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Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

By Bruce Byfield on September 02, 2008 (3:00:00 PM)

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The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has kicked off a month-long celebration of the GNU Project's 25th anniversary with a video in which British actor and comedian Stephen Fry expresses his support for free software.

The GNU Project, as most free software community members are aware, is a collection of free software projects whose creation is usually taken as marking the start of the free software movement. Today, GNU software makes up slightly less than 15% of the typical GNU/Linux distribution, according to Matt Lee, a campaigns manager at the FSF.

However, neither GNU nor the free software philosophy is well-known outside of select computer circles. One of the main goals for the video, says FSF director Peter Brown, is to help to correct that low profile -- a goal, that, given Fry's popularity, as well his professional delivery and writing, the video would seem to have a high chance of accomplishing.

Fry outed himself as a supporter in a blog entry on February 2. "The two great pillars of Open Source are the GNU Project and Linux," Fry writes. "I shan't burden you with too much detail, I'll just make the outrageous claim that your computer will be running some descendant of those two within the next five years and that your life will be better and happier as a result."

The blog entry attracted the attention of Matt Lee, who contacted Fry and arranged the recording of the video last spring in London.

The video

Entitled "Happy Birthday to GNU," the video shows Fry sitting in an armchair on the second or third story of an old brick building. Fry starts by saying that he has been a computer enthusiast ever since the introduction of the personal computer. "But recently," he says, "my mind has turned, as many people's have, to this whole business of 'free software.' But there's a lot of concern about what this all means, and I'd like to help clear this up."

Fry continues by making an analogy between software and plumbing, pointing out that, even if you don't know how to fix the pipes yourself, you reserve the right to do so -- but, in the case of software, proprietary companies like Microsoft and Apple would deny you similar rights.

He then compares free software to the academic tradition of sharing knowledge. "If it isn't [shared], it's bad science and a form of tyranny," he says, leaving listeners to complete the analogy with software.

Interspersed with cuts to a Windows license, a picture of a young Richard Stallman, and other stills, Fry goes on to describe the free software community and its history. He wraps up by urging listeners to use completely free distributions such as GNewSense, or to contribute code if they can.

"Either way, I hope you'll join me in wishing GNU a very happy birthday," says Fry, picking up with both hands a lighted birthday cake that has been out of shot until now. Calling GNU/Linux "the operating system of the future," he exclaims, "Freedom!" and blows out the candles in whirls of smoke.

A moment later, licking his fingers, Fry exclaims, "Chocolaty good -- the tastiest operating system in the world."

Other anniversary celebrations

The release of the Fry video is only one of the events the FSF has planned to mark the anniversary of the GNU Project. "We're planning a month long celebration," says Brown, "starting with this video and running through Software Freedom Day [September 20] to the anniversary itself, which is September 27." At least one campaign and an essay by Richard Stallman are also planned.

In celebrating the GNU project, the FSF has several goals, according to Brown.

The first "is to make people realize just how expansive the scope of GNU is, how much GNU [software] there is out there," says Brown. "I think a lot of people would be surprised at the amount of new GNU stuff that is coming all the time."

More importantly, at a time when Microsoft is make overtures to the free software community, ostensibly to help free software work better with and on Windows, Brown says the anniversary is a good time to re-emphasize the ultimate goal of the movement.

"If we end up in a world where some free software applications are very, very popular and we don't end up with software freedom, that will be to the detriment of everyone. So this is our way to remind the community that there's a goal in mind, an end point that's more than having your software work well on the Microsoft platform," Brown says. "It's about having a complete environment of free software that we want everyone to use. We want to push that final goal of replacing all proprietary software."

In this sense, Brown says, the anniversary is not just about GNU itself. "It's not just that we want our particular project to be successful and popular. Promoting GNU is great, but we have to realize that's only one part of the puzzle. It's only by getting there jointly that we will succeed."

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 205.208.133.33] on September 02, 2008 07:50 PM
If they'd spend half as much time improving their software as thinking of new and improved ways to get the word out about how "great and wonderful" free software is, more people would use it.

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Re: Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 130.208.143.69] on September 02, 2008 09:31 PM
haha, good one :)

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Re: Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.150.173.196] on September 02, 2008 10:51 PM
Yes. The first step would be to stop working on free software equivalents of proprietary technologies such as Mono and put their efforts back into projects that always were free software or, at least open source.

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Re: Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.69.99.90] on September 02, 2008 11:34 PM
>> If they'd spend half as much time improving their software as thinking of new and improved ways to get the word out about how "great and wonderful" free software is, more people would use it. <<

And if Microsoft spent a fraction of the enormous amount of money they do on advertising and bribes on improving their OS they'd have one that half worked.

You Windows fanboys don't half show your ignorance at times. Open source software is littered with examples of programs that just work, never crash and aren't security holes. Microsoft can only dream of such things.

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Re: Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.86.139.134] on September 04, 2008 08:22 PM
"If they'd spend half as much time improving their software as thinking of new and improved ways to get the word out about how "great and wonderful" free software is, more people would use it."

I don't know about you, but personally I wouldn't like to use an operating system written by a group of marketing and PR people who don't know how to code, let alone code well. I say let the programmers do the coding, which would mean a load of marketing and PR people would be sitting around idle. How about putting their actual talents to good use, doing marketing exactly like this?

I'm sure trolls such as yourself would be amongst the first to criticise a film written by Linus Torvalds, or Eric Raymond's debut album, since such things would probably be terrible. The whole point is that they don't need to make those things, as others with the necessary skills can do it instead. That's why a community effort is more productive than a solitary one. It's not all about code, since there's always a call for more documentation, more icons and themes, more ideas, more testers and more publicity. Well this is the latter.

