225: Open Source

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Open Source
Later we'll dress up like Big Oil thugs and jump Ralph Nader.
Title text: Later we'll dress up like Big Oil thugs and jump Ralph Nader.


Richard Stallman, or rms after his handle, is an old-school hacker known for establishing the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and initiating the GNU Project in the early 1980s, which produced major portions of what would later be the GNU/Linux[1] operating system. In this capacity, he's also known for being one of the most ardent and outspoken proponents of open source software, often referred to by Stallman as free software. In fact, his advocacy is so emphatic and polemical that he has garnered active dislike from traditionalists who believe that software source code should be retained as a trade secret by its developer(s). Stallman has expressed that he did not even wish to be in a comic using the phrase Open Source (see the trivia section).

While this dislike may not rise to the level of hiring ninja assassins to remove him from the world though that is historically inaccurate, it is strong. The joke of the comic, as it also turns out, is that the two Cueballs dressed up as ninjas were just out to have a fun time teasing Stallman, and they seemed to know that Stallman's paranoia about Microsoft makes him sleep with no fewer than two katana swords near his bed. This type of sword was one of the traditionally made Japanese swords that were used by the samurai of feudal Japan mainly as a sidearm. A ninja or more accurately a Shinobi no mono was basically special forces in feudal Japan. They specialized in espionage, sabatoge, etc. they were a rough combination of MI6, CIA, and Navy SEAL in feudal japan. Although they did not specialize in assassinations, that is something that they could do. Although samurai could also be shinobi/ninjas if they chose to do that job, samurai is a social class while shinobi no mono/ninjas were a job, not a social class. So this makes sense in this comic with Stallman, the samurai, and the ninjas, the lackeys of the oppressing Microsoft (at least in his mind). It also turns out that they specifically choose targets for their raids who have reason to be paranoid of larger companies that might send someone after them, and thus sleep with weapons near their beds. Stallman has received a Katana due to this comic (see the trivia section).

GPL refers to the 'GNU General Public License', which is a copyright license written by the FSF that covers much GNU software and plenty of other free software besides. It stipulates that software so copyrighted must always be provided along with full source code, and that everyone in possession of such software is free to use, study, modify, and redistribute it for any purpose whatsoever (including sale or resale), provided they give due credit to any other contributing developers and provide access to the complete source code and retain all copyright notices.

Legally, this gives all users of such software exactly the same rights under copyright as the developer(s) and prevents any developers from ever taking away those rights from users, which is the defining feature of 'free-as-in-libre' software. It also has the effect of making all software derived from GPL software thereby also GPL, even if 'derived' merely means 'borrowed a few lines of code from'. Some (e.g. Microsoft's Steve Ballmer) have therefore argued that this makes GPL software behave as a kind of 'license virus', which spreads GPL-guaranteed freedoms to any software used in close conjunction with GPL'd software during development, such that businesses should actively avoid adopting free and open source software, so as not to jeopardize software developers' legal standing with regard to proprietary IP copyrights.

During the attack, Richard Stallman begins to speak like he quotes an old play. For instance, the wording "For a GNU dawn!" is pronounced "For a g'new dawn!", following the pronunciation of GNU, so it is a version of New Dawn, a sentence used often in fiction. He even gets annoyed when it turns out that the ninjas just run away. He had clearly waited a long time to, even looking forward to, defending himself with his katanas.

Because the two "ninjas" had so much fun pranking Stallman, they plan to do more of these raids, even mentioning two other possible future targets on their way out of the window:

Eric S. Raymond is a famous hacker who wrote The Cathedral and the Bazaar and has been something of an unofficial spokesperson for open source as a software development methodology. The plan to prank Eric Raymond could be a bad one, since he is an experienced martial artist, swordsman, and firearm enthusiast. However, this seems to be the attraction of these two "ninjas," as can be seen by what they seem to know about their other possible target:

Linus Torvalds is the creator of Linux, a free/open source operating system kernel inspired by the Unix kernel, which proved to be the final component that, combined with then pre-existing GNU system functions and userland components, produced the first fully free operating system, GNU/Linux. The plan to prank Torvalds would at first sound more boring as the mild-mannered Finn, while known to be strongly, abrasively opinionated, is otherwise mostly harmless. However, one of the ninjas seems to know otherwise, since it is rumored that Linus sleeps with nunchucks in the same way that Stallman sleeps with two katana swords. The nunchaku is a traditional Okinawan martial arts weapon consisting of two sticks connected at one end by a short chain or rope.

