GNUisance: Pigdog Journal Interviews Richard Stallman
MB: So, I, one of the things that, uh,
you know, just our talking right now about, uh, proprietary software
on free operating systems, uh, you know, there's, there's an image of
you as, "No Compromise". No 90% solution. No "kinda proprietary"
solution. It's 100% or nothing. It's all or nothing.
RS: That's true in one way. As far as
saying what we're aiming for, I will not compromise merely for the
sake of a certain amount of convenience, anywhere.
There are ways in which I've compromised. But not on that. Not on
the question of what's the goal, of what's a contribution and what's
But there are many other areas where I do compromise. I do not
draw the sharpest line one could imagine. For example, we've always
been willing to work with practically anybody on free software. No
matter what that somebody else is doing the rest of the time.
MB: Like, say a company that sells
RS: Yeah, right. If they're willing to
work with us, on one occasion, but they make proprietary software,
we'll work with them on that. We won't say that the company as a
whole is doing something good. We won't praise or legitimize the rest
of what they do. BUt we will work with them on Free Software and
thank them for that.
ES: Like with Apple and MkLinux?
RS: On what?
RS: Well, they didn't work with us on
that. That's another example of people making a version of the GNU
system and not calling it a GNU system. But yeah, that is Free
Software, but you need to have some proprietary software installed in
order to run it.
ES: Oh, yeah, that's true.
NM: Can you get Mach on that yet?
RS: Can you use what?
RS: I don't know. I don't know the
details. But when I spoke with Richard Moren (?), he told me that,
no, you couldn't run MkLinux and uh, without installing some
proprietary software to get it started or something.
NM: So my question I guess is this: if a
system has proprietary software, why is then a GNU system if it's not
RS: It's a version, it's a derivative,
it's a variant of the GNU system. Remember, it's not "*a* GNU
system", it's "*the* GNU system." The GNU system is a system. We're
talking about variants of that system.
NM: But the variant... I always thought --
RS: GNU's not an adjective. It's a
noun. When I say "It's the GNU/Linux system," or "That's an example
of the GNU/Linux system", what I'm saying is, "That's a modified
version of *the* GNU system." It's been modified to use Linux as the
kernel. And they modified it some other ways by so-and-so. But it's
a modified version of *the* GNU system.
ES: How did you come up with "GNU"? Doesn't
that play into Tim O'Reilly's hands with all the animal books?
RS: There was no O'Reilly when I came up
with the term "GNU". It's a recursive acronym for "GNU's Not Unix".
MB: Really? Like, that's not like a
reverse formation for it? Is that really where it--
RS: No, of course that's what it is.
That's the reason I picked the name "GNU".
NM: Or the animal, the gnu.
RS: Well of course I knew it was the
name of an animal. I knew that gnu was in all sorts of jokes and
songs and so on.
LE: And that has been a Unix way of doing
things for a long time, with double-entendre.
NM: "Pine Is Not Elm".
RS: Well, it started -- it wasn't a
*Unix* thing. No, it started on, it started at MIT, with TINT, which
is "TINT Is Not TECO". It's a style of hacker humor, recursive
MB: Well, it's a good one.
RS: Let me tell you even better ones.
There was an Emacs-like editor called EINE, and it was almost totally
re-written and the new version was called ZWEI. EINE stood for "EINE
Is Not Emacs" and ZWEI stood for "ZWEI Was Eine Initially".
There's another one that was never used as the name of a program.
"[Something] Is Not A Real Acronym But Is Euphonious".
MB: So what do you think, Zach?
ES: Well, I think that's pretty much
RS: Oh, and then there's "KWEBUTNA".
"KWEBUTNA Won't Ever Be Used To Name Anything."
So I think it would be fun to name a program KWEBUTNA, just to make
MB: Just to disappoint them.
MB: So, I guess, probably my last
question for you is, again, a lot of our readers aren't hackers,
aren't programmers, probably don't even use a lot of Free
RS: Maybe they cook.
MB: Maybe they do.
RS: Maybe they use recipes. And if so,
they probably share recipes, and they probably change recipes, and
they probably pass on their own modified versions of recipes which
they feel they've improved in some way.
NM: Like Neiman-Marcus's cookies. [Nick's
referring to a famous spam message passed around on the Internet,
which purports to be a cookie recipe that the author was unwittingly
charged hundreds of dollars for.]
MB: Well, that's piracy.
RS: No, it's not. Well, for one thing
that recipe really has nothing to do with Neiman-Marcus.
MB: It's a made up one.
RS: Right. For another, we shouldn't
call sharing piracy. Sharing is a good thing. It's not like
kidnapping people on ships on the ocean. So, don't call it piracy
when people copy and share published information.
Anyway, the point is, sharing recipes and changing recipes is part
of what people do with recipes. There's a community of cooks, and
they use their information in this way. Well, the recipe is the
closest thing in non-computer life to a program. If you're not a
programmer, the best way to understand a program is, it's a recipe to
be carried out by a machine.
So for the same reason that people want to share and change
recipes, people want to share and change programs. People are
fundamentally entitled to share and change programs, just as they're
fundamentally entitled to share and change recipes.