Richard Mathew Stallman is the rightful father of the Free Software movement and an international celebrity by his own right. The man behind the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation, it was he who propounded the General Public License (GPL), also dubbed ‘copyleft’ – a license that quite literally sets software free. Stallman is fully dedicated to his cause of liberating the world from the shackles of proprietary software. Anoop and I caught up with him at the International Free Software Convention held at the Mascot Hotel, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on December 11. The otherwise-irascible Mr Stallman gracefully opened his mind, even revealing tidbits of his famed sense of humor in between. 🙂
How did you get yourself acquainted with computers?
Richard M. Stallman: When I was nine years old, I got access to computer manuals at a summer camp. I tried learning them by myself. The manuals were similar to general-life puzzles and I found them fascinating. It was only later, at around 1969 when I first saw and used a real computer. Then on, there was no looking back
Could you differentiate between Free Software and Open Source? We’ve heard a lot of versions, but it’s always delightful to listen from the horse’s mouth!
RMS: (Smiles) This is the question I answer the most! Both movements are based on entirely different philosophies. In the free software movement, we try to share and collaborate. The free software movement is a social faction. Non-free, paid software literally binds hapless users with chains. We help people break free. Open source is just a technically superior model which gives technically enhanced results by freeing the source code. Its values are narrowly practical, though. Still, both Free Software and Open source converge at the technical level.
How has the Free Software Foundation evolved, since its inception?
RMS: It all started with a small coterie of programmers along with me, devoted to the creation of the GNU operating system, in 1984. With time, we moved on. Now, the organization has shifted its perspective to one synonymous with a social movement rather than a technical lobby.
It’s commonly seen that most Free Software tends to imitate existing software. What’s your take on this?
RMS: Are you suggesting that free software is plagiaristic? Not really. But it’s true that Free software does imitate, quite often. The prime reason behind this is that the main goal is freedom. Originality and innovation are secondary.
It’s a fact that Non-free software dollars actually drive a major chunk of today’s economy. Consider a hypothetical scenario where the entire world was to embrace Free Software one fine morning. What would happen to software companies in such a case? Wouldn’t this result in pinks slips delivered en-masse?
RMS: There are thousands of jobs people can have instead of writing non-free software. In fact, in a macro-perspective, only a minor fraction of the coders work for the development of non-free software. Most paid programmers work towards building custom software based on specific user demand. That leaves only a minor section of programmers writing non-free software: a job they can easily avoid. When a society decides to break free from proprietary software, not a single job gets pruned in the process. Flawed economic policies are the root cause behind the increasing unemployment rate. Needless to say, embracing Free Software clearly involves negligible revenue loss and gargantuan benefits.
Has Free Software caught up with Non-free software?
RMS: To a great extent, yes. But, there’s still ground for progress.
Having taken the Free Software movement to a social perspective, you must be having strong political views. Where do you stand, politically?
RMS: I stand for freedom and democracy. I believe in the role of a welfare state which takes care of all its citizens and promotes general well-being.
How do you fund yourself?
RMS: My speeches constitute my prime revenue source. People pay for my food and travel if I’m going over to some place. They also pay me a small fee. Now I’ve started a new model of revenue generation. I auction Linux collectibles for a living. Yesterday, I made some money for myself, selling a few cute Tux penguins.
What is the future of Richard Stallman?
RMS: The Stallman of the future will be a liberator of the cyberspace.
It’s a previlege to eat with you, Richard! 😛
Thank you for your time, Sir!
RMS: Happy Hacking!