Thirty Years of the GNU Manifesto


The free software movement entering its 30th year is the ideal time to reflect on previous successes and prioritize future work.

The success has been massive. The software industry has been irrevocably changed from a model of selecting the best fit commodity proprietary software component for a given task into a knowledge-based model of crafting known good components into the custom software-hardware machines. Changing the software to fit the task and not the other way around. The idea of contributing back to development communities, and empowering others has moved from the periphery to a central part of all software development. It’s not all rosy, some obstinate people and institutions still don’t get it, but even ten years of perspective gives confidence that the worst structural barriers of the old proprietary software model have been banished for good.

There is still much to do, with both the social and the technology aspects of the free software movement.

The software aspects.

The software universe is expanding at an exponential rate. Software components are being combined into custom systems with exponentially increasing complexity. Managing this complexity is the top technical priority of the free software movement today. Solutions include conscientious documentation practices, and the development and incorporation of new visual tools into software engineering practice that supplement the usual perception of source code as literary text. Visual grammars that change perception, comprehension, and analysis of software sources exist today within proprietary confines and must be surpassed by yet-to-be devised free forms. The free software community must lead this effort and make sure that the tools and visual solutions adopted are free for all to use and fully model the capabilities of free software ecosystems.

The organizational and social aspects.

Free and open software communities are not fixed forms, and need to evolve as social movements. Experiments with new organizational forms that encourage equal participation regardless of gender, generational cohort, geographic region, or corporate sponsorship should be encouraged.