Richard Stallman's GNU Project Turns 25

Sep 29, 2008

The GNU Project celebrated its 25th birthday on September 27, 2008. With its GCC compiler and bash shell, GNU was ever at the forefront of today's Linux distribution. To kick off the celebration, British humorist Stephen Fry appears in a video in defense of free software.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF), always tightly interwoven with the GNU project, has produced a short video, "Happy Birthday to GNU," in honor of the celebration. During its five minutes, actor, novelist and filmmaker Stephen Fry lectures with a certain dry humor on the history of the GNU Project and the debate over free and proprietary software. His narration accompanies such images as an ancient computer and Richard Stallman playing the flute.

The FSF publicized further events covering free software leading up to the September 20th Software Freedom Day and the September 27th GNU birthday celebration. Peter Brown, executive director of the foundation, suggests that the 25th anniversary should be "more than just a reflection." The Fry video and subsequent offerings at the event should be "a rallying call for the work that still needs to be done" to replace proprietary software on user systems.

The raison d'etre of the anniversary is the date September 27, 1983, when Richard Stallman brought the GNU Project to life in a mailing list with the subject "New Unix Implementation." At that time Stallman had been working 12 years at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In his 13th year he quit the job to commit himself entirely to the GNU (Gnu's Not Unix) Project. In 1985 he founded the Free Software Foundation that supported the GNU Project from the start and now sponsors, among other things, a GPL Compliance Lab and a Free Software Directory.

In 1992 Linus Torvalds brought the Linux kernel under the GNU General Public License (GPL) developed by the GNU Project and made public by the Free Software Foundation. Ever since then the Linux kernel together with the GNU Project have developed tools and software for the Linux platform. The GNU Project thus constantly reminds us that the Linux operating system should actually be called GNU/Linux: it might contain the Linux kernel, but also includes over 300 GNU Project programs. Among them is the Linux project known simply as Debian but officially known as Debian GNU/Linux, evidence of a successful GNU Project.

The GNU Project always had the goal to develop a completely free operating system that included a kernel, tools and applications. Under Stallman's leadership based on good will, the Project was vehemently against software that was exclusively binary and whose sources were not readily available to developers. Among these are certain Linux distributions that contain proprietary drivers. By 1992 the project had developed everything an operating system needed outside of the kernel. GNU Hurd with Mach was to become the kernel until Linus Torvalds brought Linux under GPL.

GNU Hurd as a native development of the GNU kernel has been operative since 2001. The current release is 0.2.

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  • happy birthday

    long live gnu/linux!
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