A third possible target of this prank is mentioned in the title text. Ralph Nader is a famous consumer rights advocate, most famous for his controversial 2000 presidential run, and the 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed. Nader is an environmentalist and a member of the Green Party, and he supports clean energy, thus naturally being opposed to "Big Oil" companies.


[The first panel has the second panel inside it. It also has a slightly light gray background color. Just above the inlaid second panel is Richard Stallman lying in his bed sleeping, the bottom part at the foot of the bed hidden behind the second panel below. Below his bed under his head lies a katana sword in its sheath, and another one hangs in its sheath behind the end of the bed. Two ninjas with swords and black cloths around their heads jump through the skylight, smashing it so glass scatters around them. Each of them is hanging one-handed from the same rope coming down from the skylight. The rope ends just above the inlaid frame below. The two ninjas shout at Richard Stallman, from four speech bubbles that have pointy ends to indicate how the two alternately speak. (These bubbles are white, not gray.)]
Richard Stallman: Zzzz
Top Ninja: Richard Stallman! Your viral open source licenses have grown too powerful.
Bottom Ninja: The GPL must be stopped.
Top Ninja: At the source.
Bottom Ninja: You.
[In the second inlaid panel (with normal white background), Richard Stallman wakes up immediately, and while sitting up in bed, he pulls out both his katana swords from their sheaths, leaving the sheaths under and behind the bed. One hand is up in the air with the sword from behind the bed, and the other is still pointing down with the swords from below the bed. Lines indicate the fast movement of the swords. His three speech bubbles are like those of the ninjas, the last two even breaking the panel entering into the large first panel.]
Katana swords: Shing! Shing!
Richard Stallman: Hah! Microsoft lackeys! So it has come to this!
Richard Stallman: A night of blood I've long awaited. But be this my death or yours, free software will carry on! For a GNU dawn! For freedom!
Richard Stallman: ...Hey, where are you going?
[An outside scene at night with black sky. Richard Stallman's gray house can be seen with the broken white skylight on the roof. The ninjas are jumping out of a window at ground height while taking off their ninja cloth around their heads, holding them in their hand, thus revealing that they both look like Cueball. The first one is already on the grassy ground beneath the window, his sword pointing down and to the left; the other just jumps from the window pane, his sword pointing up and to the right. Again, they have speech bubbles like before. It is not possible to tell which of the two ninjas from before is first out the window.]
Ninja in window: Man, you're right, that never gets old.
Ninja on the grass: Let's do Eric S. Raymond next.
Ninja in window: Or Linus Torvalds. I hear he sleeps with nunchucks.


  • The phrase "So it has come to this" is the title of 1022: So It Has Come To This.
  • In 1624: 2016, Cueball smashes through the ceiling, also hanging on a rope, to wake a person in a bed. Not as a threat though, but still a very similar situation.
  • In the title text of 163: Donald Knuth, Black Hat reveals that he broke into Donald Knuth's house through the skylight as well.
  • Because of this comic, Stallman has been given a katana by fans of xkcd.
  • At his talk at JCCC3 (as well as in a note in xkcd: volume 0), Randall mentioned that the comic he originally published had the assassins say "free software," and Richard Stallman says "open source software." He swapped the two terms after complaints that Richard Stallman was opposed to the phrase "open source." Even after this change, he got an e-mail from Stallman himself saying that he didn't even want to be portrayed in the same comic as the words "open source." The full note in volume 0 is:
Originally, I had the phrases "open source" and "free software" reversed here, but a flood of 1:00 AM letters told me Stallman notoriously hates the term "open source" and would never use it. The comic title was "Open Source" and I couldn't change that, so I just switched who said what and went back to sleep. Only one person wrote in post-change to complain about "Open Source" still being used in the title - Stallman himself
  • Stallman's well-known opposition to the term "open source" stems from the fact that "open source" refers specifically to a methodology for software development involving allowing customers to actively participate in development and testing of software products by giving them access to in-development source code and soliciting feedback; as such, the term was first adopted as a means to promote free software ideas to business interests. In contrast, Stallman and the FSF view free software as a political issue concerning the basic freedoms that should belong to all computer users, and thus 'open source' as an appeal to software businesses misses the point of getting individuals to think about their rights as users.

