Voice of the Masses: Who is the most important GNU/Linux/FLOSS person?

Phew! It has been a hectic few days over on our Indiegogo campaign page, but we’re making great progress thanks to you, the awesome Linux community. We’re only four days in, and have already reached almost a quarter of our target. Let’s all keep spreading the word!

In the meantime, we’re planning to record the first Linux Voice podcast next week. It’ll maintain all the goodness of Linux Lifestyle, so for our Voice of the Masses section we want to hear from you. In your opinion, who is the most important person in the GNU, Linux and Free Software world?

No doubt many of you will mention Richard Stallman, for starting GNU, creating the GPL, and having an impressive Unix-hacker beard. Others will suggest Linus Torvalds for being an effective leader of the Linux kernel and telling Nvidia what he thinks very bluntly. But perhaps there’s someone lesser known, who really deserves more credit. Let us know in the comments, and we’ll read out your musings next week!

56 thoughts on “Voice of the Masses: Who is the most important GNU/Linux/FLOSS person?

  1. The sickening answer – the user.

    Without people using and spreading the software there would be no community.


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  2. I would say Linus Torvalds but not for creating the Linux kernel, more for his no-nonsense approach to approving code that makes it into the kernel. The fact that he takes such a stance against any Thomas, Richard or Harry dumping code that can make the user experience worse is what keeps Linux so stable and so usable. Obviously there are other people involved in the approval process and many other talented people that do fantastic work. However the kernel is the key


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  3. Giant Albino Penguin

    Stallman, for staking out the ideological ground, even more than for all the heavy lifting he's done. It's really necessary in any movement to have someone holding relentlessly to the most pure, extreme position even though it's a step further than most of us would care to go.


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  4. Me – well not me in the specific sense, but me as in whoever you are reading this. Without all the end users and 'family and friends' evangelists who just get on and use it because it is right for them there is no point. I would say that more people have started using GNU/Linux/FLOSS because of personal recommendation and knowing someone who can help them out than any other reason.


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    1. Damn it Paul you beat me too it.

      I was thinking the same, some what sycophantic, comment. Even worse you put it in a better way than I was .


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  5. I think the bus factor for the FLOSS world is pretty high. There is no single person we couldn’t do without, though many would be missed. Even going one layer up, to whole projects, there seems to be a solid alternative to each one.

    That said, I think RMS is the most important individual, keeping our values in check and being a model for purism we can aspire to.


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  6. I think the bus factor for the FLOSS world is pretty high. There is no single person we couldn't do without, though many would be missed. Even going one layer up, to whole projects, there seems to be a solid alternative to each one.

    That said, I think RMS is the most important individual, keeping our values in check and being a model for purism we can aspire to.

    PS: having a really hard time passing the captcha, maybe have a login system?


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  7. Eben Upton of the Raspberry Pi Foundation would have to be on the list as the new up and comer. I have used GNU/Linux since 04′ but since the release of the raspberry pi I have really been learning the ins and outs of GNU/Linux and coding. This board makes tweaking and hacking stress free since it is such a low cost device, and when I show my friends they think I am ace and they have a lot of questions about GNU/Linux and how it works.


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  8. Stephen Wheeler

    I would nominate Bob Young and Marc Ewing, Red Hat founders, for at least an honourable mention.
    Red Hat was the first Linux distribution I used. I think it was Red Hat 5.1 and I bought it by mail-order. It came as a boxed CD and manual with CPAN on CD as a bonus. I still use Fedora to this day.
    Red Hat not only made Linux viable as a business but helped make Linux the dominant platform in the server space, making the likes of Microsoft sit up and take notice. Without Red Hat blazing a trail in the business world I doubt Google would have used Linux as the basis for Android and go on to be the dominant platform for smartphones.
    With the Fedora distribution they have also maintained their support for Linux as a community and along with Debian is one of the foundation distributions that other distributions are based on.


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  9. Steve Ballmer. I'm being serious, without his histrionics and vitriol I'd never of looked into this thing called Linux and I'd probably still be using a hookie copy of Microsoft Windows 98SE.

