11 May 2006

OpenStreetMap Takes the Path of Stallman

There's a piece in the Guardian about OpenStreetMap's Isle of Wight effort. I was struck by this wonderful quotation:

The weekend drew around 40 people. By Monday, OpenStreetMap's founder Steve Coast estimated that more than 90% of the island's roads had been recorded. When asked if volunteers used OS [Ordnance Survey] maps, Coast says: "No. It's a taboo." Someone who did pull out an OS map was told to put it away immediately.

Which is precisely analogous to Richard Stallman's attitude when he started GNU, his project to create a benevolent Doppelgänger of the Unix operating system. This is what he told me for Rebel Code:

"I certainly never looked at the source code of Unix. Never. I once accidentally saw a file, and when I realised it was part of Unix source code, I stopped looking at it." The reason was simple: The source code "was a trade secret, and I didn't want to be accused of stealing that trade secret," he says. "I condemn trade secrecy, I think it's an immoral practice, but for the project to succeed, I had to work within the immoral laws that existed."

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