The Teachings of Richard Stallman - The Cliffs Notes
By barton808 on Jan 29, 2007
Last Saturday I got to present at PFOSSCON '07 held on Oahu at the University of Hawaii Manoa. It was my first time out speaking on behalf of Sun's efforts in the Free and Open Source arena and I was really pleased the way it turned out. It was good crowd drawn from Hawaii's schools (students and teachers) as well as the professional community and I was impressed by the level of interest and the quality of questions I got.
The big draw for the event was the prophet of the Free Software movement, Richard Stallman. I had never met Stallman before and had heard all sorts of horrendous tales involving personal hygiene and a rabid set of beliefs. Needless to say I was a bit daunted that my first time speaking at a conference on Free and Open Source Software would be in front of him. The morning of the event, however, I felt much more at ease. When Stallman walked in the room, instead of the Thor like figure I had imagined, he was on the short side, had a bit of a pot-belly and a slight New York accent.
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|The PFOSSCON audience at the UH Manoa||Richard Stallman letting freedom ring|
(To view recordings, via Free Software, of the any of the talks given at PFOSSCON including Richard Stallman's, click here.)
I was impressed with the talk he gave which was lucid, non-technical
and sprinkled with humor and bad puns. Although I had read some of his
essays beforehand, the talk was a great introduction to the Free
Software movement, its history, its ideals and why its important. Here
are some of the notes I took:
Proprietary software keeps users divided and helpless
Free Software (Free as in Freedom, not Free as in beer) respects the users freedoms
In order to be considered free software it must reflect the four freedoms
Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs. [Access to the source code is a precondition for this.]
Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits. [Access to the source code is a precondition for this.]
GNU/Linux Operating System
Stallman began the GNU project in 1983 with the goal of developing a completely free operating system. He based GNU on UNIX since it was a portable operating system and would allow upward compatibility as well provide familiarity. He talked about the derivation of name GNU, which he considers one of the funniest words in the English language.
The GNU team had great success developing the userland but were having a tough time developing a kernel when low and behold a student in Finland came up with a kernel in 1991 called Linux. In 1992 the Linux kernel was relicensed under a free license and it was then combined with the GNU userland to create the GNU/Linux operating system.
He is adamant that the resulting operating system always be referred to as GNU/Linux (GNU+Linux) rather than simply Linux. Not only is "Linux" incorrect since it is only the kernel but, more importantly it leaves out the ideals of freedom which GNU is based on and which Linus Torvalds doesnt care about.
Open Source vs Free Software: Along the same lines as "Linux," Stallman is staunchly against using the term "Open Source" since embodies only the practical concerns and not the ethical issues and ideals that "Free Software" espouses. The concern here is that even if "Open Source"could get you to the goal of completely free software, "A fool and his freedom are soon parted." Without the ideological insight and vigilance that Free Software provides, it would be easy for proprietary software to find its way back in.
The Liberating of Java technology
For many years Java was a problem ("Free but Shackled") but the problem is now being solved since Sun is liberating the platform. We must learn a lesson from the history of Java, so we can avoid other such traps in the future.
The Free Software Community now has enemies
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) - Exporting censorship to other countries
Patent law - It makes software development a minefield.
Why do people develop free software
To be admired/appreciated
To increase your professional reputation (work you do here can help you get a job)
Gratitude (give back to the Free Software community)
Hatred for Microsoft (this is foolish since you shouldnt focus your hatred so narrowly) - Shallow
Money paid to develop Free Software by governments, universities, companies. - Shallow
Why Schools must use Free Software
To save money. This is superficial since proprietary vendors can donate software with the idea of, like a drug, students will get hooked on their software and then will be willing to pay for it after they graduate.
To educate the best programmers. If kids dont have access to the code they can only learn so much about how the program works and how to write good code.
Stallman then ended his presentation with the appearance of his
alter-ego, St. Ignucius (ill do a short blog on that in a couple of
Be sure to tune in tomorrow when I will take you through a pictorial oddessey of our travels on the Big Island
Pau for now...