    So from the bottom of my heart a great big thanks to Steve.


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    1. California Penguin

      Ballmer gleefully carried the torch, but Bill Gate's 1976 "Open Letter to Hobbyists" delineated the battle line between proprietary and libre/free software in the (not then PC) hobbyist computing community.

      Disenfranchised PC hobbyists finally found refugee in the confluence of Linux plus the GNU Utils emerging from Stallman's FSF principles over the following decades.

      Here's to Bill Gates for planting those FOSS seeds and Steve Ballmer for keeping them watered!


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  10. Not an idividual but an institution, I nominate Walnut Creek CDROM for honorable mention. They were THE source in the days before broadband. They distributed a lot of software out to a lot of people. I still have the FreeBSD CDs…


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    1. California Penguin

      Don't forget Yggdrasil, I think they were the very first to publish Linux distros on CDs, around 1992.

      Modems were barely faster then smoke signals when Yggdrasil appeared, truly a critical link in the Linux distribution chain for enthusiasts without academic or commercial internet access.

      Ah, the days of sneaker-net and dial-up [not].


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    2. Klaus Knopper's Knoppix was crucial for the development of the live CD. I don't have statistics, but I'd bet the live CD brought Linux to a greater variety of people than install CDs.


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  11. Stephen Michael Kellat

    At the moment, the most important person in the Linux realm happens to be Lennart Poettering. Right now control of systemd is making or breaking distributions in terms of acceptance as well as cooperation. Holy wars over init systems have even broken out!

    The future of Linux and the possible proposed marginalization of BSD is seemingly in the hand of Mr. Poettering and his team. That is an awesome yet frightening concentration of power. While that may not be best for the ecosystem, that is where we stand now. Eventually Mr. Poettering may displace Mr. Torvalds perhaps?


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  12. Floyd Patterson

    Andrew Tridgell – the man who developed SAMBA, which allows so much inter-operability between all Linux OSes and Microsoft.in its various incarnations….and that must be a good thing.


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  13. omniferious implimenter

    Alan Cox… for his early work on the network stack in the kernel, and who only just stated his return to Red hat to start his tinkering again…. pure genius!


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    1. Back at Intel to quote from his G+ post "Getting back into the mindset and if the paperwork all goes right will be back in Linuxspace Monday part time at Intel."


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  14. As others have said: the user but as contributer not just consumer.

    If you want a less abstract person then RMS for realising this is how it should be and enabling it to be so.


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  15. I'd have to say Bradley M. Kuhn for his work at the FSF, Software Freedom Law Center and mostly at Software Freedom Conservancy.

    Creating and sharing great free software is vital but equally so is defending that work and the right to do it.

    Additionally I'd have to mention Karen Sandler for the same kind of work and plug the awesome podcast she does with Bradley called Free as in Freedom.


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    1. California Penguin

      Excellent point Fin.

      We live in historic times and there are epic legal battles raging over whether we end users can retain our rights to control the software that runs on the devices that we own. In this new era of hyper-surveillance by software, FOSS may well prove to be critical for preserving individual liberty, or at least what's left of it.

      Here's to the legal watchdogs who are fighting gallantly to preserve our rights!


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  16. Unrepentent hipster

    Robert Sproull for allegedly refusing the share with RMS the code for the MI AI lab Xerox lab printer. That decision to abide by a corporate non-disclosure agreement and refuse code to a colleague and fellow hacker was the slap in the face that woke RMS to the awful truth of proprietary code.


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    1. California Penguin

      Love the historical factoids, particularly if there is an ironic twist. So possibly, by refusing to share source code, Robert Sproull became the unwitting progenitor of the Free Software movement :-)


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  17. Burgess Meredith

    The cool thing about the gnu/linux community is the fact that it isn't reliant on one person or organization/company. It's like a bee hive, or a borg hive, with everyone filling a niche and keeping things going. RMS and Linus obviously are important (hive queens you might say), but even if Linus keeled over tomorrow the community would step up and everything would keep going. Even a drone like me is important to the hive collective. I can't program or fix bugs so what do I do? Assimilate! Resistance is futile.


