Stephen Fry celebrates free software movement

3 Sep 2008

Who better to shift the current thinking around the concept of software development, licensing and distribution than the silver-tongued and multi-talented actor, writer, TV presenter and quiz-master, Stephen Fry, who also happens to be a technology buff to boot?

As part of his homage to the 25th anniversary of the GNU operating system, Fry explains the concept of free software and how it began: “There’s a lot of confusion about what this means and I would like to help clear it up.”

Fry uses the analogy of the plumbing in your house to explain how the traditional operating system (OS) is locked out of our reach: we may not understand how our plumbing works but if we have a friend who does, they may recommend moving a pipe here or there for efficiency. It is our house and we have a right to do this.

Not the case with the OS: “You can’t fiddle with your operating system, or at least you cannot share ideas you have about it with others because Apple and Microsoft, which have the two most popular operating systems, are very firm about the fact that they own it and no-one else can have anything to do with it.”

He argues that the philosophy behind software remains anchored to large companies like Apple and Microsoft which retain control of operating systems and programmes while we buy copies that we cannot share.

Why is the software community not viewed like the science community where knowledge is free and ideas are shared and improved upon communally, he asks: “All knowledge is free and all knowledge is shared in good science. If it is not, it is bad science and a kind of tyranny.”

GNU, a Unix-like operating system, was created 25 years ago by Richard Stallman who started the Free Software Foundation and believed that all computer users should have the choice to do anything they want to do on free software.

“Every distribution of GNU is tested, worked upon and refined by people whose only interest is in creating the perfect operating system that can be sued across the spectrum of platforms,” explained Fry in a video on the GNU website.

For those who are afraid of straying from the highly graphic user interface in their current OS, Fry recommends trying out Gnusense before going on to blow out the candles on GNU’s birthday cake.

By Marie Boran

Pictured:Stephen Fry blows out 25 candles for free operating system GNU