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GNU is Not Unix

Stallman — 20 Years of Explaining Free Software 218

Posted by kdawson
from the evolution-of-an-idea dept.
H4x0r Jim Duggan writes "The first recorded talk by Richard Stallman on free software was in 1986, so I've picked from the 2006 recordings and have made a transcript of a recent talk: The Free Software Movement and the Future of Freedom. Those two are the only transcripts of his general free software talk. Others that exist are on specific topics such as patents, GPLv3, copyright, etc. For those who've been reading Slashdot during the gradual evolution of Stallman's pronouncements, it's interesting to see what has changed over 20 years."
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Stallman — 20 Years of Explaining Free Software

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  • evolution (Score:3, Funny)

    by Speare (84249) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @01:16PM (#17525148) Homepage Journal
    For those who've been reading Slashdot during the gradual evolution of Stallman's pronouncements, it's interesting to see what has changed over 20 years.

    Nothing for you to see here; move along.

    Truer words never 403'd.

  • Open Stallman (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @01:18PM (#17525170) Homepage Journal
    How about posting audio streams/downloads of all Stallman recordings, and accepting publicly submitted transcripts on a Wiki? Let the community decide what Stallman said, including comments by Stallman. Such a project could be completed for cheap, fairly quickly - the open source way.
    • by Hijacked Public (999535) * on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @01:24PM (#17525246)
      How about just replacing the entire Stallman with a CGI character that reads from a wiki based on public transcripts?
    • by BobNET (119675)
      How about posting audio streams/downloads of all Stallman recordings, and accepting publicly submitted transcripts on a Wiki?

      Make sure a Free software license is used, so we have the freedom to edit his speeches to make him say whatever we want, provided we allow others the same freedom on our edits...

      • Actually, that would be a mistake and completely unnecessary in order to give you the freedom you need to make and publish rebuttals. You shouldn't be able to alter what other people say when they're airing their views, as is the case with political commentary. You should be able to quote them and rebut, and this is a freedom you already have in the US thanks to fair use exceptions to copyright law. While fair use is under attack, the remedy is certainly not to let people misstate other people's views.

        Pe
    • Let the community decide what Stallman said, including comments by Stallman.

      Any misunderstanding of what Stallman said will not be corrected by allowing "the community [to] decide what Stallman said". Unlike the expressions of ancient speakers, we can hear his recordings, read the transcripts of what he said, and email him.

      Also, such work is being done (albeit not on a wiki, which poses some minor technical advantages) thanks to the work of the FSF and FSFE.

      Finally, it's worth noting that Stallma

    • A lot of the time he was telling the same message to different groups of people - so it would be very repetative. As a native english speaker (not from the USA where such changes are popular) I was offended by his redefinition of the word "free" to make a point to first time I heard it - let alone the tenth time he jumped down some poor journalists throat for using the word the way the dictionary defines it - but that does get the message accross even if it did make dozens of interviews say exactly the sam
      • by epine (68316)

        Just about everyone would be better served if Stallman promoted his own brand of "vridom" (self replicating viral-freedom) instead of insisting on what the very broad word "freedom" ought to mean to everyone else, even though his personal slant on the word is narrow, off-center, and twisted almost to the point of counterintuitiveness. If he would content himself to promote "vridom" (or any such word of his own coinage and definition) then maybe finally we could all agree about our disagreements, but Stallm
  • by grimJester (890090) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @01:20PM (#17525190)
    Here [compsoc.com], actually seems more interesting than TFA (This is Slashdot; I didn't read TFA). To quote:

    I work within the political system of the European Union to ensure that the development and use of free software is not hampered by new legislation. The best known example of a legislative project I worked on is the "Software Patents Directive".
  • by Anonymous Coward
    it has been twenty years and three showers ago since his first speech. Amazing.
    • by Nimrangul (599578)
      Oh come now, you must be exaggerating - I can't believe Stallman's showered three times since then!
    • by Sax Maniac (88550)
      So true. Someone who took three showers over 20 years would surely bring a tear to my eye... but not because I'm wistful or sad.
  • by Zirtix (443841) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @01:42PM (#17525450) Homepage
    Wouldn't it be more efficient to just distribute the diff?