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"Richard Stallman is famous for beginning the GNU Project and is outspoken on the topic of Open Source software and Free software." Specifically, he is an outspoken critic of Open Source, and an outspoken proponent of Free Software. Blaisepascal (talk) 02:09, 29 August 2012 (UTC)

Ah, thank you. That's good to note. lcarsos (talk) 05:25, 29 August 2012 (UTC)

GPL isn't a recursive abbreviation for ‘GNU Public License’, then it would have to be called ‘GPL Public License’. GNU in itself, on the other hand, is a recursive abbreviation for 'GNU's Not Unix'. -- 15:38, 9 March 2013 (UTC)

 Done (Though I actually noted this myself and fixed it; then noticed your comment :-) ) Mark Hurd (talk) 10:45, 18 April 2013 (UTC)

The pronunciation of GNU is actually "g'new" not "new". 02:06, 29 December 2013 (UTC)

~ ~ ~ ~ Aren't ninjas supposed to be stealthy and silent? Of course, they could have been made to announce their mission to Richard before (perhaps) killing him, but still... (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The point is not to kill him, but to startle him into a response to an absurd situation which the pranksters find humorous. -Pennpenn 03:00, 15 January 2015 (UTC)

The comic isn't quite explained here. Did the ninjas kill RMS, or were they just pretend-ninjas trying to scare him? Is the blob in the last panel a blood smear or a hood being carried? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Read harder, there is RMS's comment on them running away. 21:02, 22 July 2014 (UTC)
But the explanation did not at all mention the real joke of the comic that the ninjas are just pranksters that get a kick out of scarring paranoia guys with weapons readily at hand, so they can get threatened and hear them talk nonsense before running away without really fighting. Yes this could be dangerous but so can climbing mountains and parachuting... They get their kicks from this and plan to do at least three more as from the names mentioned in the last panel and the title text. This has now been included in the explanation by me, but there seems to be missing some info yet... --Kynde (talk) 10:17, 18 March 2016 (UTC)

I have a bit of an issue with calling non-free software traditional. RMS is the traditionalist here. He created GNU for that very purpose, to get back to the traditional method of being able to access and modify your source, and then share any fixes you made with the wider community. 21:02, 22 July 2014 (UTC)

Linus Torvalds isn't "mostly harmless". 16:25, 25 March 2015 (UTC)

There is a bit of allusion to the movie Brazil, where government goons break into people's homes, cutting through walls and ceilings, in their pursuit of idealists who provide free services -- which is incompatible with the governing economic system. Mountain Hikes (talk) 21:52, 24 September 2015 (UTC)

Im not an active editor of this site, but i couldn't help but notice and point out that the grammar of this specific page is rather rough around the edges. if someone has the time to address this, that would be fantastic. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I am, I do, and I have. You're welcome! Alcazar84 (talk) 20:51, 11 October 2017 (UTC)

It's not "two ninjas were having fun", it's that two people were having fun. They dressed as ninjas to mess with him. There's no reason to think they actually are ninjas. That's just silly. —Kazvorpal (talk) 01:38, 22 October 2019 (UTC)

My dad actually had a beer with Linus Torvalds. Maen_the_Magnificent (talk) 21:07, 28 June 2023 (UTC)

...but was it a free beer? ;) 00:53, 29 June 2023 (UTC)
It was libre beer. 15:20, 29 September 2023 (UTC)