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GNU is Not Unix

New Unix Implementation Turns 30 290

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the edited-using-emacs dept.
Thirty years ago, rms wrote: "Free Unix! Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu's Not Unix), and give it away free to everyone who can use it. Contributions of time, money, programs and equipment are greatly needed." And thus began the revolution. Thirty years after posting the initial announcement, it's hard to find someone who hasn't interacted with Free Software at some point, even if they didn't realize it. To celebrate, the FSF is holding an anniversary celebration and hackathon this weekend at MIT.

To begin with, GNU will be a kernel plus all the utilities needed to write and run C programs: editor, shell, C compiler, linker, assembler, and a few other things. After this we will add a text formatter, a YACC, an Empire game, a spreadsheet, and hundreds of other things. We hope to supply, eventually, everything useful that normally comes with a Unix system, and anything else useful, including on-line and hardcopy documentation.

GNU will be able to run Unix programs, but will not be identical to Unix. We will make all improvements that are convenient, based on our experience with other operating systems. In particular, we plan to have longer filenames, file version numbers, a crashproof file system, filename completion perhaps, terminal-independent display support, and eventually a Lisp-based window system through which several Lisp programs and ordinary Unix programs can share a screen. Both C and Lisp will be available as system programming languages. We will have network software based on MIT's chaosnet protocol, far superior to UUCP. We may also have something compatible with UUCP.

Who Am I?

I am Richard Stallman, inventor of the original much-imitated EMACS editor, now at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. I have worked extensively on compilers, editors, debuggers, command interpreters, the Incompatible Timesharing System and the Lisp Machine operating system. I pioneered terminal-independent display support in ITS. In addition I have implemented one crashproof file system and two window systems for Lisp machines.

Why I Must Write GNU

I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement.

So that I can continue to use computers without violating my principles, I have decided to put together a sufficient body of free software so that I will be able to get along without any software that is not free.

How You Can Contribute

I am asking computer manufacturers for donations of machines and money. I'm asking individuals for donations of programs and work.

One computer manufacturer has already offered to provide a machine. But we could use more. One consequence you can expect if you donate machines is that GNU will run on them at an early date. The machine had better be able to operate in a residential area, and not require sophisticated cooling or power.

Individual programmers can contribute by writing a compatible duplicate of some Unix utility and giving it to me. For most projects, such part-time distributed work would be very hard to coordinate; the independently-written parts would not work together. But for the particular task of replacing Unix, this problem is absent. Most interface specifications are fixed by Unix compatibility. If each contribution works with the rest of Unix, it will probably work with the rest of GNU.

If I get donations of money, I may be able to hire a few people full or part time. The salary won't be high, but I'm looking for people for whom knowing they are helping humanity is as important as money. I view this as a way of enabling dedicated people to devote their full energies to working on GNU by sparing them the need to make a living in another way.

For more information, contact me.
Arpanet mail:

  • RMS@MIT-MC.ARPA

Usenet:

  • ...!mit-eddie!RMS@OZ
  • ...!mit-vax!RMS@OZ
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New Unix Implementation Turns 30

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  • Megalomanic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CurryCamel (2265886) on Friday September 27, 2013 @01:38PM (#44972837) Journal
    "Ima gonna write a new unix". That's One Huge Task. Weird thing is - he pulled it off. Hats off to RMS. And thanks.
    • by Squiddie (1942230) on Friday September 27, 2013 @01:42PM (#44972891)
      That's the power of autism.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cold fjord (826450)

      "Ima gonna write a new unix". That's One Huge Task.

      It was a much smaller task at the time.

      It's worth remembering that Unix got its start as more or less as a fun project - there wasn't a plan to conquer the world.

      • Re:Megalomanic (Score:5, Informative)

        by Zero__Kelvin (151819) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:24PM (#44973343) Homepage

        "It's worth remembering that Unix got its start as more or less as a fun project - there wasn't a plan to conquer the world."

