30 years of GNU Manifesto

The GNU Manifesto Turns Thirty page tells that it was March, 1985 when Richard M. Stallman published the GNU Manifesto in Dr. Dobb’s Journal of Software Tools. The GNU Manifesto is characteristic of its author—deceptively simple, lucid, explicitly left-leaning, and entirely uncompromising. Perhaps the most significant innovation in the GNU Manifesto is a method of rights protection known as “copyleft,” which gave rise to GNU GPL software licenses, the first of which was issued in 1989.

Stallman was one of the first to grasp that, if commercial entities were going to own the methods and technologies that controlled computers, then computer users would inevitably become beholden to those entities – and this has quite much happened as most computer users have become dependent on proprietary code provided by companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google. Maybe for this reason Stallman does not own a cell phone, nor does he use Facebook, Twitter, or many of the programs most of us take for granted.

Thirty years on, The New Yorker has an article The GNU Manifesto Turns Thirty commemorating its creation and looking at how it has shaped software in the meantime: Stallman’s influence with developers remains immense.  Now, as a direct result of Richard M. Stallman‘s work, you can have a home system running exclusively free software today might include, in addition to a GNU/Linux operating system, LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Office, GIMP rather than Photoshop, and the IceCat browser in place of Chrome or Internet Explorer. Free software is a matter of freedom, not price; broadly speaking, it means that users are free to use the software and to copy and redistribute the software, with or without changes.

Nowadays Richard M. Stallman sees that in addition to free software we need also free open hardware designs. Wired magazine just published article Why We Need Free Digital Hardware Designs written by Richard M. Stallman. Some 3D printers are made from free hardware designs, and Free Software Foundation endorses such printers.There is also other hardware built using the same principles available. The “Respects Your Freedom” computer hardware product certification program encourages the creation and sale of hardware that will do as much as possible to respect your freedom and your privacy, and will ensure that you have control over your device.


  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The GNU Manifesto Turns Thirty

    Unix, one of the earliest computer-operating systems, was developed between the late nineteen-sixties and the early nineteen-eighties, by A.T. & T. Bell Laboratories and various universities around the world, notably the University of California, Berkeley. It was the product of a highly collaborative process, in which researchers and students built and shared their code in an atmosphere of excitement and discovery that was fostered, in part, by an agreement that A.T. & T. representatives had signed, in 1956, with the Department of Justice, circumscribing the company’s commercial activities in exchange for an end to antitrust proceedings. But in 1982, A.T. & T. was broken up and its agreement with the department ended; before long, the company was selling copies of Unix without including the source code from which it was derived, effectively commercializing the operating system and hiding its building blocks within a proprietary program. The move greatly upset many in the programming community, including Richard Stallman, a software developer in his late twenties who was then working at M.I.T.’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

    Stallman was uneasy over the increasing encroachment of proprietary software.

    In late 1983, he posted to two newsgroup discussion forums an idea to create an alternative to Unix.

    Stallman expanded and formalized his ideas in the GNU Manifesto, which he published in the March, 1985, issue of Dr. Dobb’s Journal of Software Tools, thirty years ago this month. “So that I can continue to use computers without dishonor,” he wrote, “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. I have resigned from the AI Lab to deny MIT any legal excuse to prevent me from giving GNU away.” The nearly forty-five-hundred-word text called for collaborators to help build a freely shareable Unix-like operating system, and set forth an innovative method to insure its legal protection.

    Richard Stallman, who published his manifesto in March of 1985, has been known to say that, “with software, either the users control the program, or the program controls the users.”

  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Four ways Ubiquiti Networks is creatively violating the GPL

    1. Giving the appearance of compliance
    2. Refusing to provide the source to their modified bootloader, even though they made changes that introduced security vulnerabilities
    3. Providing source code to a version of Linux, just not the one that they actually ship, and hoping that nobody notices
    4. Dragging out GPL code requests for months on end, then inexplicably going silent


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