GNU's Bulletin, vol. 1 no. 3, June, 1987

Table of Contents

Gnu's Bulletin is the sporadically published newsletter of the Free Software Foundation, bringing you news about the GNU project.

Gnu's Who

The usual people are still working on GNU: Richard Stallman recently returned from Korea, where he worked at KAIST during the month of April. He also visited DECUS in Tokyo and spoke there. He is currently continuing to develop the GNU C compiler. Hackers Len Tower, Richard Mlynarik, and Paul Rubin are doing various pieces of volunteer work as their time permits it, and Jay Fenlason continues to work full time on the GNU assembler and libraries. At the distribution end, FSF treasurer Bob Chassell has just finished coordinating production of another run of GNU Emacs manuals. Jerry Puzo has been making sure that our correspondence with the outside world is handled smoothly.

Some new people have also joined us: Mark D'Agostino is now taking care of the FSF mail room, filling the tape and manual orders which are coming in at an ever increasing rate. Mark is an MIT student in Physics and Electrical Engineering. Peter Deutsch, an old-time hacker from MIT, is in his spare time writing a PostScript language interpreter for bitmap screens, for use with GNU under the X window system. His interpreter will be called "GhostScript" and will hopefully also be able to drive printers. Peter is well known for his work on Lisp and Smalltalk, and continues to do Smalltalk development as Chief Scientist at ParcPlace Systems, a spinoff of Xerox PARC. Velu Sinha wrote the GNU shell, which will be released for testing soon. Rayan Zachariasen, whose name I hope I have not misspelled, is writing a mailer. Finally, Kathy Hargreaves and Karl Berry transcribed Richard Stallman's Microwave Day lecture on how the GNU C compiler works; we hope to publish an edited version of the transcript soon. Kathy and Karl are both studying digital typography in the Brown University CS department. They plan later to design some type fonts for use with GhostScript. They also designed the new FSF order form that appears at the end of this bulletin.


Copyright (C) June 1987 by the Free Software Foundation.

Editor: Paul Rubin
Writers: Richard M. Stallman, Paul Rubin Illustrations: Etienne Suvasa, Jean-Marie Diaz.
Reproduction: Mark D'Agostino.

Permission is granted to anyone to make or distribute verbatim copies of this document as received, in any medium, provided that the copyright notice and permission notice are preserved, and that the distributor grants the recipient permission for further redistribution as permitted by this notice.

What is the Free Software Foundation?

by Richard M. Stallman

The Free Software Foundation is dedicated to eliminating restrictions on copying, redistribution, understanding and modification of software.

The word "free" in our name does not refer to price; it refers to freedom. First, the freedom to copy a program and redistribute it to your neighbors, so that they can use it as well as you. Second, the freedom to change a program, so that you can control it instead of it controlling you; for this, the source code must be made available to you.

The Foundation works to give you these freedoms by developing free compatible replacements for proprietary software. Specifically, we are putting together a complete, integrated software system "GNU" that is upward-compatible with Unix. When it is released, everyone will be permitted to copy it and distribute it to others; in addition, it will be distributed with source code, so you will be able to learn about operating systems by reading it, to port it to your own machine, to improve it, and to exchange the changes with others.

There are already organizations that distribute free CPM and MSDOS software. The Free Software Foundation is doing something different.

  1. The other organizations exist primarily for distribution; they distribute whatever happens to be available. We hope to provide a complete integrated free system that will eliminate the need for any proprietary software.
  2. One consequence is that we are now interested only in software that fits well into the context of the GNU system. Distributing free MSDOS or Macintosh software is a useful activity, but it is not part of our game plan.
  3. Another consequence is that we will actively attempt to improve and extend the software we distribute, as fast as our manpower permits. For this reason, we will always be seeking donations of money, computer equipment or time, labor, and source code to improve the GNU system.
  4. In fact, our primary purpose is this software development effort; distribution is just an adjunct which also brings in some money. We think that the users will do most of the distribution on their own, without needing or wanting our help.

Why a Unix-Like System?

It is necessary to be compatible with some widely used system to give our system an immediate base of trained users who could switch to it easily and an immediate base of application software that can run on it. (Eventually we will provide free replacements for proprietary application software as well, but that is some years in the future.)

We chose Unix because it is a fairly clean design which is already known to be portable, yet whose popularity is still rising. The disadvantages of Unix seem to be things we can fix without removing what is good in Unix.

Why not imitate MSDOS or CP/M? They are more widely used, true, but they are also very weak systems, designed for tiny machines. Unix is much more powerful and interesting. When a system takes years to implement, it is important to write it for the machines that will become available in the future; not to let it be limited by the capabilities of the machines that are in widest use at the moment but will be obsolete when the new system is finished.

Why not aim for a new, more advanced system, such as a Lisp Machine? Mainly because that is still more of a research effort; there is a sizeable chance that the wrong choices will be made and the system will turn out not very good. In addition, such systems are often tied to special hardware. Being tied to one manufacturer's machine would make it hard to remain independent of that manufacturer and get broad community support.

Editorial: Oppose Audio Copy Protection

Just when science is making it possible to copy music perfectly, record companies are trying to make it impossible again, with government-enforced copy protection.

The invention of the phonograph created a situation where the best way to copy audio signals was by mass production. This temporary situation made record companies necessary and useful. It also made copyright a fairly harmless way of encouraging activities that benefit the public. (That was the original purpose of copyright.)

Digital audio tape machines will change all this. Mass produced copies will no longer be better than you can make. Record companies may still have customers, but they will be partly obsolete.

