Historically Speaking: Birth of GNU
Yesterday, September 27th, marks the 29th anniversary of the birth of one of the most altruistic movements in modern computer science: the GNU project. It was initiated by Richard Stallman in 1983, who sought to make technology as open and accessible to the masses as possible by creating a free, Unix-like operating system that could be modified by its users at will, unlike the proprietary software found with Windows and MacOS.
GNU, which is a recursive acronym meaning “GNU’s not Unix,” is managed by a community of computer programmers who all strive to improve the software and create the best operating system possible with no expectation of profit. Its Unix-like design was envisioned in order to aid users in transitioning from other operating systems easily. By 1990, seven years after the projects initiation, the OS only lacked a kernel to allow software and hardware to communicate with each other easily. With the completion of the Linux kernel by Linus Torvalds in 1991, GNU became a fully functioning OS that was dubbed the GNU/Linux system. Over time, the community has strived to perfect this operating system to match the capabilities seen with Windows and MacOS, as well as fostering the creation of a litany of free software to accompany it.
While GNU’s greatest strength is its ability to be modified, its community is also fervorous about distributing free software to all who wish to use it. Knowing that not all users are necessarily computer experts, the GNU project aims to make its operating system easily usable to the layman, which lead to the creation of GNOME in 1997. GNOME is a free desktop environment that aims to increase the accessibility of GNU/Linux for people lacking technical knowledge, and is now used in conjunction with the OS by millions worldwide.
GNU’s birth in 1983 was a landmark undertaking in computer technology, and its altruistic intentions to wrest computer software from the hands of corporations still resonates today, in an age where tech companies are engaged in frivolous litigation to keep that very noble cause of sharing software ideas from being a reality.