    --- oldspeech
    +++ newspeech
    @@ -202905339 +202905339,2 @@
    Software should be free.
    +Software patents are bad.
  • security (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bcrowell (177657)
    One thing that really sounds dated in the 1986 lecture is the discussion of passwords at the MIT AI lab. This was back when people were on local networks, and they knew everybody else who was on the network with them. People wrote C code that looked like "for (;*q;) {*p++ = *++q}", and didn't worry about buffer overflows, because hey, what kind of idiot would intentionally crash a program by putting in an unreasonably long input string? Also, in a modern university, some of the hardware and software hacking
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
      ``People wrote C code that looked like "for (;*q;) {*p++ = *++q}", and didn't worry about buffer overflows, because hey, what kind of idiot would intentionally crash a program by putting in an unreasonably long input string?''

      You mean that those days are over?
    • ``People ... didn't worry about buffer overflows, because hey, what kind of idiot would intentionally crash a program by putting in an unreasonably long input string?''

      This line of thinking is not followed at the FSF: they have a policy that programs must not contain arbitrary limits. Not that they always follow this strictly, but at least it's in their coding standards.
    • Re:security (Score:4, Informative)

      by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @03:39PM (#17528016) Homepage Journal
      Way to totally miss the point. The purpose of introducing passwords to the MIT lab back in the early 80s wasn't to protect user's content from people hacking into the system over a network. The purpose of introducing passwords was to give administrators control over the use of the computers. It doesn't matter if today we have large networks and buffer overflows and the assumption that every machine contains confidential information. That wasn't the purpose of introducing passwords. That wasn't what RMS, and other hackers of his era, found offensive. The key message to take away from the password incident is that some people don't believe that the person sitting in front of the keyboard should have complete freedom to do whatever they want to do on the computer.. and some people do. If you want a modern version of this message, think about DRM on home computers. Or region coding on DVD players. A computer is a tool. The operator of that tool should have complete control over how it is used. If we don't have control over our tools, we can never be free.
      • by Servo (9177)
        And as the OWNER of the MIT lab computers, MIT had full right to restrict who could access the system. Stallman wants a completely communistic computing environment where any user can use any system for whatever s/he wants.
        • by QuantumG (50515) *
          Yeah, no. You have no understanding of the history of the MIT lab.

      • by dbIII (701233)

        The key message to take away from the password incident is that some people don't believe that the person sitting in front of the keyboard should have complete freedom to do whatever they want to do on the computer

        Since some people cannot be trusted to not run sotware that consumes all bandwidth for the entire network on file sharing of pr0n on a work computer I am certainly one of those people. If you don't own it you don't get full control unless you show you can be trusted with it. This is where I str

      • The idea that "the person sitting in front of the keyboard should have complete freedom to do whatever they want on the computer" is, at best, misleading.

        The person who owns the computer should have that freedom, not some random person who happens to be physically proximate. It's their computer, not the operator's.

        If Stallman just got upset about the rules laid down by the owners of the assets he was permitted, at their discretion, to access, then he'd just be a nut. This was just a trigger that got

  • by ravee (201020) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @02:01PM (#17525700) Homepage Journal
    I have viewed a couple of videos of Stallman's speeches and have transcripted one of them. Listening him speak, I couldn't help thinking that he has all the qualities of a leader. His speeches strike a cord and entertain at the same time. He has very good oratorical skills.
    • by Ed Avis (5917)
      I've heard RMS speak and while he's not terrible, he's not the world's greatest orator either; his speeches tend to ramble a little, as you can see from the 1986 transcript. I won't mention the picking-skin-off-feet-and-eating-it video - you can search for it if you must.
    • by gr8_phk (621180)
      I appreciate most of what RMS says. I strongly disagree with his numbering scheme for the 4 essential software freedoms. Read people count starting at 1. It's stupid to have the leader of a movement use an inside joke when giving a public talk about something so important. Freedom zero.... How stupid.

      Hey Richard, how many freedoms are there?
      Four.
      What's the fourth one?
      There isn't one... Only a zeroth through third.

