The changing face of the FSF
By avalon on Jul 18, 2008
When I first started out using the Internet, there was a small collection of machines at MIT where anyone could login as a guest to compile and run software. These were the part of the GNU project. It was free access to machines and disk space that you might not otherwise have, at the time. This was circa 1990 - before the WWW - and the most common method for downloading software, at that time, was via ftp. Some people would buy CDs of free software because it was cheaper/quicker/easier than downloading 600-700MB on a tail of the Internet, by modem.
Almost 20 years later and the default interaction with the FSF and GNU project is via the web. And what a difference it is. Today when I go to a web page to try and download free software from www.gnu.org it is all Donate to the FSF or Buy our distribution. Oh dear. I'm sure if I point my browser at an ftp URL, I won't be plagued with such nonsense, but the fact remains that the focus of the FSF and its GNU project has visibly changed from being a conduit for free software to give us money. To see what I mean, visit http://www.gnu.org/software/software.html and read down to the How to get GNU software. Buy or download and please donate. Sounds more like shareware than freeware.
What used to be about free software now appears to be about commercial software. What used to be about people donating their time to something they love doing now seems to be about employment.
It is somewhat ironic that in the past, the mantra of FSF/GNU was that software should be free and you shouldn't have to pay for it - programmers who work on it would have other real jobs. It would seem that the FSF/GNU have had a rather substantial change of heart, given the blatant self advertising (for money) their web pages now do.
One might be lead to believe that perhaps the success of GNU software has now lead to the project becoming corrupted by its success: everywhere out there people are using GNU software to make money, so why shouldn't the project itself get some of that reward?
How long then, until the FSF becomes a part of or itself a for-profit organisation?