The changing face of the FSF

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 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 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?


Are you trolling?
The FSF and GNU are not selling out.
The GPL allows anyone the right to sell GPL software if they wish.
And GNU/Linux is NOT freeware it is open source.
The difference is freeware is usually closed source the author is the only one allowed to make changes to the software and he/she chooses to let people use it without a fee.
Open source however means that anyone can see and if they wish modify it, this is the real free part, you are free to do what you want with the software including sell it.
You could download the source for a huge complex free program change the name and redistribute it as your own for $$$.
And anyway the money goes to the FSF and GNU, they gotta pay the bills somehow.

Posted by Paul on July 18, 2008 at 09:54 AM PDT #

You sound like the typical foot soldier of the GNU/Linux movement who wasn't around when it started.

When the FSF/GNU project startered, they were hosted at the AI labs in MIT - the machines were originally \* (if I recall properly.) I suppose that this might even be considered to be before the open source movement began.

When it all started, it was free(ware) that you could get the source code for.

That you mention that you can sell this software illustrates my point: the FSF has gone from being focused on providing free (as in beer) software to encouraging people to pay for that software - thus it is no longer where RMS originally described it.

Posted by Darren on July 20, 2008 at 01:35 AM PDT #

Aww, c'mon Darren, they have to pay for the crazy airport antics of RMS somehow! :-)

The FSF is a political lobbying organisation now. They're about speeches, conferences, political chestbeating, legal action against GPL 'violators' and pumping up the slashdot crowd.

I think this is about all they can do, since a lot of GNU software has been passed-by in recent years. The HURD concept fell to Linux (and who needs either, we have Solaris, right?). Their compiler has been looking less and less impressive each year. I'm not sure if glibc is a wholly GNU project or not, but it's a sack of it. Et cetera, et cetera.

It's all very Web 2.0 - if you don't have anything to say, say it louder. With colours and JavaScript.

Posted by Andre on July 23, 2008 at 12:03 PM PDT #

There are some thin if the legitimate work as a line there. Most are sites and marketing study for the site owner rich, not you. The only thing is true legitimacy Ebay, selling things you already own

Posted by abass on January 27, 2010 at 11:33 PM PST #

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