      This nonsense has got to stop. The GPL is fairly readable, but this stupid geekism rig
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by honkycat (249849)
        Regardless of how you number them, the ordinals don't have a "zeroth" element. If you start numbering from zero, then the first element is number zero, the fourth is number three. I didn't read/listen to TFA, but if he really said there is no fourth freedom, he's wrong and I agree with you. If he's just numbering from zero, then I have no problem with that aspect.
      • In tabletop role-playing games, people often talk about rule 0: "the GM's word is law," "players can leave at any time," etc. It's called rule 0 because it's so obvious that it's not generally listed in the rules.

        Rule 0 for free software is -- basically -- the right to run it. Again, so obvious that it's silly that it needs to be there. What use would be a program that you couldn't run? However, sometimes it's helpful to label these obvious rules, just in case someone forgets them.

        That said, who really
      • Just caught this. Explains things a bit better than my earlier post.

        If there are a million people who want a certain change in a Free program, then by chance, a few thousand of them will know how to program, and sooner or later, a few of them will make that change and publish their modified version and then all those million people will switch and thus we can see that only programmers can directly exercise freedoms one and three but every user can directly exercise freedoms zero and two - the freedoms to

      • I'd say that's a minor concern that isn't hampering anyone's appreciation of software freedom. That concern is minor, like the excuse others (including on /.) use to dismiss his message out of hand—his gruffness and unwillingness to placate questions loaded with perspectives that silently support non-freedom. I know how his responses sometimes annoy people, and I too think that he could sometimes find ways to make the exact same point without brushing people off, but the best way to fix it is to bec
  • by ortholattice (175065) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @02:05PM (#17525774)
    Although it is apparent that he disapproves CC licences in general, RMS didn't seem to touch on an aspect of "non-commercial use" CC licenses that I find troubling. The problem is that "non-commercial" is not clearly defined. Certainly there can be blatant commercial use that is easy to identify, but there are many situations where it is not so clear. Suppose, for example, the material is posted a personal home page, which is provided free by the ISP in exchange for advertisements. Does that constitute "commercial use"? Clearly, the ISP is profiting from the material if it is drawing people to that page and thus the ads. It is easy to come up with many such examples, and it is even hard to come up with examples where the use is disconnected from the slightest taint of a direct or indirect commercial connection. Is a Red Cross advertisement commericial or noncommercial? If the Red Cross paid a magazine for a full-page ad, then the magazine is earning some money from it.

    I will usually avoid using "non-commercial use" material in my own work. For one thing, it is incompatible with say GPL-licensed software, since e.g. a CC-licensed "non-commercial use" icon would prevent a commercial entity from using it, defeating the purpose of the GPL.

  • "Producing a proprietary program is not the same contribution to society as producing the same program and letting it be free. Because writing the program is just a potential contribution to society. The real contribution to the wealth of society happens only when the program is used. And if you prevent the program from being used, the contribution doesn't actually happen. So, the contribution that society needs is not these proprietary programs that everyone has such an incentive to make, the contribution

    • But.... You can't really use closed source, proprietary software, because the inevitable bugs will eventually bring it down, and the vendor will refuse to support you. One of RMS's motivations was a closed printer driver that kept him from getting a printer from working.

      Raise your hand if you've never had a piece of hardware go unused because of a driver problem and a unresponsive vendor.
      • You can't really use closed source, proprietary software, because the inevitable bugs will eventually bring it down, and the vendor will refuse to support you.

        Funny. Millions of people use closed source, proprietary software every day. They've been doing it for a long time, and generally anymore by the time those problems arise, the people or company using it are ready to get a new [printer|computer|whatever] anyway.

