Why I call Linux Socialist Software

By Clay Claiborne

Over two decades ago a group of software developers, hackers, got together under the leadership of Richard M. Stallman and started writing a completely free version of the UNIX operating system. This system was to be free both in the sense of cost free and more importantly, free of any restrictive copyright. The idea was to eventually create a computer operating system which anyone could copy, share and even modify as they liked, without all the restrictions and problems that go with proprietary licenses and private ownership. So they created the GNU Project and started hacking code. To protect their creation from privatization they created the General Public License [GPL], also known as “copyleft” to insure that the software would always be free, source code would always be available, and the code base wouldn’t fork.

By the early ‘90’s and GNU Project had already grown to hundreds of programmers worldwide and had written just about all the parts of a unix like system but the most central part, the kernel. Then came a Finnish grad student, Linus Torvald. He started work on a kernel and soon Linux was born.

Linux has come a long ways since then. On the desktop it has developed into a full blown world of software that rivals anything that Microsoft was produced and it is free. But it’s real triumph has been in places you might not be aware of and so you may not know the extend that this two decade voluntary effort by thousands of hackers worldwide has rocked your world.

You may access the Internet with your MS Windows PC or maybe your iPhone but there is about an 80% chance that you are talking to a Linux computer on the other end. Most websites are running the open source Apache web server, using the open source Mysql database on an open source OS like Linux or FreeBSD. Google runs on Linux, more importantly Google is a product of the Linux community. If you want to know what makes it different as a company, that’s what makes it different. Most of the Internet appliances run Linux. So does Tivo, your set-top box and a hundred other smart devices we now take for granted. The Internet simply could not exist as we know it without open source or free software.

If you have a Druid in your pocket rather than an iPhone, then you have a Linux computer in your pocket. The Android OS is a Linux derivative and also open source. Google contributes heavily to the Android project but it doesn’t own Android. Android is free software. If you run an Apple then you have paid Steve Jobs for your free software, as of OSX, the Mac OS has a GNU soul. The modern world simply could not exist as we know it without open source or free software.

But that doesn’t make it revolutionary. What makes it revolutionary is that it embodies an alternative view of intellectual property rights and property relations as compared with the capitalist model. It embodies a view of organization and cooperation that is radically different from hinder-to existing models. The uprisings in North Africa IMHO share a strong connection to the free software movement and are showing where the application of that philosophy and those methods lead social movements. What makes it revolutionary is doing all that and going from victory to victory even while capitalist and many of the technologies it has spawned slip into decay.

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