        I'm not sure if you actually believe that or it is more trolling. In case you really believe it, feel free to stand corrected [bell-labs.com]. Unix was a very serious project funded by a monopoly (at the time) called AT&T - specifically AT&T's Bell Labs, and the C language [wikipedia.org] was literally invented by Kerhnigan and Ritchie just so they could develop it. The goal was certainly not to have fun. You don't write a proposal and ask a company like AT&T to spend millions to have fun.

        Furthermore, 30 years ago was 1983, meaning that Unix had been around for about 13 years already, and had already forked into BSD Unix and AT&T System V. It was already quite huge by that time.

        • Re:Megalomanic (Score:5, Informative)

          by cold fjord (826450) on Friday September 27, 2013 @03:15PM (#44973929)

          "It's worth remembering that Unix got its start as more or less as a fun project - there wasn't a plan to conquer the world."

          I'm not sure if you actually believe that or it is more trolling. In case you really believe it, feel free to stand corrected [bell-labs.com]

          Unix was a very serious project funded by a monopoly (at the time) called AT&T - specifically AT&T's Bell Labs, and the C language [wikipedia.org] was literally invented by Kerhnigan and Ritchie just so they could develop it. The goal was certainly not to have fun.

          You didn't get much right in your reply, in fact much of it is backwards. Allow me to correct you. They originally requested a computer to write an operating system, but that was denied. They then bootlegged a computer, wrote a game, and hacked on an operating system without it being an official project, and eventually got buy-in to buy a computer to build a text processing system, not an operating system. Unix was already in existence by the time they were allowed to purchase a computer for the text processing system. (I will also note that as a monopoly they were under very tight restrictions about what they could do with Unix in terms of sales.) From the above paper:

          Throughout 1969 we (mainly Ossanna, Thompson, Ritchie) lobbied intensively for the purchase of a medium-scale machine for which we promised to write an operating system; the machines we suggested were the DEC PDP-10 and the SDS (later Xerox) Sigma 7. The effort was frustrating, because our proposals were never clearly and finally turned down, but yet were certainly never accepted. Several times it seemed we were very near success. The final blow to this effort came when we presented an exquisitely complicated proposal, designed to minimize financial outlay, that involved some outright purchase, some third-party lease, and a plan to turn in a DEC KA-10 processor on the soon-to-be-announced and more capable KI-10. The proposal was rejected, and rumor soon had it that W. O. Baker (then vice-president of Research) had reacted to it with the comment `Bell Laboratories just doesn't do business this way!' ....

          Also during 1969, Thompson developed the game of `Space Travel.' First written on Multics, then transliterated into Fortran for GECOS (the operating system for the GE, later Honeywell, 635), it was nothing less than a simulation of the movement of the major bodies of the Solar System, with the player guiding a ship here and there, observing the scenery, and attempting to land on the various planets and moons. The GECOS version was unsatisfactory in two important respects: first, the display of the state of the game was jerky and hard to control because one had to type commands at it, and second, a game cost about $75 for CPU time on the big computer. It did not take long, therefore, for Thompson to find a little-used PDP-7 computer with an excellent display processor; the whole system was used as a Graphic-II terminal. He and I rewrote Space Travel to run on this machine. The undertaking was more ambitious than it might seem; because we disdained all existing software, we had to write a floating-point arithmetic package, the pointwise specification of the graphic characters for the display, and a debugging subsystem that continuously displayed the contents of typed-in locations in a corner of the screen. All this was written in assembly language for a cross-assembler that ran under GECOS and produced paper tapes to be carried to the PDP-7. ...

          Space Travel, though it made a very attractive game, served mainly as an introduction to the clumsy technology of preparing programs for the PDP-7. Soon Thompson began implementing the paper file system (perhaps `chalk file system' would be more accurate) that had been designed earlier. A file system without a way to e

        • by Guy Harris (3803)

          Unix was a very serious project funded by a monopoly (at the time) called AT&T - specifically AT&T's Bell Labs

          Well, they weren't that interested in funding it at the start; to quote Mr. Ritchie:

          Actually, it is perfectly obvious in retrospect (and should have been at the time) that we were asking the Labs to spend too much money on too few people with too vague a plan. Moreover, I am quite sure that at that time operating systems were not, for our management, an attractive area in which to support work. They were in the process of extricating themselves not only from an operating system development effort that had f

      • It's worth remembering that Unix got its start as more or less as a fun project...