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  18. California Penguin

    Worthy of honorable mention IMHO are Marc Andreessen and James Barksdale from the now defunct Netscape Corp.

    At a crucial point in internet history when Bill 'Cyborg' Gates appeared on the verge of assimilating us all thru Internet Exploder, Andreesen and Barksdale had the courage to open source the proprietary Netscape Navigator and fund the Mozilla organization.

    This resulted in the (FOSS) Firefox browser being produced just in time to prevent IE from becoming the universal default graphical portal to the web, and Microsoft from becoming the internet's sole gatekeeper for the masses.

    Andreesen and Barksdale may have saved us all from an internet future too horrible to imagine (shudder).


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  19. How long is a piece of string? No one person is all important. That's the beauty of the open source model, there is no one point that is most important. In contrast, take a look at the slide apple is on since Jobs' passing. Does anybody think a silly round Mac Pro, or a Fruit Loop colored iPhone would exist if he were still around? On the other hand, if Linus were eaten by a giant squid, everybody else would carry on just fine. We might have to hire Lewis Black to cuss at developers once in a while, but things would still move forward.


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  20. Although it's possible that there might be people that contribute more to free software than RMS does today, it's difficult to say that anyone could be more important than the person who started the entire movement. Torvalds owes RMS much of his success for creating the license (and convincing Torvalds to use it), as well as the user-land components and compilers (GNU) that made the kernel something useful and possible to work on.

    Obviously RMS could not have achieved so much on his own and too many people to list helped make it all possible, but it's largely the work, vision and beliefs RMS shared that allowed us to be where we are today.

    To that end, it's sad we have yet another magazine called "Linux"-something, by people who should know better.


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    1. That would exclude non-GNU Linuxes, however.

      It is usually the GNU/Linux we use and love, but some very few people use other variants, like the completely unknown Android.


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  21. I'd say the patcher or the participant. While sysadmins and desktop users must be recognized for their choice, it is the participant who send in bugs, patches, translations, documentation, code, forum solutions etc. that breathe life in the project. Viz. Those who take some time in their lives to participate in the project, without necessarily someone asking for it or even noticing.

    I can't count the number of times a patch or piece of information has turned out to be crucial in the accomplishment of my day to day goals.


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  22. This is a tough one. RSM started the whole movement, but if it wasn't for Linus's little bedroom project, the FLOSS movement would probably not have gotten where it is today.

    I would imagine that if it hadn't been for the GPL, FSF et al., Linus would have either come up with some other free licence on his own, or he'd have gotten someone else to do it, and thus likely started the FLOSS movement in the absence of RMS. It's for that reason that I would say Linus is the more important person, but only if I had to choose between one or the other.

    PS. I can't wait for the first issue of Linux Voice. This is going to be great.


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  23. A very personal one, but an example of The Community: a forum member called 'OldCPU', who, unlike everyone else, rather than flaming me and telling me to go back to windows for ranting about the frustrations of moving from Windows to Linux about 10 years ago, he calmly helped me solve my problems, and I realised that was the difference between the OS's and never looked back. These people are important.


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  24. …and the winner is….. "THE COMMUNITY".
    With a special side award to Microsoft for making Linux so attractive. ( you can't appreciate Cinderella .without the Ugly Sisters).

    Sorry I can't name names as such.


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  25. Still anonymous penguin

    Within the community, the only right answer is Linus. It's hard to conceive of an alternate reality wherein something apart from the kernel kickstarts the ecosystem, so while it's a dull and pragmatic answer, that would be it.

    Outside of the community, I would personally have to say Steve Ballmer. And not just because he was at the helm when Vista made me give up Windows. But every movement needs a villain and Ballmer turned out to be even less likeable and even more rabidly opposed to user freedom than Gates.


