"Get back to work, you muppets."

Linux and the GNU Project

I recently watched an hour-long documentary on YouTube called The Code. It was a film about the creation of the Linux kernel, and the problems and political issues associated with it up until 2001.

I was dismayed to find out that Linus Torvalds did not originally intend to release the Linux kernel as free software. He had to be convinced by one of his collaborators that releasing it under the GPL v2 was a good idea.

I was also very disappointed to find out that the success of the Linux kernel owes a great deal to the GNU project. Despite the importance of GNU, it was sidelined by the success of Linux, and its contributions were ignored.

Furthermore I was very upset to see that in that documentary Torvalds did not take a positive orientation to the GNU philosophy of free software. Torvalds does not imagine the meaning of Linux to represent a political statement like the GNU project.

The documentary made it seem that Torvalds was sympathetic to the “open source” philosophy, where the GPL is not meant to stand antagonistically towards capitalism, and is instead meant to facilitate technical superiority. In fact the “open source” philosophy is imagined to be completely compatible and interdependent with capital accumulation.

I feel like my trust in the phrase “open source”, and my original belief in the ethical and political superiority of Linux has been completely shattered. I never knew Torvalds had such poor politics.

He can be quoted towards the end of the movie: “I want to be the guy everyone/everybody likes…”. I feel like this is the attitude or image that McDonald’s and Coca-Cola puts forward, the neoliberal image of perfect acceptability and permissivity.

I am going to investigate the GNU project much more…

Leave a Reply