Stallman to defend free software at NYU

Stallman, founder of the free software GNU project and author of the GNU General Public Licence, will speak from the same podium where Craig Mundie, Microsoft's senior vice president of strategies, offered a scathing commentary a month ago on the open-source model for developing and distributing software. NYU's Leonard N. Stern School of Business has asked Stallman to deliver a counterargument to Mundie's comments, which have resonated through the open source and free software communities like thunder. In an interview Friday, Stallman said his speech will be less geared toward attacking Microsoft, and more toward clarifying what his movement is all about.

"I'm not going to try to refute (Mundie's) specific points, because I don't think they warrant that," Stallman said. "What I have to say is the facts that he doesn't want people to know."

Stallman said he will focus on the key elements of the free software movement, a 17-year old philosophy that its supporters say has given rise to a free exchange of ideas between software developers and led to the creation of commercial products such as the GNU/Linux operating system.

The original philosophy, cemented two years after its creation when Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF), is buoyed by the concept that computer programmers should share, copy, modify and redistribute software free of charge. He also plans to discuss the difference between open source and free software -- one he says has been confused in the media.

"They are more than just a slight difference," he said. "Both are names of categories of software and movements and philosophies. The difference is what values we consider important."

While it will take an hour-long speech to detail those differences, both are counter to the commercial philosophy of copyrighted software, such as Microsoft's model. Stallman said the foundation of the argument against commercial software is embodied in the GNU General Public License (GPU), a copy protection license used in a number of open source projects. Microsoft's Mundie argued last month that the GPU hinders a company's ability to control intellectual property. The GPU states that anyone can add or alter software protected under the GPU, but must send any changes back for review. Also, any new products created from a GPU-protected software program must in turn make its code open.

The event is intended to do more than just "correct the myths propagated by Mundie's statements," as the FSF wrote in a statement Friday. Rather, it is intended to lay out the importance of "freedom and our way of life," Stallman said.

"If you can't write something that contributes to free software, you should write nothing," he said.

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Matt Berger

PC World

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