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    1. Burgess Meredith

      Amen. Tuxradar's last interview with Karen Sandler went MUCH further in opening my eyes to the need of Free/Opensource than a nutjob like RMS ever could. Yes, he created GNU, but he is a hippie lunatic and I tend not to listen to hippie lunatics. No, I'm not anti-free software, I'm anti Stallman.


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  26. All of the above. Fantastic community, empire and republic, Can I add Ian Murdoch for fostering the debian community and foundation upon which many distributions stand?


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  27. The Developers

    Because they endured the long hours coding, the sweat falling down their face every time a new version for Linux went to the masses. Plus hardly a home cooked meal, instead it was vast amounts of fast food day after day simply because they had an idea to work on, or code that had to be finished first. Lastly they dealt with the people that were impatient waiting on their new version that promised to wow them. That is a lot of pressure.


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  28. All right, I admit it – it's me.

    Sure, it seems unlikely NOW, but sometime in the future I will become ridiculously infuential, and usher in an era of FLOSS peace, harmony, and progress the likes of which humanity has never before experienced.

    It's also possible that I'm confusing my own life with the plot of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure", but can we afford to take that chance and miss out on the coming glory?


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  29. Well of course Linus and RMS and so many others have made fantastic contributions, but being an old-school guy I'd nominate the late Dennis Ritchie. Pull the plug on the 'C' language and the entire Internet would stop working along with your PC, your TV, your phone, your car, and your budgie. Well, maybe not the budgie.


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    1. Another vote here for Denis Richie. Without him we'd have no UNIX and no C programming language, both of which are vital pillars of everything we use today.

      Before companies started claiming ownership of UNIX its ecosystem fostered an ecosystem of sharing code, a precedent that led to the free software movement. It's also questionable whether Linux and GNUtools would ever have been possible without his work either.


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  30. Disregard my first answer. The person that matters the most is the one that cares enough to try. The people staying up to the small hours, the ones alienating their signifigant others to finish some work, the ones who care enough to put some actual work into open source are the ones that matter. It's easy to slag on one project or another, but much more difficult to put some real skin in the game. I have some concerns about some of the things that Ubuntu does, and some of the things that Mark Shuttleworth says, but the people at Ubuntu do seem to care about what their doing, and Shuttleworth is spending his own money letting them do it. There's nothing quite so pleasurable as watching somebody do something "for love of the game."


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  31. Gday, and welcome to the new f o r m a t .
    whatever you call it, it is great to hear you and as I say again I truly wish you all the best in your venture.

    The person (of course) to nominate as greatest/most important Gnu/Linux/FLOSS person is (surprise) YOU! The meanings of the words mean nothing unless YOU the end user or for the sake of marketing purposes call the "consumer" or "client" or "user" of the said technology/license/free will will use it.
    Unless people actually take on the license agreement, it is meaningless. So the best advocate is always someone who chooses to use it. Better, someone who actually tells as many people as they can that they do use it.

    I know. A bit trite, and in particular, a bit hipocritical coming from a user of "closed source" software. But I do actually believ in this stuff.
    And I am trying really realy hard to not use Office. I no longer have it installed and I am finding open source software that does what I need it to.

    The point is still valid. The end user community will ultimately wind up being the most important guide/contributer to FLOSS/gnu/Linux.

    I wish all of you well.


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  32. Well said! Denis Ritchie was, of course, not only the creator of the C programming language – the syntax of which has influenced most others since – but was co-creator of Unix itself with Ken Thompson. On top of that, Denis was one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet.

    Nowhere near the *most* important, but certainly a major influence, Matthias Ettrich created KDE and with it started off the whole Linux unified desktop idea that most users now take for granted.


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  33. Jean-Loup Gailly and Mark Adler, who wrote zlib, which is probably the most used open source software in the world (and maybe even the most used software?).


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  34. Morten Juhl-Johansen Zölde-Fejér

    As the speaker of a minor language, I would say that the software translator has played an important part. OLPC would not have been relevant if there had not been a corpus of translatable software and people working on the localization efforts.


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