I think this video will be a very good marketing tool, although I feel the no-derivitaves license used may hinder this, for example in the future it might be useful to use parts such as the plumbing analogy, but leave out the 25th birthday parts (which will then be irrelevant), but the license does not permit this without seeking permission directly. I understand that the concepts and implementations of Free Culture are still developing, and that in Stallman's view an opinion piece can legitimately be no-derivitaves licensed, but by placing slightly more trust in the community and allowing derivitaves I feel this could be an even more useful contribution than it already is.

A big Thank You to all of those involved in producing this video, and of course to all those who have helped GNU to become the diverse, useful, innovative and in some areas industry leading platform it is today. Long may it continue, and Happy Birthday :)

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Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 97.73.64.143] on September 03, 2008 04:57 AM
"You Windows fanboys don't half show your ignorance at times."
What makes you think that he's a "Windows fanboy"?? Why could he not be a regular Linux user that just wants to use his/her machine without one package breaking another? Or seeing yet another act of political street guerrilla theater, where all we get is a pile of hot air from the Stallman minions, yet again, and again?? It's getting very boring to have the GNU harpies bringing up how Stallman pulled off his one man show, when so many other thousands have been active as well. The GNU "Fan Boys" are far more irritating that any Windows Fan Boy could ever achieve. For one, I wish they would just STFU and do something useful, like get all the distros to put stuff into like directories. Or STFU.

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Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 193.166.94.185] on September 03, 2008 10:56 AM
It's really sad to see that many GNU+Linux users appear to enjoy insulting Richard Stallman and the GNU project. They use GNU software every day, but they don't probably know that the GNU+Linux operating system couldn't exist without GNU. Or maybe they just don't care, which is even worse than ignorance. It will always be easier to take freedom away from people who don't appreciate it.

Well, I for one am very grateful to the GNU project for giving me a free operating system. I abandoned the proprietary Microsoft software world because I got sick and tired of applications spying and monitoring my activities, and not being able to control the software that I used daily. I decided to give GNU+Linux a try, and now I feel that I'm in control of my computer, not the other way around. I like the sweet taste of my new freedom.

I also like to show my gratitude to the GNU project by advocating free software whenever I can. Stephen Fry, who is one of my favourite actors, seems to feel the same kind of gratitude, and he also shows it openly by supporting the GNU project. Well done, Stephen. Happy 25th anniversary, GNU!

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Re: Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.108.193.176] on September 06, 2008 04:04 AM
Well, it's usually referred to as GNU/Linux, because Stallman's argument - with which I have some sympathy - is that Linux was enabled because of the free tools - most notably gcc - coming from the GNU project.

My problem with the video, which I admit to only watching the first couple of minutes of, is that SF did not mention Linux at all and if you didn't know better, you'd think the operating system was called GNU.

I know RS was intending to create an OS, but he never did.

So I would take issue with your remark that "I for one am very grateful to the GNU project for giving me a free operating system" because it hasn't.

RS has problems with people ignoring the role of the GNU tools in the creation of Linux, which is fair enough.

But to talk of the "GNU operating system" and its many "distros" as SF did in the part I watched, is worse.

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Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.241.128.10] on September 03, 2008 11:03 AM
Hmm, I didn't think the FSF had anything to do with the Mono project. The only piece of GNU software I can recall crashing is GNOME, and even then that is a rarity. I don't think their software requires a lot of improvement, so let them get on with the advertising.

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Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 60.241.162.111] on September 03, 2008 02:20 PM
Stephen Fry is brilliant and his delivery is always so fascinating: sometimes his delivery alone is worth watching and listening to. However, they should also get his mate, Hugh Laurie, to do an add. He could use one of my favourite lines from the TV show "House" when referring to the tactics that MS use, "People lie!"

As for these comments about Gnu/Linux not being as good as Windows etc etc. These comments are so boring as to be worth NOT making. Please fax in your opinion next time, or at least make available the URL to somewhere else they've been made, so you don't have to bother typing them. Seriously dull and boring.

There are so many instances of Windows having problems, and people I know for whom a Mac does not "Just work". At least Gnu/Linux is honest and doesn't attempt to rip you off, tie you up, wear you down or deliberately and perniciously restrict you. For that, I thank RSM and Linus and the many people out there who have provided the software we can all use - even if you have no money.

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Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.159.1.118] on September 03, 2008 10:03 PM
"What makes you think that he's a "Windows fanboy"?? Why could he not be a regular Linux user that just wants to use his/her machine without one package breaking another?"

Maybe it's time to migrate from an RPM-based distro do a DEB- one! :D

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Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.85.149.207] on September 04, 2008 01:04 AM
I thought that it was very interesting to have a Mac Air sitting next to him the whole time. I wonder whether he is using OS X on it... I really thought he was going to turn it around and show some distro running on it; oh well, kind of disappointing though.

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Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.86.169.147] on September 04, 2008 08:00 PM
Its good to see this as Stephen Fry has championed Apple in the past, maybe he is still an Apple fan but gets GNU/FOSS etc

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Actor/author Stephen Fry endorses free software

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.192.13.179] on September 07, 2008 05:28 PM
I consider this a very endorsable move to spread the word on OSS and the GPL. The vast majority of consumers isn't even aware of free and legal choices to their pirated O/S and the associated "de-facto standard" productivity suites. I couldn't agree less on the statement about abbyssal quality of free software. Quality is no matter of the license.

Robert, team member at http://textpattern.com/

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