        You mean GNU, not "unix", right? "Unix" began as one man's (Dennis M Ritchie) cry in the dark about how stupid his school's operating system (Multic's) was.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by poet (8021)

      No. He didn't. Was he a part of it? Absolutely but GNU has never produced a usable unix or unix like operating system and it certainly wasn't RMS it was hundreds of thousands of free software and open source developers.

      Ask yourself, "What software projects does RMS devote his time too?". To my knowledge, not many if any. He is a great advocate and he has done many things for our community but he did not complete what he set out to do.

      • by jbolden (176878)

        At this point none. Originally Emacs. Which was very important to the 1980s and early 1990s free software movement. I think he was heavily involved with the early movements for GCC like the debugger and its ability to handle multiple languages especially COBOL.

      • Re:Megalomanic (Score:5, Insightful)

        by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:28PM (#44973383)

        Ask yourself, "What software projects does RMS devote his time too?". To my knowledge, not many if any. He is a great advocate and he has done many things for our community but he did not complete what he set out to do.

        Although to my understanding that's true today, he was largely responsible for several important projects, including emacs and gcc. The GNU project never achieved all of its goals, but his software contributions are integral to the free Unix(-like) operating systems of today.

        • The GNU project never achieved all of its goals,

          The original goal of the GNU project was to create a Free as in speech unix like operating system.

          I think it succeeded admirably.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday September 27, 2013 @01:42PM (#44972895) Homepage

    I was actually planning on installing Debian tonight on a spare box, completely unaware of this anniversary. Now I pretty much have to do it.

    • by KiloByte (825081)

      So here's [debian.org] a port for you to run.

    • by spike_gran (219938) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:04PM (#44973135)

      He may not have accomplished everything he set out to do, but, he certainly accomplished a great deal.

      And while RMS and GNU alone didn't succeed at creating a free software OS and development stack, they got the ball rolling, and it exists now.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by dfghjk (711126)

        Except for BSD which came before, so they got the ball rolling that was rolling already.

        It's directly analogous to claiming that Gnome got the ball rolling on a GUI for X since you dismiss anything that came before that wasn't GNU.

        • by Darinbob (1142669) on Friday September 27, 2013 @05:02PM (#44975145)

          BSD wasn't a free software OS for a long time. It included significant parts of licensed AT&T code and you could not get BSD without also having a Unix license. Even for those programs implemented originally as part of BSD you still needed a license to get access to the source code and sys admins would have it locked up tight. Even a CS student at a university might need special permission and a project to get access. Things opened up tremendously after AT&T code was scrubbed out, but that was after GNU started.

  • by moonwatcher2001 (2710261) on Friday September 27, 2013 @01:42PM (#44972897)

    > Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu's Not Unix), and give it away free to everyone who can use it.
    and
    >To begin with, GNU will be a kernel plus all the utilities needed to write and run C programs: editor, shell, C compiler, linker, assembler, and a few other things

    He started working on it 30 years ago so it must be available somewhere. Where can I get the GNU kernel? What hardware does it run on?

    • by morcego (260031) on Friday September 27, 2013 @01:49PM (#44972959)

      For what it's worth:

      http://www.gnu.org/software/hurd/ [gnu.org]

    • by pesho (843750) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:05PM (#44973143)
  • Today (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday September 27, 2013 @01:51PM (#44972983)

    "Free Unix! Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu's Not Unix), and give it away free to everyone who can use it. Contributions of time, money, programs and equipment are greatly needed."

