tools.

By 1994, the amalgamated operating system had earned
enough respect in the hacker world to make some
observers wonder if Torvalds hadn't given away the farm
by switching to the GPL in the project's initial
months. In the first issue of Linux Journal, publisher
Robert Young sat down with Torvalds for an interview.
When Young asked the Finnish programmer if he felt
regret at giving up private ownership of the Linux
source code, Torvalds said no. "Even with 20/20
hindsight," Torvalds said, he considered the GPL "one
of the very best design decisions" made during the
early stages of the Linux project.See Robert Young, "Interview with Linus, the
Author of
Linux," Linux Journal (March 1, 1994).

That the decision had been made with zero appeal or
deference to Stallman and the Free Software Foundation
speaks to the GPL's growing portability. Although it
would take a few years to be recognized by Stallman,
the explosiveness of Linux development conjured
flashbacks of Emacs. This time around, however, the
innovation triggering the explosion wasn't a software
hack like Control-R but the novelty of running a
Unix-like system on the PC architecture. The motives
may have been different, but the end result certainly
fit the ethical specifications: a fully functional
operating system composed entirely of free software.

As his initial email message to the comp.os.minix
newsgroup indicates, it would take a few months before
Torvalds saw Linux as anything less than a holdover
until the GNU developers delivered on the HURD kernel.
This initial unwillingness to see Linux in political
terms would represent a major blow to the Free Software

As far as Torvalds was concerned, he was simply the
latest in a long line of kids taking apart and
reassembling things just for fun. Nevertheless, when
summing up the runaway success of a project that could
have just as easily spent the rest of its days on an
abandoned computer hard drive, Torvalds credits his
younger self for having the wisdom to give up control
and accept the GPL bargain.

"I may not have seen the light," writes Torvalds,
reflecting on Stallman's 1991 Polytechnic University
speech and his subsequent decision to switch to the
GPL. "But I guess something from his speech sunk in ."See Linus Torvalds and
David Diamond, Just For Fun: The
Story of an Accidentaly Revolutionary (HarperCollins
Publishers, Inc., 2001): 59.
 interview offers an interesting, not to mention
candid, glimpse at Stallman's political attitudes
during the earliest days of the GNU Project. It is also
helpful in tracing the evolution of Stallman's
rhetoric. Describing the purpose of the GPL, Stallman
says, "I'm trying to change the way people approach
knowledge and information in general. I think that to
try to own knowledge, to try to control whether people
are allowed to use it, or to try to stop other people
from sharing it, is sabotage." Contrast this with a
statement to the author in August 2000: "I urge you not
to use the term `intellectual property' in your
thinking. It will lead you to misunderstand things,
because that term generalizes about copyrights,
patents, and trademarks. And those things are so
different in their effects that it is entirely foolish
to try to talk about them at once. If you hear somebody
saying something about intellectual property, without
quotes, then he's not thinking very clearly and you
shouldn't join."