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You are here: Home Bulletins 2013 fall GNU turns thirty

GNU turns thirty

by libby Contributions Published on May 15, 2014 05:23 PM

Thirty years ago, the founding of the GNU System sparked a conversation that has grown into the global free software movement. On September 27, 1983, Richard Stallman announced the plan to develop a free Unix-like operating system called GNU, short for "GNU's not Unix." GNU is the only operating system developed specifically for the sake of users' freedom. Today, the GNU System includes not only a fully free operating system, but a universe of software that serves a vast array of functions, from word processing to advanced scientific data manipulation, and everything in between.

The GNU System is more than a collection of software components; it's a philosophy, a social movement. The ideas Richard Stallman later articulated in the GNU Manifesto spawned some of the most important ideas of our time: copyleft and free culture.

In September, the FSF held a flagship celebration at MIT in Cambridge, MA, the original home of the GNU System before it became a worldwide phenomenon. The event featured a hackathon focused on federated publishing and communication software, and tools to protect privacy and anonymity. Hackathon participants accessed the Internet through an ad-hoc mesh network set up by folks from Commotion Wireless. A cryptoparty helped participants protect their information online, and an F-Droid tutorial and skillshare introduced attendees to free software for mobile devices. Aleph Objects used their Respects Your Freedom-certified Lulzbot 3D printer to make GNU toppers for our birthday cupcakes, and an eager volunteer wore the FSF's gnu suit to pose for photos. MIT's Student Information Processing Board hosted the event for us, and helped us get an animated birthday message displayed on the side of a building.

Ten free software projects joined the hackathon in Cambridge; Commotion, coreboot, Gnash, GNOME, GNU FM, GNU MediaGoblin, GNU Octave, GNU social, Tahoe-LAFS, and Tor, with Guix participating simultaneously online. One of the most exciting outcomes of the hackathon was the cross-pollination of skills that occured between projects. Tor hackers helped Tahoe-LAFS identify some security issues. Gnash tested a new release on different distributions brought in by hackathon attendees. Progress was also made on Debian packaging for GNU MediaGoblin. Other projects had people stop by to fix bugs, and everyone enjoyed the rare opportunity for in-person conversation between contributors who hail from all over the globe.

The weekend culminated with an address by GNU founder Richard Stallman, in which he announced that privacy and security--especially against government surveillance--are now one of GNU's primary priorities. Free software is one of the most effective tools we have to protect ourselves against surveillance, and the address reflected an ongoing mobilization in the community to meet these challenges. The talk was livestreamed using entirely free software and was viewed by hundreds of people, many of them outside the United States.

Though the Cambridge hackathon was a roaring success, we're not done celebrating yet. An accomplishment like turning thirty deserves a whole year of festivities. For the latest on GNU 30th celebrations, or to make a donation to honor three decades of free software, visit

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