'Happy Birthday to GNU' marks 25 years

Free Software Foundation celebrates the history of the Unix-like operating system that helped foment the open-source movement.

The GNU mascotPhoto by GNU.org

The Free Software Foundation has released Happy Birthday to GNU to celebrate the silver anniversary of the operating system.

The film, presented by actor/comedian Stephen Fry, offers a basic history of GNU's Not Unix (GNU). Fry describes how Richard Stallman announced a plan in September 1983 to develop a free-software, Unix-like operating system called GNU, and adds that the Linux kernel was re-released under the GNU General Public License in 1992. The GNU/Linux combination provided the first completely nonproprietary way for people to run a PC.

Peter Brown, the Free Software Foundation's executive director, said the video should act not only as a reminder of GNU's history but as a "rallying call for the work that still needs to be done."

"We intend for the 25th anniversary to be more than just a reflection on the history of the free-software movement. Because, despite all of the success brought about by the GNU system and other free-software projects, we still need a determined effort to replace or eliminate the proprietary applications, platforms, drivers and firmware that many users still run," Brown said in a statement.

What do you get an operating system that has everything? How about GNU's official stuffed gnu?Photo by GNU.org

The foundation plans further releases as part of the monthlong anniversary celebrations, with announcements timed for Software Freedom Day on 20 September and for the GNU anniversary itself on September 27.

In the video, available for download at GNU.org, Fry says that proprietary operating systems are akin to "bad science," as unofficial modifications to the operating system are prohibited.

"You can't really fiddle with your operating system, and you certainly can't share any ideas you have about your operating system with other people, because Apple and Microsoft, who run the two most popular operating systems, are very firm about the fact that they own that," Fry says.

The actor goes on to say that, for many people, it is natural not to be able to make modifications, but Fry asks why making modifications should be illegal.

"All knowledge is free and all knowledge is shared in good science. If it isn't, it's bad science, and really a kind of tyranny," he says.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.