Tuesday 2 September 2008 by Bradley M. Kuhn
Twenty-five years ago this month, I had just gotten my first computer, a Commodore 64, and was learning the very basics (quite literally) of programming. Unfortunately for my education, it would be a full eight years before I'd be permitted to see any source code to a computer program that I didn't write myself. I often look back at those eight years and consider that my most formative years of programming learning were wasted, since I was not permitted to study the programs written by the greatest minds.
Fortunately for all the young programmers to come after me, something else was happening in an office at an MIT building in September 1983 that would make sure everyone would have the freedom to study code, and the freedom to improve it and contribute to the global library of software development knowledge. Richard Stallman announced that he would start the GNU project, a complete operating system that would give all its users freedom.
I got involved with Free Software in 1992. At the time, I was the one student in my university who had ever heard of GNU and the recently released kernel named Linux. My professors knew of “that Stallman guy” but were focused primarily on academic research. Fortunately for me, they nevertheless gave me free reign over the systems to turn them into what might have been, in late 1992, one of the first Computer Science labs running entirely Free Software.
Much more has happened since even then. To commemorate all that has come since Stallman's announcement, my colleagues at the FSF, home of the GNU project, released a video for this historic 25 year anniversary. It took twenty-five years, and a fight at the BBC over DRM, but now even a famous, accomplished actor like Stephen Fry is interested in the work that Stallman began way back in a year when Michael Jackson was a musical phenomenon and not merely a punchline of a joke.
These days, I have almost weekly moments of surprise that people outside of the Software Freedom Movement have actually heard of what I do for a living. When Matt Lee (whom I got to know when he came up through the ranks in the 2000's as I did in the 1990's as a new FSF volunteer) told me a few months ago that Stephen Fry had enthusiastically and immediately agreed to make this video, it was yet another moment of surprise. We now live in a movement that impacts everyone in the industrialized world, because nearly everyone who has access to electricity also must use a computer to interact with daily life. So many people are impacted by the problems of proprietary software that Stallman noticed in 1983 impacting his small developer community. Thanks to the work of thousands, we now have the opportunity to welcome new groups into a computing world that can give them freedom. I'm happy that the friendly face of a talented and accomplished entertainer and world-class actor is here to welcome them.
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