    If someone said that today, he'd be promptly sued by SCO, dragged into dark cavernous courtrooms filled with patent trolls, accused by the government of being a terrorist, and laughed at by the mainstream community of UNIX-like OS users, such as the ones reading this post; Absent Linux, we'd all be warring over which was better -- Macintosh or Windows. Both have UNIX buried in their guts.

    My point is that RMS' achievement, organizing people into a cohesive political movement loosely termed 'open source', probably couldn't happen today. It is therefore particularly important that he did so thirty years ago, before the global international business and government communities were aware of the potential impact of his activities.

    There are fewer and fewer like him every year -- old schoolers who grew up with the fervent belief that the internet, computers, all this digital technology, could empower, enlighten, and educate millions. And then set about proving just that. These days... the majority of people are content to watch Youtube videos of cats, and try not to see any potential beyond immediate gratification and entertainment. It's sad that the hacker ethic has become in such short supply, even within this community. Back then, nobody would think any less of you for going off on your own to reinvent the wheel... your peers thought, at worst, that it might be good practice for you. Today, it's a face full of rage and religious views if you even suggest things may not be as good as they could be.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      >Absent Linux, we'd all be warring over which was better -- Macintosh or Windows.

      Really? What about the BSDs? Since I'm using those, I think they'd be in the argument for lots of folks who like Unix and open source software.

    • Re:Today (Score:5, Informative)

      by mark-t (151149) <`markt' `at' `lynx.bc.ca'> on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:08PM (#44973179) Journal
      Absent Linux, there'd still be FreeBSD.
    • Re:Today (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 27, 2013 @03:19PM (#44973977)

      RMS has some controversy, but I do remember in the early 1990s what was out there, UNIX-wise.

      You had XENIX, ULTRIX, IRIX, A/UX, AIX PS/2, AIX/370, Dell UNIX, SunOS, and many other flavors. Almost none came with source, and if they did (Mt. Xinu was the only BSD that did), you had to get a special license for SVR4 programs.

      If you wanted header files and libraries, pay up. C compiler? Better have that cash for the flexlm key. C++? Pony up a couple grand.

      Had it not been for RMS and gcc, access to a C compiler would have been the bottleneck for most world software development.

      Before 1991 and Jolitz and Linus inventions, if you were a college student and wanted to see a "#" prompt on a computer, good luck unless your blackhat skillz were good. Even just getting a "$" prompt (or a "%" prompt if you were a novice) took some doing as one had to be at a big university.

      After 386BSD (not to be confused with Mt Xinu BSD-386) and Linux, a lot changed. Arguably, this allowed hardware and software to be less of what one had to concern themselves with, versus what application was being run. Had it not been for gcc, neither Linux, nor 386BSD would have been possible, because of EULA and copyright restrictions.

      It is scary how much times have changed. Today, one did decide to go off and write a new OS, one might find themselves on the wrong side of the law because it didn't have a hardware-enforced DRM stack, or that "terrorists" might be able to use it. The irony of it all... In the mid 1990s, I remember a lot of improvements done on the SMP part of the Linux kernel by the the Iran University of Science and Technology. This wasn't even something that one would worry about, as back then, if you were on the Net, there was some respect [1]. These days, just the mention of that would get people screaming about terrorism and backdoors.

      Of course, there was encouragement, especially if one had a reasonable effort going and mentioned it on USENET groups. You did have the occasional detractor, but generally writing something, anything was encouraged. Now, with the shills and trolls out there, one almost has to write something in a vacuum, release it, and expect consequences for the action like it was a crime.

      [1]: At the time the buffoons were on the warez BBS systems bragging about their new US Robotics HST modems... well, until September came rolling around each year, and the wave of college freshmen came in only to get housebroken or access yanked by the sysadmins.

    • I have no idea what you're talking about. There are more and more of us every day. Especially since PRISM pulled the masks off Apple and Google (the malevolence of Windows was established in Genesis).

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Except that RMS said "Unix compatible". He wasn't going to make a copy. The look-and-feel lawsuits that arose in the intervening years mostly fizzled out or went nowhere.

