Study of software development and the free exchange of ideas promised by advances in computer technology were both slowed by the corporate privatization of operating systems.
Companies wanted to keep the source codes of their systems secret and safe from manipulation. The sharing of information and open-source methods of the first pioneering programmers were brought to a halt by copyright and intellectual property laws. This changed the ways that software was developed, studied, acquired, and used. To save the open-source, free access methodologies that had brought about so many of the first advances in computer operating systems, Richard Stallman of MIT created the GNU project in 1983. Free as in FreedomThe GNU project’s goal, as part of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) also founded by Stallman, is “to create a free, open-source UNIXcompatible operating system,” (Silberschatz, Galvin, & Gagne, 2012, p.
38). The creation of the open-source system is designed to be a collaborative effort by any and all persons who wish to participate. The concepts of free software are best stated by the GNU Operating System website: Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:• The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
• The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this. • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2). • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3).
Access to the source code is a precondition for this. (www.gnu.org) To avoid complications with copyright laws, Stallman also authored the GNU General Public License.
The GNU General Public License (GNU GPL or GPL) codified “copylefting”, a play on the word copyright, which grants end users the freedoms to use, study, share (copy), and modify software. “Fundamentally, GPL requires that the source code be distributed with any binaries and that any changes made to the source code be released under the same GPL license,” (Silberschatz, Galvin, ; Gagne, 2012, p. 38).The ability to copy and alter the software at will gives great freedom to programmers operating a UNIXcompatible system to experiment and create new software.
Also, the GPL ensures that those freedoms to alter the software are preserved each time the software is distributed. To date the GPL has generated two further versions and become the world’s most widely used free software license. Programmers around the world use the freedoms granted by the GPL and the FSF’s copylefting practices to further their personal and public efforts to understand how computer OS’s function.The knowledge gained through collaborative programming and open-source access to operating systems continues to grow. Open-sourcing has even been making a comeback of sorts, with some OS’s such as Linux, BSD UNIX, and Solaris being made available in both source and binary (executable) format, (Silberschatz, Galvin, ; Gagne, 2012). The freedoms granted by the GPL cannot be ignored or overlooked.
In a financially driven society the quest for knowledge and understanding is often lost or ignored. The FSF’s GNU project and the GNU GPL help ensure that the study of and experimentation with computer operating systems remains open to the world for all to share and benefit from.