Subject: Re: Exploring the limits of free software: Cygnus, and GPL
From: Ian Lance Taylor <>
Date: 25 May 1999 13:56:16 -0400

   Date: Tue, 25 May 1999 12:44:10 -0400 (EDT)
   From: Michael Stutz <>

   Is the success of free software too important to be controlled by the
   judgement of one person, and is it selfish for one person to assume that
   role at the exclusion of all members of the community who differ in opinion?
   (Sure, no one can _control_ free software (Xemacs etc), but there can only
   be one FSF, one GNU.)

As I mentioned in my last message, I believe the success of free
software is already independent of the judgement of RMS.

There can be only one FSF and one GNU, but in actuality GNU/Linux
exists quite independently of them.  GNU/Linux uses GNU code, but the
Linux community does not hesitate to fork from the official GNU
distributions.  They work to minimize those forks in order to ease the
process of integrating future GNU changes, but they don't sacrifice
features in order to maintain compatibility.

   Now that free software has become larger than just GNU, is there a conflict
   of interest between FSF, the tax-exempt charity, and GNU, the project to
   create a free OS? How can differences be resolved without a Steering
   Committee or open voting process of some sort?

We already have a free OS; in fact, we have several.

I don't see how there could be a conflict between the FSF and GNU.
The FSF more or less defines GNU.  There could be a conflict between
the FSF and the larger free software community.  In fact, there are
several such minor conflicts brewing away.  However, there is no need
for a steering committee or voting, because the FSF does not control
what the community does.  The very existence of conflicts demonstrates

Note that this is quite different from the stance I was taking several
weeks ago about the Open Source Initiative.  That is because OSI
claims to represent the entire free software community, including me.
Since some people actually listen to them and believe their claims, I
find it somewhat irritating that they are a closed group.  The FSF
does not claim to represent the entire free software community, nor
indeed any community at all other than the FSF itself, so it doesn't
matter to me that they are a closed group.

The free software community does not need a steering committee or any
sort of government.  These days it maintains itself through a
naturally evolving meritocracy.  The freedom of the source code
permits this to continue.

   "Open Source" was supposed to be just a way to sell "free software" to the
   suits without having to explain the free speech/free beer thing every time
   you opened your mouth. Hackers were supposed to still use "free software"
   when communicating with their peers; however, I don't see that happening,
   and I wonder if there is more than marketing behind the motivations for
   using "Open Source" as the term of choice.

I'm not sure to what extent that isn't happening.  I still use the
term ``free software.''  I recently spoke with a student writing a
paper on open source as a labour movement, and almost the first words
out of my mouth were ``I actually have always called it free

   Specifically, and because its adoption was excluded only by FSF/GNU, I
   wonder if its introduction had to do with diehard free software hackers who
   had become frustrated with the FSF's kingship and lack of an open board or
   steering committee that the free software community can democratically
   partake in.

I'm a diehard free software hacker.  I am indeed often frustrated with
the FSF's kingship, and was involved in the start of the egcs project
to break away from that kingship in the case of gcc.  However, I have
never seen the need for an open board or steering committee.  In fact,
I think such a thing makes no sense for free software.  The success of
egcs demonstrates that it is not needed, and in general I don't see
what good it would do.

I find the tone of your message slightly odd, in that you are
speculating about the motivations of free software hackers in a medium
and on a list where you can just ask them.  Guessing at motivations is
good fun, and I do it all the time, but if the people in question are
sitting right in front of you, simply asking them is an easier way to
get information.