  • Stallman did not invent open source, nor start 'the revolution'. It was there before him. It wasn't his idea. While he has contributed much to open source, he has also personally harmed it more than just about anyone I can think of. His religion may appear great at first glance, but it is, just like pretty much every religion, warped into his personal agenda and crusade against everyone who doesn't agree with him in entirety.

    His behavior in public forums and disrespect for others around him is a good ex

    • by StormReaver (59959) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:52PM (#44973673)

      His behavior in public forums and disrespect for others around him is a good example of [why] you should ignore him.

      His consistent accuracy in predicting the consequences of disregarding Freedom is a great example of why you should listen to him.

      • by dfghjk (711126)

        Anyone who believes this isn't qualified to participate in a discussion of it.

    • by Darinbob (1142669) on Friday September 27, 2013 @05:36PM (#44975499)

      RMS started his free software stance because of the harm he saw that occured with Emacs and he wanted to prevent similar future harm. He didn't just come up with this out of the blue or for no reason.

      The existing Unix port of Emacs from James Gosling has been shared, and Stallman and others had been modifying that to improve it to become the first GNU Emacs (such as adding a real Lisp instead of MockLisp as well as making it behave more like older Emacs). Then Gosling put a copyright on his Emacs and sold it to Unipress. Unipress then told Stallman to stop distributing his own Emacs because it now contained copyrighted code. So a marathon hacking session was done to rip out all the older code to sanitize it. And that was the impetus for the GPL.

      Ie, older code for a product that had been customarily shared (no one person "invented" emacs, it was a highly collaborative and incremental product). Then one port of it was sold to a company and all the shared code that existed prior to that sale was now tainted and could not be distributed. This directly led to the core principle of the GPL that existing free code could not be made un-free. Also a very big reason why most people do not want people to release any source code that comes without a license included.

      I'm not even a big fan of the GPL myself but I respect it. Maybe Stallman seems too idealistic or too paranoid to some people but the reasons for his stance are clear and reasonable.

  • Not to take away from GNU, but it was not the first freely exchanged open source software. In the batch processing days, every IBM branch office had a file cabinet full of shared software and organizations like SHARE did what the name suggests. Share was formed in 1955 and is still going [share.org].
  • by gwolf (26339) <gwolf@gwol[ ]rg ['f.o' in gap]> on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:51PM (#44973661) Homepage

    To see that the kind of discussion (and the depth of it, and the arguments raised, and all that yada-yada) are *so* similar to what I read for GNU's 20th anniversary. Or for the 15th anniversary. New kids learn our beloved traditions and repeat our same flames as if they were chanting ancient mantrams.

    Now, get off my lawn!

  • I want Empire [catb.org]!
    Actually, what I really want is built in support for file version numbers (á la VMS presumably). Is that too much to ask?

    I don't want to have to run some experimental file system that hasn't got support in the kernel. I want to run something mainstream, supported, and useful. But with versioning. Maybe EXT5 (if brfs doesn't do it) could have it...

    • Shit, man. I want some of the crack you're smoking too! Hell, while we're at it:

      I want intermediary .o files to be cross platform, and linkable across platforms.
      I want these intermediary files to be distributed instead of executables.
      I wast the format of the intermediary files to be executable within a software virtual machine.
      I want to use said feature to enable compiled and object code to run together seamlessly.
      I want plugins to thus be sandboxed, with the option to link them into binaries transp

      • Versioning was in the Incompatible Timesharing System, it was in OpenVMS, and it was one of the things that rms said he wanted ("...file version numbers, a crashproof file system..."). It's not too much to ask.

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Friday September 27, 2013 @04:07PM (#44974531) Homepage Journal

    Perfect timing, three months and three days before the year of linux on the desktop.

  • This question is not meant as flamebait. I wonder that every time his name is brought up. I could be wrong, but I'm not aware of any significant piece of software he's developed since the ones that that he's well known for, that were written before the turn of the century.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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