        Do I advocate open source software? yes. Do I use it? yes, but I also use closed source
    • by FallLine (12211) * <fallline AT operamail DOT com> on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @03:28PM (#17527744)
      The idea of owning information is harmful in three different levels. Materially harmful on three different levels, and each kind of material harm has a corresponding spiritual harm.

      |SNIP|

      The first level is just that it discourages the use of the program, it causes fewer people to use the program, but in fact it takes no less work to make a program for fewer people to use.

      |SNIP|

      The second level of harm comes when people want to change the program, because no program is really right for all the people who would like to use it. Just as people like to vary recipes, putting in less salt say, or maybe they like to add some green peppers, so people also need to change programs in order to get the effects that they need.

      |SNIP|

      The third level of harm is in the interaction between software developers themselves. Because any field of knowledge advance most when people can build on the work of others, but ownership of information is explicitly designed to prevent anyone else to doing that.
      That is it folks. In other words, his argument is closed source software is wrong on pragmatic grounds because:

      A) fewer people will use the software (because it tries to prevent people from using w/o paying)

      B) the software is less useful to people because they can't modify the original program

      C) proprietary software is less valuable because other developers in lateral areas can't learn from it.

      It seems pretty clear to me that his arguments failed on these pragmatic grounds and that he's had to shift his anti-ownership rational to far more nebulous and entirely philosophical arguments about "freedom" for its own sake.

      The facts are:

      A) Contrary to his "first level" of harm: proprietary software has vastly outcompeted open software despite its barriers.

      B) Contrary to his "second level" of harm: that most users still prefer closed source software despite the fact that they can't tinker with it and despite the fact that it costs more/has more barriers.

      C) Contrary to his "third level" of harm: that proprietary software still appeals more to its end users despite the fact that proprietary developers benefit little from the pool of open source code. This despite the fact that open source developers supposedly have a huge advantage over proprietary developers because they can exploit the GPL and other copyleft code to a level that their counterparts cannot.

      In short, he's given up on his pragmatic rationale since they've been proven almost entirely wrong. I'll concede that there is something to be said for the sharing of code in some cases, but we're to choose rationally between no ownership vs choice of ownership (the status quo) that the latter is the only sensible and pragmatic choice given his own (old) arguments and the empirical evidence (or lack thereof) from his so-called copyleft movement.
      • A) Contrary to his "first level" of harm: proprietary software has vastly [out-competed] open software despite its barriers.

        Thought experiment: if somehow, suddenly, Linux closed all the sources and took a non-free license, would they gain or lose users? If somehow, suddenly, Microsoft opened the sources of Vista under the GPL (or BSD, or whatever), would they gain or lose users? Correlation vs. causation and all that.

        B) Contrary to his "second level" of harm: that most users still prefer closed source so

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by FallLine (12211) *

          I think that your arguments focus on the wrong side of the point. Proprietary software is popular, true. That doesn't mean that open sourcing it would make it less popular.

          To cut to the chase, this is your flawed argument, not mine. The debate truly is not whether the act of open sourcing existing software itself impacts user adoption: most users don't even know what source code is nor would they care. The debate is about whether or not open source licensing creates an environment condusive to the produ

          • Ah, that clarifies things. I'm assuming that the user in question is informed of the relevant differences (the four freedoms), and given the option. With that assumption, I don't think that any user would choose closed source, whether for selfish (piracy) or other reasons. Thus, the "thought experiment". That's also the side that RMS is taking -- the end user's side.

            On the corporation's side (especially the corporation making most of their money from closed source software), it's not such an easy choice
            • by ray-auch (454705)
              It's insane to sell software as a product (rather than labor) anyway. You can reproduce it for negligible cost, and it's the developers' time that needs to be paid for. Why not just pay for the developers' time in the first place?


              Sometimes this happens. It's called T&M (time & materials).

              Every single software company I've worked for would _love_ it if all contracts were T&M. I would. Makes life _so_ much easier.

              Guess what ? Customers don't want to pay T&M - they want fixed-price developm
              • [All] you have to do is find that first customer... (call me if you do, I have some software development ideas he might beinterested in...).

                Truth. It's an interesting economic problem, though. Given a commodity (developer time, in this case), and a party desiring a related/child commodity (the final product), how can currency be exchanged for the most benefit (and least risk) for both commodity-creator and interested party?

                Million dollar question right there, folks. Free software and art would both want

            • by FallLine (12211) *
              You aren't really presenting any argument.

              The problem for the current business model is one of timing. Developers don't generally work without pay, and clients don't generally pay without work. Right now, the exchange is cash-for-product, with deliverables being passed either way. It could instead be cash-for-development, with the clients funding work on future products that would then be delivered -- sort of a subscription model. A good company would continue to do good work, and it would be cost effectiv

              • Sounds like we agree on the main point (that nobody has a viable free-information business model), but disagree on the details. That's alright with me.

