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Learning from Free Software (was Re: [Fsfe-uk] Explanation of Tivosiatio

From: graham
Subject: Learning from Free Software (was Re: [Fsfe-uk] Explanation of Tivosiation and problems - comment sought)
Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2006 20:37:56 +0000
User-agent: Thunderbird (X11/20060927)

Ok, this subthread is becoming massively irrelevant, but still...

Chris Croughton wrote:
> On Mon, Dec 18, 2006 at 03:36:44PM +0000, Graham Seaman wrote:
>> Chris Croughton wrote:

>>> I see nothing in there which says who got started because of Free
>>> Software, most of the names I recognise seem to have been software
>>> professionals long before there was any such thing.
>> There's no such time. I first got the chance to do some programming when 
>> my team got a copy of Star Trek in 1977, followed not long after by 
>> Colossal Cavern. If I remember right, both were under an old-style 
>> BSD-ish license (even though Colossal Cavern was from Stanford).  I 
>> hacked about with Star Trek to add black holes; several of the other 
>> people working with me also got started by doing similar things  (as 
>> operators we were not allowed to touch any production software).  We 
>> were amazed that such large programmes should be free (not only 
>> financially).  Free software  long predates the 80s, in spite of the 
>> myths. Some of it is even still in use. Now where's that version of 
>> Spice gone..?
> The term "Free Software" (capitalised, and with the current meaning of
> the 4 freedoms) was not used until a lot more recently, before that it
> meant anything from free (as in beer) binaries via hex dumps to source
> code (which was often still free (as in beer) even when you weren't
> allowed to use it without massive restrictions).  That's why I
> capitalised it.
Sure. But AFAIK it's not trademarked, and my point was exactly that that
concept was around before rms publicised it (that's not to minimize
rms's originality, he's done many things but inventing the idea of free
software isn't one of them - he advanced something that already
existed). The Berkeley and Stanford licenses still count as Free
Software licenses, obnoxious or not. The earliest example I've heard of
was a program called 'Cancer' - later absorbed into the spice simulation
program - which IIRC was released free by Berkeley students as a protest
against military use of other (non-distributed) Berkeley electronic
simulation software; it was meant to be used by students anywhere, just
not so useful to the military (no radiation hardness simulations). That
was sometime during the Vietnam war, 1969 or so. And it was Free Software.

> Certainly most of us got started on some kind of free (as in beer)
> software, even if it was software someone else (employer, college, etc.)
> had bought.  But it was rarely Free Software in the modern sense.  As I
> recall the original Colossal Cave was distributed as binaries, certainly 
> many versions of the Star Trek game were binary-only.
Well, someone must have privatised them later because the originals were
certainly distributed in source form on tape (algol68 in the versions I
saw, though I believe converted from Fortran). That sounds like you may
be talking about the early home computers when people were already
inspired by Gates' money-making ideas.

Of course the cost of tape meant that this was only within organisations
that were already shifting tape around so you could slip an extra one in
without complaints.

All this started just to say that throughout the history of programming
some people have depended on free software to begin programming - sure,
mine is an anecdote about a few people, but the number of anecdotes is
large... On the other hand I guess you are also right that there is an
intervening generation that began on DOS or commercial home computers
that only 'met up with' free software again when it began to be
practical to run unix on such machines.. I have no idea what happened to
free software on mainframes, whether it died out or continued straight
through from the 70s to now... anyone?

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