Letter to the Editor of Dr. Dobb's Journal
I am sure you don't realize how ironic it is to associate me and Tim
O'Reilly with “open source”.
If the House Un-American Activities Committee asked me, “Are you
now or have you ever been a supporter of the open source
movement,” I could proudly and cheerfully say no. I've been
campaigning since 1984 for free software—free as in
freedom. (See the GNU Manifesto, Dr. Dobb's Journal, Sept. 1985.)
Free software means, roughly, that you are free to study what it does,
free to change it, free to redistribute it, and free to publish
for more details.) You deserve these freedoms; everyone deserves
them. I wrote the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL), the target
of Microsoft's greatest
ire, to defend these freedoms for all users, in the spirit of the
free software movement.
Years later, in 1998, another group began operating under the term
“open source”. They have contributed to the free software
community in practical ways, but they stand for very different views.
They studiously avoid the issues of freedom and principle that we
raise in the free software movement; they cite only short-term
practical benefits as the reasons for what they do.
Their stated definition for the term “open source” is
somewhat broader than free software, and thus includes my work. But
describing the GNU GPL as an “open source license,” as
Microsoft did, is more than half misleading. The GNU GPL embodies the
firm philosophy of the free software movement; it doesn't come from
the open source movement. I am not a supporter of the open source
movement, and never have been.
Tim O'Reilly, by contrast, is a pillar of the open source movement, at
least to hear him tell it. However, if you look at actions rather
than words, most of the manuals published by O'Reilly Associates do
not qualify as open source, let alone as free. The handful of free
titles are exceptions. He could easily excuse himself to
I talked about open source, but I didn't really do much of it.”
If O'Reilly moves to selling free-as-in-freedom books in the future, he
could become a true supporter of the free software movement, or at least
the open source movement. [Later in 2001, O'Reilly Associates published a
couple of additional free books. We are grateful for this contribution to
the free software community, and we look forward to more of the same.]
With the recent founding of FSF-Europe, and the coming inauguration of
FSF-India, the free software movement is going stronger than ever.
Please don't lump us in with the other movement in our community.
Free Software Foundation