30 years of GNU

Richard Stallman at The University of Pittsburgh in 2010
Richard Stallman at The University of Pittsburgh in 2010

On September 27, 1983 Richard Stallman (Photo ©Victor Powell) announced the birth of the GNU project. This acronym stands for “GNU’s Not Unix” and indicates a willingness to create a Unix-compatible operating system but with the fundamental characteristic of being free. The point was that no one had to pay for permission to use the GNU system.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary, the GNU project site has opened a section that indicates the various initiatives. Obviously, they couldn’t do without giving you the occasion to learn more about the GNU world and increase your awareness about the meaning of this project.

[ Celebrate 30 years of GNU! ]

Freedom is the basis of the GNU project but sometimes there was a bit of confusion because in English the word free can mean free as in free speech and free as in free beer. Richard Stallman has stated several times that he has always meant the term as in free speech and that it was never his intention that the software, including the GNU one, should be free of charge.

The idealism of Richard Stallman is pragmatic. Copyright can be used to prevent the sharing of software but the community of developers working on GNU software can use it to foster cooperation. The GNU General Public License (GPL) created and modified over the years allows anyone who adhere to that type of development philosophy to freely use the code released as long as the result is free.

Over the years the software needed to create a free operating system released under the GNU GPL license has been gradually assembled. Richard Stallman himself has developed various free programs widely used such as Emacs, the GNU Compiler Collection and the GNU Debugger. The kernel that was successful, however, was the Linux one, which for this reason shuld be referred to as GNU/Linux, created by Linus Torvalds.

The increasing success of GNU/Linux has shown that the GNU project is a winner. This operating system is now present everywhere, from Internet servers to smartphones, from micro-computers such as the Raspberry Pi to home appliances such as smart-TVs. This enormous diffusion is due precisely to the fact that it’s free software which can be adapted to run on very different kinds of hardware. This makes it very interesting from a commercial point of view, so much that since the beginning of the last decade IBM has invested billions of dollars in its Linux systems.

The GNU Project has also created further licenses in addition to the GPL, for example LibreOffice is licensed under the GNU LGPL. Over the years, various organizations have created other free licenses such as BSD, Apache and Mozilla, used by successful software. Sometimes there can be a bit of confusion but in a world where often closed software is used to make money while maintaining complete control over the software or even to spy on users, free licenses are really welcome!

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