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Richard Stallman

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Richard M. Stallman, otherwise known as RMS, St. IGNUcius,[1] and the Chief GNUisance,[2] is the founder of the free software movement, which is heavily involved with the core userspace of the Linux (or, in Stallman-speak, "GNU/Linux") operating system. To this degree (and perhaps greater), he can also be considered one of the founders of the modern free content movement.

More recently, Stallman has scaled back his coding activities[3] and concentrated more on his career as a prophet, traveling into all the world to preach the Gospel of Free Software to every creature. He that believeth and says "GNU/Linux" shall be saved;[4] but he that believeth not shall be shunned.[5] He's also a saint in the Church of Emacs, which requires that one say this confession of faith thrice: "There is no system but GNU, and Linux is one of its kernels."[6]

Stallman and the politics of free software[edit]

Largely defensive weapon of GNU.

Stallman started the free ("As In Speech, Not Beer") software movement as part of a broader political movement of freedom for computer users. He emphasizes the moral superiority of free software rather than the technical superiority; while the parallel open source movement started by Eric S. Raymond stresses that free software has low cost, better quality, and high flexibility, Stallman emphasizes that free software allows the user of a computer to be in complete control of that computer and know what is going on "under the hood."[7] However, although freedom is the main focus of the free software movement, the Free Software Foundation has published an article pointing out how free software can be more reliable.[8]

Stallman believes that any software that does not offer this freedom is morally inferior. Furthermore, he does not believe that any proprietary software offers this freedom, since governments and large corporations have designs on this freedom of users: "Proprietary software such as MS Windows and the Macintosh system is distributed in a scheme to keep the users divided and helpless."[9] Examples of this that Stallman cites are:

  • DRM (Digital Rights Management, or as he calls it, Digital Restrictions Management), the process of restricting digital media so it can only be viewed or played in certain ways. Stallman wrote a short story on this subject, The Right to Read.[10] When it was first published it was widely ridiculed as insane, but today we have digital books that are locked away by the publisher; if the latter goes bankrupt, chances are you won't be able to access "your" books
  • The Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its provisions against tools for violating copyright, such as the one that led to the arrest of the programmer Dmitry Sklyarov.
  • Making software and drivers available only for certain platforms and refusing documentation to writers of free and open source drivers.
  • Updates to Windows Vista that the user cannot deactivate.
  • Storing files in proprietary formats that only proprietary software can read.

Four Freedoms[edit]

Stallman believes that there are four things that a user needs to be free to do with a computer program before it can be called "free." These are called the "Four Freedoms"[11]:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Free software can be sold for profit, but it must respect the Four Freedoms once bought. [12]

Stallman and (GNU/)Linux[edit]

In 1983, Stallman started the GNU project, which aimed to write a free software operating system to be called "GNU," short for "GNU's Not Unix."

Over the next eight years, most of GNU was finished; it was generally programmed on the traditional "cathedral" model, meaning that while everyone was free to view and modify the system's code, only a small group of programmers were permitted to work on the "official" version.

The kernel of the GNU system, HURD,[13] was also being developed this way, but its development was going along very slowly.

In 1991, Linus Torvalds wrote the first draft of the Linux kernel and offered it and its source code for study, at first under a license prohibiting commercial use, but then eventually as free software under version 2 of the GNU GPL (as of 2012, it is still under that version, though some GNU software that is still in reasonably common use, and some other GPLed pieces of software now use version 3, released in 2007). Programmers who had previously been diverted towards the HURD project pitched in to help adapt the GNU software to work with the new functional kernel, and some GNU software became part of the 'Linux' free software operating system.

The whole operating system has become known as Linux. Stallman was sore about this: not only did that deprive the GNU project of any credit for those parts of it which are used in a working operating system,[14] but people were promoting Linux without promoting the ideals of free software.[15][16] He advocates for the use of the term "GNU/Linux," pronounced "GNU slash Linux,"[17] in cases where the Linux kernel is used as the core of the 'GNU operating system', which Stallman considers to be any operating system which may use a kernel with no link to GNU, system utilities that are in part derived from GNU projects but which could easily be replaced with more liberally licensed software, regardless of whether the software which runs on top of or in conjunction with any GNU software has any connection with GNU at all.

Appearance rider[edit]

Stallman is in very high demand as a speaker and doesn't charge a lot. And is, in his own words, "borderline autistic." So his rider[18] is a remarkable document. (Though Eric S. Raymond fully empathises with it.[19]) One wonders at the oddly specific paragraph about gifts of parrots.[20][21].


Stallman has spent a great deal of thought on how not to expose his personal data to others. For example, he uses wget with his e-mail to read off the web instead of actively browsing it. He also uses a Thinkpad X60 as his PC that runs with completely free software, even free BIOS.[22]

Stallman sleeps with a katana under his pillow.[23] Well, sort of.[24]

Social skills and personal hygiene[edit]

Oh dear fucking God.

Crankery, sort of[edit]

For a time, Stallman neither rejected nor accepted 9/11 conspiracy theories.[25] Along these lines, he expressed the view that one way US civilians can get even for 9/11 is to legalize gay marriage, since both the Muslim fanatics in Al-Qaeda and the Christian fanatics in the Bush administration hate teh gays.[26] This bit is less crankery and more applying engineering skills.

He's stated on multiple occasions that he doesn't believe there's enough to justify that pedophilia harms children[27][28].

He also supports the Organic Consumers Association's petition to mandate labeling of GMOs.[29]

External links[edit]


  1. http://www.stallman.org/saint.html
  2. http://www.gnu.org/people/webmeisters.html
  3. http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/25360
  4. http://www.gnu.org/gnu/why-gnu-linux.html
  5. http://archives.us.netrek.org/pipermail/tclug-list/2008-October/055072.html
  6. http://www.stallman.org/saint.html
  7. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/can-you-trust.html
  8. http://www.gnu.org/software/reliability.html
  9. http://archive.today/RwkRv
  10. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.html
  11. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html
  12. https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.en.html
  13. Also a mutually recursive acronym: HURD is short for "HIRD of Unix-Replacing Daemons," while HIRD is short for "HURD of Interfaces Representing Depth."
  14. http://www.gnu.org/gnu/gnu-linux-faq.html#why
  15. http://www.gnu.org/gnu/gnu-linux-faq.html#whycare
  16. http://www.gnu.org/gnu/why-gnu-linux.html
  17. "GNU+Linux," pronounced "GNU plus Linux" is also acceptable, if you feel saying "slash" makes you sound like an idiot.
  18. https://secure.mysociety.org/admin/lists/pipermail/developers-public/2011-October/007647.html
  19. http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=3850
  20. https://stallman.org/articles/extreme.html
  21. https://stallman.org/parrot-love.jpg
  22. http://stallman.org/stallman-computing.html
  23. [1]
  24. http://blag.xkcd.com/2007/04/19/life-imitates-xkcd-part-ii-richard-stallman/
  25. Oh come on.
  26. Scroll down a bit
  27. https://www.stallman.org/archives/2006-may-aug.html#05%20June%202006%20%28Dutch%20paedophiles%20form%20political%20party%29
  28. http://stallman.org/archives/2012-nov-feb.html#04_January_2013_%28Pedophilia%29
  29. http://www.stallman.org/archives/2013-mar-jun.html#08_June_2013_%28Urgent:_Require_labeling_of_GMOs%29