Torvalds lambasts Free Software Foundation

CNET staff
3 min read

Linux leader Linus Torvalds had some sharp words about the Free Software Foundation its founder, Richard Stallman, and his philosophical motivations.

The foundation is updating the General Public License (GPL) that governs thousands of open-source software projects, including the Linux operating system kernel. Torvalds has explicitly chosen GPL version 2 to govern Linux, and Torvalds' objections to GPL 3 drafts, it appears unlikely he'll change that position.

Torvalds, though, objects not just to the terms of the new license, but to the foundation's motivations, Stallman's philosophy, and the process by which the foundation and its top lawyer, Eben Moglen, are updating the GPL. In postings today to the Groklaw legal discussion site--where issues often are hotly debated--Torvalds unleashed several criticisms. (He confirmed the postings' authenticity in an e-mail to CNET News.com.)

GPL 2 is about a "quid pro quo": If I give you my open-source software, you're free to use it but must give the world back any changes you make, Torvalds said. "The reason for the GPL as far as the FSF is concerned was never 'fairness.' It was all about a higher calling, and about something that the FSF thinks is much bigger--'freedom,'" Torvalds said in one posting. "I disagree. I think that 'freedom' is fine, but we're not exactly talking about slavery here. Trying to make it look like we're the Abraham Lincoln of our generation just makes us look stupid and stuck up. I'd much rather talk about 'fairness' and about issues like just being a much better process for generating better code, and having fun while doing so."

The GPL 3, Torvalds added, is "inferior" to its predecessor. "It's purely a firebrand, and only good for the extremist policies of the FSF," Torvalds said. "The FSF doesn't like that Linux in particular turned the GPLv2 into something pragmatic. The GPLv3 is designed to take the FSF back to its original 'good old days,' when 'Free Software' was a war, and RMS (Stallman) was its proselytizing general. But the fact is, it's not a war, and peaceful and happy co-existence is actually much preferable to moral jihads."

"The FSF has been acting idiotic for the last decade. Why do you think it's called 'open source' in the first place? Exactly because the FSF has made a dirty word out of freedom,'" he said in another posting. (The term "open-source software" was coined in the late 1990s to describe an offshoot of "free software" movement.) "The people who are spoiling for a fight are not the people who are actually getting things done."

Torvalds said he believes fear is the impetus behind the new GPL. "Every single big and fundamental addition to the GPL 3 is about hate and fear," he said. And it's a bad motivation, he argued: "No good code ever comes out of people who do things because they are afraid, or because they hate. Look at all the idiotic choices that Sun (Microsystems) has made with respect to Java and other things. A lot of them seem to be directly a result not of trying to do the right thing to their customer, but because of fear and loathing of their competition."

The result: "The GPLv3 is a total disaster," Torvalds said in another post.

Torvalds also criticized the GPL 3 process. "So as far as I can tell, the whole GPLv3 'process' has been a sham from the very beginning. Eben and Richard talk about 'discussion drafts,' but it's not 'discussion' if you don't actually care what the other side says," Torvalds said. "And Richard most definitely doesn't care."