Subject: Re: Open letter to those who believe in a right to free software
From: "Tim O'Reilly" <tim@oreilly.com>
Date: Thu, 04 Nov 1999 12:26:40 -0800



Ian Lance Taylor wrote:
> 
> The history of free software to date has been highly contingent.  If
> there were no RMS, there would not have been anybody else.  If there
> were no Linus Torvalds, there would not have been anybody else.

I am sorry, but this is just contrary to the facts.  Without denigrating
the contributions of either Richard or Linus, the sharing of source code
and giving it away to a wider community far precedes either of them.  

The FSF-oriented revisionist history of open source draws a hard line
around certain kinds of activities, and excludes anything that doesn't
quite fit.  In fact, there's a continuum.  Information sharing, not a
particular brand of license or ideology, is the common thread.

Tell me that the guys at Duke and UNC who wrote the Usenet software back
before the FSF existed wouldn't have done their work without RMS, and
I'll be interested. Tell me that the guys in university settings who
wrote so much of UNIX and passed it around under liberal licenses (until
the corporate weenies cracked down on the party) wouldn't have done
their work without RMS, and I'll be bowled over.  In fact, I can make
the case that RMS would have had little or no impact without the early
work on free networking code, whether it was from the UUCP/Usenet side
or the Internet side.

Richard was responsible for one great innovation:  the *idea* that free
mattered, that it was central rather than incidental.  It was he who
brought into consciousness something that was being practiced, but not
self-consciously.  He is the father of our awareness of the importance
of free access to source code, not of the practice of sharing it.

Success has a thousand fathers.  We are all part of a great river with
ten thousand sources.  Trying to trace it back to one common ancestor
just misses the boat.  The same is true in looking at the early history
of the Internet:  there was no "father of the internet" but a tribe of
people contributing ideas to each other, some more important than
others, but none able to stand alone.

The fact is that without information sharing there can be no progress in
an intellectual community.  The amount of sharing can speed up or retard
that progress.  That's all we know.  We're all still struggling to
understand the exact dynamics.


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Tim O'Reilly @ O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
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