Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Thanks GNU!


I met GNU for the first time fifteen years ago. I was working as a consultant in support of a criminal investigation, and as part of my duties I had to analyze a database hosted on a SCO server.
As often happens, the database was proprietary, and it did not include any facility to analyze data. I needed to build an application to explore the data thoroughly.
Most of my working libraries were written in C, which I used in other operating systems. So I contacted SCO and asked to buy a C compiler. I was told that it would cost me quite a lot (I was prepared for that, although not for the price they told me, but since I was going to expense it, I would not care), and that it would take one month to get the software. I did not have one month at my disposal. I needed to nail down the evidence for the investigation immediately. So I started asking around. I was doing some side work for my town university, and I mentioned the difficulty of getting the right software.
Then, a friend said: "You may use Linux." And this was the first time I heard the name. And I also heard about the GNU C compiler that looked like the right tool for the job.
So, instead of buying a software package, I bought a tape streamer, and transferred all the SCO server contents into tapes. Then I had fun installing my first Linux server (version 0.99c) and loaded all the SCO material into a free disk.
In less than two days, using gcc, I had in place all the analysis tools that I needed, and soon I delivered all the goods that my employer wanted.
That was one of the most satisfactory jobs in my career, and it had the side effect of leaving me with a server full of free software that did exactly what I wanted.
Since then, my relationship with GNU and Linux has evolved continuously, and by now I can say that GNU software has contributed largely to my professional growth, accomplishment, and satisfaction, from my consulting days to my employment with MySQL and Sun.
GNU is older than fifteen. It is in fact celebrating today its 25th birthday. It has been a bumpy ride. GNU has got much support and much debate. It is almost ubiquitous, but it is not as respected and recognized as it should be.
For my side, I am happy with all the GNU project has contributed to the evolution of the IT industry. Thanks, GNU. My professional life would be much different without free software!

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