The Story of the GNU

Last Thursday I received a package from the Free Software Foundation (FSF).  Along with a nifty t-shirt, I ordered my stuffed gnu.  Now the penguin on my desk has a new friend. The reason for the penguin is obvious, I am big fan of the GNU/Linux operating system. The penguin is the de facto logo and mascot of Linux.  But what is up with the gnu?

Well before Linux got off the ground or even existed, Richard Stallman (RMS) started the GNU project.  GNU stands for GNU is Not UNIX. Yes, GNU is a recursive acronym, one of the many cute jokes circulating in the hacker community.  The goal of the GNU project was to build a working and totally free (as in freedom) operating system.  RMS settled upon porting UNIX, not because UNIX was the be-all-end-all of operating systems.  Rather older versions of UNIX came with source code, and so that the new OS could be based off studying the way the old System V UNIXes  worked.  The project progressed well with the development of an entire toolkit: source editor (EMACS), compiler (gcc), linker (ld), and all the other necessary tools to build an OS.  Then came the difficult part of writing a kernel.  Unfortunately the original kernel (GNU Hurd) never got off the ground.  In fact to this day, the Hurd kernel is more or less in delayed development.  Fortunately at the time a kid in Finland-Linus Torvalds-started hacking on a kernel based off the Andrew Tannebaum’s MINIX source code.  Torvalds decided that the GPL would be an excellent license for his kernel.  And thus the dream of a fully viable free operating system started.

We have come a long way since those humble beginnings.  GNU/Linux looks like it will be the dominant OS of this century.  Also the ideals of free software are now fully realizable.  We still have a long way to go to running free software conveniently and comfortably, but we are getting there.  We should thank RMS and all the GNU contributers for building such a great free software toolkit.  Also thank Linus and the other kernel hackers for creating such a robust and flexible kernel.  Finally give a big thank you to all the contributers of the free software and open source movements for making this dream of free computing a reality.