Each notion has an initiator. Thomas Edison invented an electric light bulb; Henry Ford made cars available for all of us; Mark Zuckerberg changed the way we communicate. Here at Freemake, we develop free alternatives to paid software and itās time to shed the light on the prophet of free software – Richard Stallman.
Richard Matthew Stallman was born on March 16, 1953 in New York. At high school Richard got to know computers at IBM New York Scientific Center and spent his summer holidays working as a developer. Several years later Richard enrolled at Harvard University and started his career as a programmer at MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
In 1984 Stallman left MIT and established GNU Project. Now he continues his work in GNU Project and Free Software Foundation (FSF) spreading ideas of free software movement.
Free Software Idea that Turned Over the World
Richard Stallman is a controversial person in IT world. He started advocating for free software the 1980s when both Apple and Microsoft were toddlers. The Stallmanās concept of āfree softwareā was revolutionary at that time.
He declared 4 principles of free software that later evolved in Stallmanās GNU Project philosophy:
- āThe freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.ā
However, the idea of āfree softwareā is not related to money. Free software can be pricey, but it should have an open code that other developers can examine and use. Let Richard speak for himself:
Achievements and Glory
Richard has established Free Software Foundation that worked out unified General Public License (GPL). Now GPL is the key end user license agreement for all open source software such as GIMP, Audacity, VLC Media Player, etc. Meanwhile, Stallman has programmed a lot himself and contributed to open source Unix OS. For instance, he has developed Emacs, an open source text editor with multiple extra features.
However, the main Stallmanās merit is free software propaganda. He passionately promotes the āfree softwareā idea on conferences, in interviews, media and on the web. Thanks to it, the 4 principles of free software are mostly recognized by the open source community. For example, a viral and geeky āFree Software Songā Richard signs should inspire developers to join the open source army:
The Dark Side
Richard Stallman wouldnāt be himself if he settled down within a peaceful open source community of hackers as he calls developers. Stallmanās critical point of view goes beyond Microsoft dominance opposition. He fights with all proprietary standards and heartlessly detects imperfections in free open source software. For instance, he rejects cell phones or web browsers (including Mozilla Firefox, an open source browser) as they track userās location or activity. Richard questions Android, mobile open source OS, for slow code provision, āclosedā hardware, patents and codecs. Stallman is strongly against DRM-content standards and imposes an alternative ācopyleftā approach to music, video, text and images that perceives all creative works as free for usage and distribution.
The Empire Strikes Back
Stallmanās āfree softwareā missionary divides developer world into two camps: supporters and haters. Even famous open source peers like Linus Torvalds, the author of Linux free OS, disagrees with a strong āfree softwareā idea pitch. Linus says:
āSo I’m pretty well-known for not exactly being a huge fan of the FSF and Richard Stallman … Don’t get me wrong – I love seeing people who are really passionate about what they do…. It’s just that when that becomes something exclusionary, it often gets ugly. It’s not passion for something, it becomes passion against something else.ā
Others programmers question the statement that all software should have open code and thus, there are no strings attached to the developer. They emphasize 2 specifically things: so who will fix bugs and where is the developer responsibility towards users? Both questions are crucial for user experience and shall not be ignored. As these questions remain unanswered, the Stallmanās approach to free software is always a place for a hot opinion battle.
The original and provocative Richardās judgments cannot leave anyone cold-blooded. Nevertheless, there are Stallmanās opponents and supporters, both camps recognize his impact on the software we use today and the popularity of free software.