Influential writings in the history of Free Software

As it appears to me, one major motivation for the creation of this community could be called the generational turnover in the Free Software movement. The FSF was founded a generation ago, and over time it has lost the ability to speak meaningfully to the current moment. Hence, this community was born, to be a new voice for the Free Software movement.

But no community can build a better future without understanding its history. And given the timeframe in which the Free Software movement was born, its past is already in danger of disappearing. Influential writings from the early days of the Free Software movement are scattered across print magazines, Usenet posts, very early web pages, and blog posts, all of which have actually turned out to be very fragile and easy to lose. As a new generation of Free Software advocates rises, not everyone will have read, or even heard of, what was influential, for good or ill, in the earlier days of the movement.

I include myself in this. I consider myself a reasonably engaged Free Software advocate. But if you drilled me on the details of how and why things got started in the late 80s and early 90s, I’d quickly get backed into a wall. So I’m making this thread as a wiki annotated bibliography for links to important texts from the history of the Free Software movement, so that those who enjoy history can gain a better understanding of how we ended up where we are now.

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This is a wiki. Edit and add things yourself or make comments in the thread.

The GNU Manifesto, 1985. Stallman’s announcement of the GNU Project. Interesting to see what has and hasn’t been theorized at this time.

The Right to Read, 1997. A short story with commentary by Stallman.


I just enabled it in the settings, FYI.

If I could save just one foundational writing it would certainly be The Right to Read:

It resonated deeply in my soul when I first read it in the nineties, and every year or so I reread it and it resonates even deeper. It keeps me willing to fight on the good side! If anything, it is more relevant today in 2024 than it ever was before.