Originally Published: Friday, 15 September 2000 Author:
Published to: develop_articles/Development Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Choosing Between BSD and GNU

During the past years, the free software community has gained much popularity. Many people have found themselves engaged in an ongoing battle between what is normally called the ``open source'' faction and the ``free software'' faction.

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During the past years, the free software community has gained much popularity. Many people have found themselves engaged in an ongoing battle between what is normally called the ``open source'' faction and the ``free software'' faction. Several has gone to the extreme point of thinking that everything in systems like Debian GNU/Linux and Red Hat Linux developed by the Free Software Foundation, a well-known free software advocate, should be replaced by utilities from the various BSD computer systems.

There appears to be a number of reasons for this, some of which can be supported and some which are only silly. The most interesting reason is to see if it really can be done. It is understandable that some people would find this interesting to pursue. As the BSD kernels and the Linux kernel gets closer to each other it is a natural course of action to see what utilities that can be mixed in user space. It would also be interesting to see if one could use a BSD kernel with the GNU system to form a GNU/BSD system.

There's also a technical aspect in this. Perhaps the GNU make is inferior to the BSD make. That would give you two options; either improve the GNU make to meet the same high quality as the BSD make or replace the GNU make on your system with the BSD make. The fact is though that most GNU utilities are very well written and work flawlessly. It is not uncommon for BSD users to run GNU software on their machines. The GNU software's ability to compile on many different UNIX flavours has led to a widespread user base that has been able to debug the programs under very different environments.

So this should not be the reason people want to use BSD utilities under the Linux kernel. It is not even the technical challenge of making the systems work together that makes people pursue this course of action.

The primary reason (incidentally also the silliest reason) is that they simply do not like the Free Software Foundation or the GNU Project. When I first heard of this I thought someone was pulling my leg. The idea that someone would judge software based upon the copyright holder is, to me, preposterous. Not only is this unproductive but it is in direct violation with the idea that no one should have to do the same thing twice. This is unfortunately one of the more common wastes of human resources in proprietary software companies and I had hoped it would not spill over to the free software community.

Is it not silly to go through all the work of replacing FSF-copyrighted programs simply so you can say "This has no FSF-copyrighted programs in it?" What they will end up with is a system similar to BSD and if that is what they want, they could use any BSD system right away. That would not take any work.

When you decide which programs you should use on your computer you should judge them based on their programming, documentation, interactivity with other software and similar matters. You should not base your decision solemnly on who holds the copyright. In the free software community, we do not use proprietary Microsoft programs. We do this not because it is Microsoft but because their software is inferior to ours. It is also proprietary software which is bad for the community at a whole.

So the next time you compare two programs in order to decide which to install I hope that you will ask yourself "Will this program do what I want?" and not "Was this written by someone I dislike?"

Jonas Öberg is a webmaster and system administrator for the GNU Project. He lives in the south of Sweden where he sometimes pretends to know what he is doing.





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