Stallman: If you want freedom don't follow Linus Torvalds

The founder of the Free Software Foundation asks readers whether they will fight for freedom or be too lazy to resist.

"Please don't call GNU 'Linux'," says Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation. In this interview, he also asks readers whether they will fight for freedom or be too lazy to resist.

You launched the GNU Project in September 1983 to create a free Unix-like operating system, and have been the project's lead architect and organizer since then. Why did you start it in the first place? Back then it was already clear that software was becoming proprietary?

Stallman: In 1983, all operating systems were proprietary, non-free software. It was impossible to buy a computer and use it in freedom. Proprietary software keeps the users divided and helpless, by forbidding them to share it and denying them the source code to change it. The only way I could use computers in freedom was to develop another operating system and make it free software. I announced the plan in September 1983, and began development of the GNU system in January 1984.

On Feb. 3, 1976, Bill Gates wrote his famous "open letter to hobbyists" where he stated that software should be paid [for] just like hardware. Did you read that manifesto at the time? What was your impression back then?

Stallman: I never heard of it at the time. I was not a hobbyist, I was a system developer employed at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab. I had little interest in 16-bit microcomputers, because the lab's PDP-10, with a memory equivalent to 2.5 megabytes, was much more fun. Pascal is both weak and inelegant compared with Lisp, our high-level language, and for things that had to be fast, assembler language was more flexible.

I don't know how I would have reacted at that time if I had seen that memo. My experience at the AI lab had taught me to appreciate the spirit of sharing and free software, but I had not yet come to the conclusion that non-free (proprietary) software was an injustice. In 1976 I did not use any non-free software. It was only in 1977, when Emacs was ported to the non-free Twenex time-sharing system that I started to experience the nastiness of proprietary software. After that, I needed time to recognize this as an ethical and political issue.

What do you think about intellectual property?

Stallman: I am careful not to use that confusing term in my thoughts, because it does not refer to a coherent thing, although it misleadingly appears to. The term lumps together laws that raise totally different issues, as if they were one subject.

Copyrights exist, and I have opinions about copyright law. Patents also exist, but patent law is almost completely different from copyright law. My opinions about patent law are also completely different from my opinions about copyright law. Trademark law exists too and it has nothing at all in common with copyright law or patent law. If you want to think clearly about any of these laws, the first step is firmly insisting on treating them as three different subjects.

If you say something about "intellectual property," you are trying to generalize about three laws that are totally different. Whatever you say will be a foolish over-generalization, because that term only leads to such. I've decided to avoid that pitfall by never using the term. [See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.html for more explanation.]

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Peter Moon

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?