                How is Photoshop "insane" while GIMP is "sane" when the former is so much better than the latter?

                Quality has nothing to do with this. I'm talking "irrational," as in: it's irrational to attempt to completely lock down a piece of information when you must present an external party with the key. The free rider problem again: how are you going to sell this if

          • by TopherC (412335)
            Your arguments here seem to be mostly made on the basis of present-day economics. "If approach X maximizes profits for company Y, then X is a good thing to do." But why would we judge an essentially ethical decision such licensing on the grounds of profit? Are there any cases where ethics are correctly judged based on one person/company's bottom line? Sure, there is corruption all the time, and lots of companies make decisions on the basis of profitability alone, but please don't argue that it's right,
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by daigu (111684)

        Let's do a thought experiment shall we? Let's assume your rendering of his argument is correct and let's change "software" to "information" - as a concrete example, newspaper information available in sources such as the New York Times (NYT), Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and free (no cost) versions available through Yahoo or other services.

        Fewer people do use the WSJ versus the NYT. It costs money to get the WSJ. NYT requires registration. Now compare Yahoo and other sources that have no cost and no barriers

        • by FallLine (12211) *

          Let's do a thought experiment shall we? Let's assume your rendering of his argument is correct and let's change "software" to "information" - as a concrete example, newspaper information available in sources such as the New York Times (NYT), Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and free (no cost) versions available through Yahoo or other services.

          Fewer people do use the WSJ versus the NYT. It costs money to get the WSJ. NYT requires registration. Now compare Yahoo and other sources that have no cost and no barriers s

          • by daigu (111684)

            Newspaper content is by its very nature only valuable if it is timely and any one copy only represents a fraction of their capital investment...

            If this is true, can you explain why companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to access newspaper articles as far back as the 1980s? You are looking at newspapers from only one perspective - the perspective of a person buying a single, paper copy of a newspaper. It does not reflect other aspects of the business.

            For example, suppose I am a writer or a busin

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AeroIllini (726211)

        In short, he's given up on his pragmatic rationale since they've been proven almost entirely wrong.

        They're not proven wrong yet.

        Remember that the copyleft movement is a movement about purity of design; in essence, all of his conclusions about open-source vs. closed-source software are based on the assumption of all else being equal. With no other factors involved, his three points about software are absolutely correct. More people will use a free product over a product they have to pay for, if those produc

    • by vga_init (589198)
      It has been more widely adopted in some markets, but these markets are guaranteed to fail unless they upgrade their software continually. This could mean buying new licenses, switching platforms when proprietary systems lose support. A proprietary system can't be kept alive for as long as Free software because the businesses behind them always die themselves or kill the product. It's not a product made for the benefit of the client, so the client has to struggle consistently to pay out for proprietary so
  • ... a recent picture of RMS? I thought he was taller.
  • Maybe if you hadn't re-defined the word "free", you wouldn't need to explain it so much.
  • Stallman has been in the public eye for 20 years now.

    I find myself wondering if the FSF will manage to remain visible for another 20. I don't believe the recent shift towards activism is going to be good for them, long term. Software is always where they have brought people the most benefit...and given that Linux is so involved with corporations now, it has become more important than ever that the toolchain be maintained by a non-profit.

    Sadly, the FSF don't seem to be interested in making that, which was
  • Way too much talk, not enough haircuts.

    This sounds funy, but if he wants the sheep to listen, he, as a wolf, should hide in sheeps clothes. Want to impress the decision takers? Look like one!

    Now he just looks like a stoney who says: "hey man. Listen. I have, like. this groovy idea, that, like we can make, like software free. You know, like for the people from the people. It will be awesome. Grouphug."
  • RMS says that most software out there is custom software that is developed for a single user, and that this software is - unless proprietary software - not unethical to develop.

    This is an interesting position I have not seen him express previously.

    He seems to have in mind a very constrained set of liberties. His essential software liberties only apply within user communities. Why is this? Because, he says that a single user who contracts to have developed and to own a piece of custom software, can himself b

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