Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original http://ebb.org/bkuhn/blog/2001/02/21/american-dream.html
[ This essay
published on gnu.org. ]
When I was in grade school, right here in the United States of America,
I was taught that our country was the “land of opportunity”. My teachers
told me that my country was special, because anyone with a good idea and a
drive to do good work could make a living, and be successful too. They
called it the “American Dream”.
What was the cornerstone to the “American Dream”? It was
equality — everyone had the same chance in our society to choose
their own way. I could have any career I wanted, and if I worked hard, I
would be successful.
It turned out that I had some talent for working with computers —
in particular, computer software. Indoctrinated with the “American
Dream”, I learned as much as I could about computer software. I
wanted my chance at success.
I quickly discovered though, that in many cases, not all the players in
the field of computer software were equal. By the time I entered the
field, large companies like Microsoft tended to control much of the
technology. And, that technology was available to me under licensing
agreements that forbid me to study and learn from it. I was completely
prohibited from viewing the program source code of the software.
I found out, too, that those with lots of money could negotiate
different licenses. If they paid enough, they could get permission to
study and learn from the source code. Typically, such licenses cost many
thousands of dollars, and being young and relatively poor, I was out of
After spending my early years in the software business a bit
downtrodden by my inability to learn more, I eventually discovered another
body of software that did allow me to study and learn. This software was
released under a license called the GNU General Public License (GNU
GPL). Instead of restricting my freedom to study and learn from it, this
license was specifically designed to allow me to learn. The license
ensured that no matter what happened to the public versions of the
software, I’d always be able to study its source code.
I quickly built my career around this software. I got lots of work
configuring, installing, administering, and teaching about that
software. Thanks to the GNU GPL, I always knew that I could stay
competitive in my business, because I would always be able to learn easily
about new innovations as soon as they were made. This gave me a unique
ability to innovate myself. I could innovate quickly, and impress my
employers. I was even able to start my own consulting business. My own
business! The pinnacle of the American Dream!
Thus, I was quite surprised last week
when Jim Allchin, a
vice president at
The GNU GPL is specifically designed to make sure that all
technological innovators, programmers, and software users are given equal
footing. Each high school student, independent contractor, small business,
and large corporation are given an equal chance to innovate. We all start
the race from the same point. Those people with deep understanding of the
software and an ability to make it work well for others are most likely to
succeed, and they do succeed.
That is exactly what the American Way is about, at least the way I
learned it in grade school. I hope that we won’t let Microsoft and
others change the definition.