But obsolete institutions don't peacefully accept being ignored. So there is a bill before Congress to require specific copy-protection equipment in every digital audio tape machine.

The proposed technical method involves degrading the quality of prerecorded music by eliminating a narrow frequency band. When the recorder notices that band is empty, it will shut off. Even if the signal comes over the radio, copying it will be impossible.

If this law passes, we can expect more of the same. In the past, there were many natural obstacles to copying information, and surmounting the obstacles was a business. The overall thrust of the information revolution is to remove these obstacles; to make information easy to copy and transform. Each time technology makes things easier, businesses that depend on obstacles demand a man-made obstacle--required by law--to replace the natural one.

A few general-purpose I/O devices can turn your computer into a digital audio tape recorder. Will there be a law to make this impossible? Perhaps a law that you can't have source to your kernel, lest you patch around the government-imposed access control?

To fight this bill, call your Congressman and Senators and urge them to vote against it. It is called the Digital Audio Tape Recording Act of 1987: S. 506, H.R. 1384.

You can get the phone numbers by calling information; the Senators usually have offices in the state capitol. For more information, contact this organization:

Audio Recording Rights Coalition
PO Box 33705
1145 19th Street NW
Washington, DC  20033

Gnus Flashes

This is a collection of news items pertaining to the GNU project, the Free Software Foundation, and free software in general.

GNU Software Available Now

How to Get Gnu Software

All software and publications are distributed with permission to copy and redistribute. The easiest way to get a copy of GNU Software is from someone else who has it. You need not ask for permission; just copy it.

If you have access to the Internet, you can get the latest distribution version of GNU Software from host For more information, read the file `/u2/emacs/GETTING.GNU.SOFTWARE' on said host.

If you cannot get a copy in any of these ways, you can order one from the Free Software Foundation. Please consult the order form at the end of this bulletin for prices and details.

Status of the GNU Project, June 1987

(See also the article "GNU Software Available Now", elsewhere in this issue).

Why Was Copyright Invented?

Now that copyright is becoming a public nuisance that the public tries to ignore, copyright owners try to justify this imposition by calling it an intrinsic right. As they tell it, their intrinsic right is a tradition that makes the public good irrelevant.

This is contrary to the facts of the history of copyright.

The Supreme Court has stated explicitly what copyright was for. Writing for the Court, Justice Stewart explained:

The immediate effect of our copyright law is to secure a fair return for an "author's" creative labor. But the ultimate aim is, by this incentive, to stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good. `The sole interest of the United States and the primary object in conferring the [copyright] monopoly,' this Court has said, `lie in the general benefits derived by the public from the labors of authors.'

             ---Fox Film Corp. v. Doyal (286 US 123, 127)

So when copyright interferes with the public use of a program, that directly attacks the reason for having copyright.

What is GNU Emacs and do you want a copy?

GNU Emacs is a new implementation of the Emacs text editor. (Recently text editors have been called "word processors" among microcomputer users.)

Emacs is a kind of architecture for text editors, in which most editing commands are written in an interpreted language (usually Lisp) so that the user can write new editing commands as he goes. This allows Emacs to have editing commands that are more powerful or more adapted to individual uses than other kinds of editors.

Any particular editing command could be written in C, but with Lisp it is much easier for users to change the editing commands or to implement new editing commands. Users can also exchange their adaptations and extensions of Emacs. The result is a library of extensions that continues to grow.

GNU Emacs boasts an especially clean Lisp system for writing editing commands, and an already large library of extensions.

GNU Emacs is written in C, designed for a Unix or Unix-like kernel. It includes its own Lisp interpreter which is used to execute the portion of the editor that is written in Lisp.

It is a fairly large program, around 525k on vaxes or 68000s, to which must be added space for the files you are editing, undo buffers, Lisp libraries loaded, and Lisp data such as recently killed text, etc. This is not really a problem on a timeshared machine because most of that 525k is shared, but on a personal computer there may be nobody to share with. Thus, GNU Emacs probably could not be used on an IBM PC clone for lack of memory, unless you want to implement virtual memory in software within Emacs itself. Perhaps on an 80286 with 1 meg of memory you can win using their memory management.

In general, a 32-bit machine with either a meg of real memory or virtual memory can probably run GNU Emacs, as long as a suitable Unix system call environment is provided, simulated or imitated.

GNU Wish List

Wishes for this issue:

Thank Gnus

The Free Software Foundation would like to send special thank gnus to the following:

Thanks to the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science. The LCS has provided FSF with the loan of a Microvax for program development.

Thanks to Professor Dertouzos, head of LCS. His specific decision to support us is greatly appreciated.

Thanks to the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory for invaluable assistance of many kinds.

Thanks to Lisp Machine, Inc. LMI has generously provided office space, computer resources and a mailing address for FSF. Bruce Deffenbaugh in particular helped us keep our operation in relative calm during LMI's recent turmoil.

Thanks to Inference Corp. Inference has been shipping copies of GNU Emacs to its customers in conjunction with some other products that they offer, and they have decided to donate $200 to Richard Stallman for each copy of Emacs they deliver in this way. This proves it is possible to make a living from writing free software.

Thanks to Martin Minow of DEC for giving us an answering machine, so people can now phone us at (617) 876-3296. We check messages about once a week.

Thanks to those who sent money and offered help. James R. Payne of Advanced Decision Systems gave especially freely. Thanks also to those who support us by ordering Emacs manuals and distribution tapes.

The creation of this bulletin is our way of thanking all who have expressed interest in what we are doing.