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is ready for the development and use of free software'
Stallman, founder and president of the Free Software
Foundation was in India to officially launch a sister concern
of the FSF in Trivandrum. He believes India can save tremendous
amounts of money by shunning proprietary software that is
is more efficient; GNU/Linux on a two years old second-hand
computer can be as fast to use as Windows on the latest
word 'Free' sets hearts aflutter and sends housewives running
to claim their free teaspoon, free soap dish or free PET
jars. But if you ask Richard Stallman for free software
he'll talk about the three freedoms he thinks can make the
world a better place. For those who came in late, Stallman
is the founder and president of the Free Software Foundation,
which promotes the development and use of free software.
The FSF also helps spread awareness of the ethical and political
issues of freedom in the use of software.
Free Software Foundation is idealistic: we believe that
software should be free, as a matter of ethics. That is
to say, computer users are entitled to the freedom to run,
modify, and redistribute the software they use," says
Stallman, who believes India can lead the Free Software
Foundation by supporting these freedoms. Stallman was in
India to officially launch a sister concern of the FSF in
Trivandrum, which has received support from the Government
Walking about in his socks he recalls an incident when he
had to struggle with a troublesome laser printer because
he could not modify its program. "We were prisoners
of our software because we did not have the source code
from the printer manufacturer," he says in frustration.
Stallman (and a group of programmers) found themselves in
dire straits when Digital discontinued its PDP-10 computer
in the early 70s. This system had a non-proprietary operating
system that programmers could freely modify and enhance.
"In those days software companies often distributed
and programmers co-operated with each other. By the early
eighties almost all software was proprietary, which means
users could no longer co-operate
with each other to improve and distribute software. So I
had been elected by circumstances to solve this problem,
that's why I set out to develop a free operating system."
To keep the co-operative spirit in the computing community
alive, Stallman (and other proponents of free software)
launched the GNU Project in 1984. Their objective was to
develop a free, Unix-like operating system. GNU (pronounced
'guh-new') is a recursive acronym for 'GNU Not Unix.'
Stallman clarifies that the word 'free' pertains to freedom
not price. "You may or may not pay for a program,"
he says. "Either way, once you have the software you
have three freedoms first, the freedom to copy the program
and give it away to friends and co-workers; second, the
freedom to change the program, by having the full source
code; third, the freedom to distribute an improved version
and thus help build this community."
Deeper into conversation with Stallman, we learn that Linux
is just a Kernel, the core part of an operating system.
An operating system needs other components for various services
like printing, disk management, etc. These components were
originally written for the proposed GNU operating system
and are now used with Linux, which really is GNU/Linux.
Today GNU/Linux is used by more than 20 million users.
sets in when people call the whole system 'Linux.' Then
people think that the whole system was started by Linus
(Torvalds) in 1991. Actually it was started by us in 1984,
under the name GNU. We had almost finished it by 1991--in
fact, the kernel was the only missing part. That is why
combining GNU and Linux produced a complete system,"
That also explains why the GNU/Linux operating system is
free today. But this would not be without the efforts of
Stallman and others who have been supporting the movement
for free software right from 1985, when they started the
Free Software Foundation. The FSF is dedicated to promoting
computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute
Stallman estimates that the total paid for all legal Microsoft
software in India would amount to $500 million, and feels
India can save "a tremendous amount of money"
by shunning proprietary software. He also believes India
is ready to contribute to the free software movement.
are enough committed activists now to make it possible,
and by getting organized, we can encourage more use and
development of free software in India," says Stallman.
"In particular we hope to encourage schools to use
GNU/Linux. GNU/Linux is more efficient; GNU/Linux on a two
years old second-hand computer can be as fast to use as
Windows on the latest computer. Schools could get far more
computers if they could use a previous generation to good
And how might this free software be distributed and installed
on an existing base of five million PCs, when majority of
users here are not programmers or tech savvy?
users frequently hold 'install fests' where people who know
how to install the system do it for whoever comes and asks
for help. As the number of GNU/Linux users increases, a
larger number will also learn how to install the system,
so the rate will increase," Stallman says confidently.