I'm appalled, but not surprised. There are two possibilities here. Either Stallman is so socially incompetent that he does not realize how profoundly offense his comments are, on so many levels, and he has nobody to inform him how to be considerate and gracious towards others; or, he is aware of the offensiveness of his remarks, and does not give a damn about how petty, childish, trite, and irresponsible they show him to be, as he pisses away his opportunity of a lifetime to win support and positive regard for his movement.
Either possibility - the clueless lack of empathy, or the intentional hostility towards those who do not think identically to him - disqualifies him as legitimate moral leader of anything, let alone a revolution to change the world into following his ethical high ground.
I've been sympathetic to his cause for decades, but I've now had it with him. I would now no longer even be willing to join his parade to honor the local dogcatcher.
Some might say, if you criticize, let's see you do better. All right. Here is the statement Stallman should have made, as official position of the EFF. I retain copyright to this statement, and explicitly forbid any use of my words to benefit the EFF.
What Stallman should have said:
Steve Jobs died at an age while many expect, and receive, further decades of opportunity to make their mark on the world. Let us share our sympathy with his family, friends, and colleagues, as they mourn someone close and dear to them. Despite his life being cut short early by tragic illness, Steve made a mark on the world that has profoundly affected and inspired millions, whether or not they are in the computer technology field. He combined his own ideas with many of the best, most original, creative ideas, discoveries and inventions of many others, starting with Steve Wozniak in the 1970's and continuing through to leadership of what became the world's highest-valued company.
Because he passionately felt certain about his visions, Jobs was relentless and sometimes confrontational in driving himself and others towards their fulfillment. As a consequence, many technological developments were commercialized, brought to market, and promoted in a way that appealed to millions of customers worldwide.
The original successes of Apple Computer were based on marvelous wonders of technical efficiency that were just starting to become widely known and widely affordable: more highly integrated computer chips, and more user-friendly software. Wozniak combined these in an ingenious way to make a little machine that delighted the Homebrew Computer Club. Woz continued these developments with a machine more accessible to the masses, the Apple II, complete with its own self-contained keyboard, case, power supply, and programming language.
A major part of this machine's success was that both hardware and software were completely documented and customizable. Hardware was available for others to customize through building accessory hardware that plugged into the open slots of the machine, without any need to pay a royalty fee, work around a patent, or send a portion of the revenue to Apple after signing a non-disclosure agreement. Software was also available to be understood and built upon. Hardware schematics and source code were both published as part of the standard package of manuals that came with the initial generations of the Apple II.
Jobs had the opportunity to learn about leading research being done in a large corporate setting, at Xerox, where many ingenious, visionary, inventive people integrated existing research ideas from industry and from higher education research into computers. The Xerox team then went beyond these past ideas to new concepts about how computers could be user friendly, fun, interactive, collaborative, and understandable.
A key ingredient of the Xerox research was complete publication of the source code, accessible to any user to read and modify and extend. In this way, the Xerox researchers worked with some of the same spirit of collaborative discovery that made MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab such an appealing, delightful place of teamwork. Both Smalltalk, at Xerox, and Lisp, at MIT, grew into large, dynamic systems that had no hidden, locked-down, private, exclusive areas limited to priests or kings of the data center. Both worked towards a computer literacy that including the ability for everyone, not just math and engineering nerds, to be able to write their own software to suit their own needs.
These ideals are a tremendous part of the emotional appeal people feel as they reflect on the work of Steve Jobs. Unfortunately, Steve drifted away from some of these ideals in his later years. Without taking anything away from the significance of Steve's many successful achievements, we can also note that he made a few large and costly mistakes along his path. Commentators have already pointed out some of those goofs, such as the overheating issue of the Apple III, and the infamous handwriting recognition of the Newton. What concerns me today is my own focus on software. What concerns me here is that, in the rush to celebrate the good that Steve did, people might overlook a more subtle, yet perhaps more important mistake: his move away from the spirit of open, collaborative sharing that was behind his initial successes.
With the Lisa, and then the Mac, and on to today's phones and gadgets and tablets, Apple has increasingly locked down a portion of their system as reserved, holy, sacred, untouchable and unquestionable. Full blueprints and full source code are no longer available. The possibility of the user putting their own choice of software, at all levels down to the operating system, on the hardware that they purchased and own, is increasingly cut off. The ability to read the source code, learn from ingenious successes, and observe and work around mistakes, is gone. In addition, commerce using these machines now passes through a central and unaccountable gateway in the hands of a corporation whose highest legal purpose is to increase its own profits and market share, not to serve the commonwealth of all users and researchers.
Apple is not alone in this transition. We see it with Apple's main rivals, such as Microsoft, and even with Google's Android, alleged to be open source but with just as much lock-down at the core as in MacOS and iOS.
As we reflect on how Steve Jobs changed the world, I encourage, invite and exhort everyone to not discard some of the best ideas that amazed Steve and helped him succeed: free, open source software that can be redistributed, read, understood, modified, improved, shared, upgraded and replaced, for the benefit of all. Let us not lose this visionary ideal at the same time that we have lost the visionary.
Now, what if Stallman had published a manifesto such as this? Wouldn't it have been better than a snippy little fart of an insult that all of Apple's customers are "fools?"