In 1983 one guy had an idea: to be ethical in computing you must give people the rights to read and redistribute the source code of the programs they use.
It wasn’t a new idea, but the fact he did something about it was. It took nearly ten years, but in 1992 GNU/Linux was launched, the world’s first, fully functional, free (as in Freedom) operating system, which you were allowed to share with your friends, read and learn from the code and modify it however you saw fit (just as long as you made any modifications to the code open and freely available too). It’s a great idea, and it sparked a spirit of openness that made the internet as we know it possible.
Today GNU/Linux provides a platform that powers most of the internet’s web services, and the free PHP programming language is used by billions of websites.
It’s fair to say that without Richard, the computing landscape would be a very different, very more restricted place.
Richard, although clearly born to be a programmer and not a public speaker, delivered an emotive talk in Manchester yesterday. With his sharp opinions and wit he covered why he believes that the only way to be an ethical programmer is to make free software. Sure, he says, you can still charge for the labour it took to create the program, and for providing support and services to its users, just don’t make a condition of use the inability to make changes or share the software with friends.
After the talk, and a round of audience questions, Richard auctioned off a book, and a hug (thanks to a suggestion from a good humoured audience) to the highest bidder in aid of the Free Software Foundation which still plays a crucial role in promoting and enabling the development of free software through activism, education, funding and the provision of the GNU GPL licenses which provide the legal framework through which Free Software is distributed.
Since so much of my work, and all of the web solutions we provide to clients are based on ethical, free software it only seemed fair to give something back and I was happy to take a signed copy of “Free Software: Free Society” home with me and, more importantly, give a great big hug to the guy that made the field of computing so much of a better place to be.