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The final word about open source

Mar 24, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinuxOpen Source

* More about GPL, free software, GNU, 'the Anarchist of Software'

This is the last installment (why do I always feel a hint of trepidation when I declare something the “last installment”?) in our look at Linux, open source and free software.

Open source software is often confused with free software, mainly because it is issued under the GNU General Public License (GPL). If you visit the Open Source Web site (, you can read the GPL.

While on that page, glance at the left hand column for a list of the other licenses that might be used to cover open source products. There are 52 listed, from the “Academic Free License” to the “zlib/libpng license”! While Microsoft’s End User License Agreements (EULA) can be mind numbing to read, at least they generally follow the same set of rules. The various open source licenses vary all over the map. Still, most of the popular and useful (at least to an enterprise) packages come under the GPL. That’s the GNU GPL, but what is this “GNU”?

GNU supposedly stands for “Gnu’s Not Unix” which would make it self-referential (i.e. GNU=”Gnu’s Not Unix” = ” ‘Gnu’s not Unix’s Not Unix”, etc. like looking at a mirror’s reflection in another mirror). The chortling nature of the name gives you some insight into the maturity level of those who started the movement.

GNU (found at is underwritten by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) whose mission is “…to preserve, protect and promote the freedom to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer software…” (

FSF goes on to say that it “…supports the freedoms of speech, press, and association on the Internet, the right to use encryption software for private communication, and the right to write software unimpeded by private monopolies.”

To me, that’s a political manifesto and may well be what Microsoft Vice President Craig Mundie was referring to when he called it “basically un-American ( [Note, Mundie did say the GPL was basically un-American, but later clarified his remarks as referring to FSF and GNU. Even a Microsoft vice president can be confused by so many licenses!]

As I said at the end of the last newsletter, rarely do political philosophies and religious-like beliefs contribute to good software. Good software may result, but it will be in spite of the agenda, not because of it. It would be well to note at this point that Richard Stallman head of FSF, is not held in high regard by many in the open source movement. For a fascinating portrait of this man see and learn why he’s called “the Anarchist of Software.”

Today’s open source movement, while harboring some who would follow Stallman to the barricades, is generally business-friendly. Your business, and your Windows network, can be “open source friendly,” too.