Wednesday, November 24, 2004

One of The Greatest Wobblies of All Time

One of the greatest wobblies of all time must surely be the wobbly which Richard M Stallman started throwing in 1983. He's still throwing that wobbly today. That's a long wobbly! This wobbly even has a name: the GNU Project.

He started throwing this wobbly when, in 1983, he had some problems with some printer software. The software for the previous printer was open and modifiable, so had been customised with some useful, extra features. They (the people in that lab) were able to tailor it just to their liking and convenience. But this new printer software was closed. The source code was not available, and so was not modifiable without going to all the trouble of reverse-engineering it. And it was all to do with proprietary control.

This was the straw that broke his camel's back. He felt the loss of freedom to such an extent that he threw what must now be one of the greatest wobblies of all time: he started the GNU Project.

But is it really a wobbly worthy to be called one of the greatest wobblies of all time? Yes! Stallman's wobbly has a central, even fundamental role in the protection of freedom against those who value their own control over others' freedom to choose. That might sound a bit far-fetched, but, with computers being everywhere these days, it's increasingly a 1984-esque thing of 'Who controls the computers, controls the world; who controls the software, controls the computers.'

Just imagine if there was no alternative to Microsoft. Just imagine if there was no possibility of an alternative (due to, say, software patents). Would Microsoft bother trying to improve Windows? After all, they'd have no competition. Would they respect your privacy? And if not, what could you really do about it? Not use their software? That would, they presumably would argue, be an option. But what else would you use?

With GNU and Linux, as well as the BSDs, etc, becoming more and more widely accepted, with IBM and others actively supporting this Open Source stuff, I don't think there can be any doubt about the true greatness of Stallman's wobbly. It's a wobbly that is even now only approaching its crescendo.


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