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Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman, often referred to as RMS, is an influential figure in the world of computer programming, known for his unwavering commitment to free software and crystal clear argumentation. As a philosopher and a programmer, he has shaped the discourse on software freedom and digital rights. Stallman is the founder of the Free Software Foundation and is the driving force behind the GNU Project and the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL).

The Free Software Definition embodies Stallman’s philosophy on software freedom. It outlines the four essential freedoms that he believes are crucial for creating a thriving software community:

  1. Freedom 0: The freedom to run the software as you wish, for any purpose.
  2. Freedom 1: The freedom to help yourself by studying and changing the source code, thus enabling the user to understand and modify the software.
  3. Freedom 2: The freedom to help your neighbor by copying and distributing the software, ensuring that it remains accessible to all.
  4. Freedom 3: The freedom to help your community by creating and distributing modified versions of the software, which allows for innovation and adaptation.

(Freedom 0 is actually called like this because it was initially thought as unnecessary, but was eventually added)

Stallman emphasizes that freedom is essential for fostering a vibrant and collaborative community. He believes that only free software can lead to such a community, unlike Bruce Perens, who supports both free and closed software. To further explain his philosophy, Stallman often draws parallels with folklore and likens source code to a recipe that can be shared and adapted.

He also warns about the potential risk of losing our freedom in a world dominated by proprietary software. For Stallman, free software is not about getting something without paying (free beer), but rather about the freedom of speech and the ability to express oneself through code. He believes that these freedoms are crucial for removing obstacles to innovation and collaboration in the software world.

Under Stallman’s leadership, the Free Software Foundation has become a prominent organization that advocates for free software, digital rights, and the importance of preserving the four essential freedoms in the ever-evolving landscape of technology.

Views on the Open Source Movement

Richard Stallman’s view on the open source movement is that it focuses on practical advantages and does not emphasize the ethical and moral aspects of software freedom as much as the free software movement does. While both the open source movement and the free software movement share some common goals, such as promoting the use of software that can be freely used, modified, and shared, Stallman believes that the open source movement does not go far enough in addressing the issues of user freedom and autonomy.

Stallman has often highlighted the differences between the two movements by explaining that the free software movement is primarily concerned with promoting user freedom and empowering users, whereas the open source movement is more focused on the technical benefits of having access to the source code, such as improved reliability, security, and collaborative development.

He argues that the open source movement’s emphasis on practical advantages downplays the importance of the ethical principles that underpin the free software movement. This, according to Stallman, can lead to situations where developers and users might choose to use, create, or contribute to non-free software if they perceive it to offer better practical benefits, thereby compromising software freedom.

In summary, Richard Stallman appreciates the open source movement’s contributions to raising awareness about the benefits of collaborative software development and access to source code but believes that the movement lacks a strong emphasis on the ethical and moral aspects of software freedom, which he considers essential. As a result, he remains committed to promoting the free software movement and its focus on user freedom and autonomy.


Some of the controversies surrounding Stallman include:

  1. Personal conduct and communication style: Stallman is known for his strong opinions and uncompromising stance on various topics, which has led to disagreements and clashes within the free software community. Critics argue that his communication style can be abrasive and off-putting, potentially alienating potential allies and hindering the growth of the movement.

  2. Comments on Marvin Minsky and Jeffrey Epstein: In 2019, Stallman faced significant backlash for his comments on a mailing list discussion related to Marvin Minsky, a pioneer in artificial intelligence, and his alleged involvement with Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking victims. Stallman questioned the use of the term “sexual assault” in the context of Minsky’s actions, which many found inappropriate and insensitive. As a result of the controversy, Stallman resigned from his positions at MIT and the Free Software Foundation.

  3. Views on pedophilia and child pornography: Stallman has made controversial statements on the topic of pedophilia and child pornography in the past, arguing for the decriminalization of possession of child pornography and suggesting that some forms of pedophilia might not cause harm. These statements have been widely criticized, with many people finding them disturbing and morally repugnant.

Despite these controversies, Stallman has undeniably had a significant impact on the free software movement and has contributed to raising awareness about software freedom and digital rights.

Page last modified: 2023-05-06 16:44:40