Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
GNU is Not Unix Books Media Book Reviews

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade 609

Posted by timothy
from the voted-most-likely-to-change-the-world dept.
danny writes: "'Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software' is an insightful biography of a figure whose mere name tends to start flame wars on Slashdot ..." Stallman may be one of the most interesting people alive right now: read on to see how well the biography is up to the task of describing him and his movement -- acccording to Danny, that may depend on the reader.
Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade
author Sam Williams
pages 225
publisher O'Reilly
rating 9
reviewer Danny Yee
ISBN 0-596-00287-4
summary Life of Stallman

Free as in Freedom is a generally sympathetic but far from hagiographic biography of Richard Stallman, inspiration of the free software movement. While much of the material in it will be familiar to anyone actively involved with free software, there are, as Williams claims, "facts and quotes in here that one won't find in any Slashdot story or Google search." It is also an entertaining and accessible study, which I finished within a day of my review copy arriving.

Williams begins with the famous jamming printer and Stallman's encounter with a non-disclosure agreement that prevented him writing reporting software for it. He then jumps forwards to a speech given by Stallman in 2001, responding to attacks by Microsoft on the GNU GPL. Having used these episodes to introduce Stallman and explain the basic idea of free software, the rest of the work continues in a similar vein, mixing historical chapters with ones describing Williams' own meetings with Stallman.

Chapter three describes Stallman's childhood as a prodigy; chapter four his experiences at Harvard and MIT; chapter six the MIT AI Lab and the Emacs "commune"; chapter seven the death of the MIT hacker community and the first announcement of the GNU Project; chapter nine the GNU GPL; chapter ten the appearance of Linux and debates over GNU/Linux; and chapter eleven the coining of the term "open source" and the arguments over that. These contain quotes by everyone from Stallman's mother to the leading lights of free software, as well as plenty by Stallman himself. The narrative never strays too far from its subject, but becomes inextricably interwoven with the broader history and politics of free software and sometimes digresses to cover key figures and events with which Stallman wasn't directly involved.

Williams' first-hand accounts help give Stallman a human face: chapter five recounts a meeting in 1999 LinuxWorld, chapter eight a meeting in Hawaii, and chapter twelve a frustrating car trip with Stallman at the wheel. These give a feel for Stallman's personality and presence, his forthrightness and emotional intensity, his steadfastness and his abrasiveness, and his ability to unsettle. Chapter thirteen attempts to predict Stallman's status "in 100 years," quoting opinions from from Eben Moglen, John Gilmore, Eric Raymond, and Lawrence Lessig; it also suggests that Stallman's personality may be inseparable from his achievements.

Although I was already involved with free software advocacy, my first encounter with Richard Stallman came when he turned up to a rehearsal of my gamelan group; afterwards I tried without much success to explain to my fellow musicians just how important the strange bearded man they'd just met was. I don't think Free as in Freedom would help much with that: it jumps around too much and assumes too much general knowledge of the computer industry to be a good introduction for complete outsiders. Those already interested in the history and politics of free software and hacker culture, however, should relish it.

In an epilogue Williams talks about the writing of Free as in Freedom and the choice of copyright license. Despite the big fuss made about it being released under the GNU Free Documentation License, however, only a sample chapter is available online now and the rest will not, apparently, be put online until June. (This is not a violation of the OFDL, because Williams as copyright holder can allow O'Reilly to distribute the book in any way they like.) So if you don't want to buy a printed copy, you can either wait three months or hope someone OCRs the book sooner.


You can purchase Free as in Freedom from Barnes & Noble, read chapter three online, or check out Danny's 600 other book reviews. Want to see your own review here? Just read the book review guidelines, then use Slashdot's handy submission form.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade

Comments Filter:
  • I think the basic problem we face if when we try and annoint one person as having all the answers, or providing the one true way.

    The reality is that no one person can provide all that we need by way of leadership, yet something in man seems determined to have a singular leader at the apex.

    We need to promote "bodies" of people and quit with the personality cults, they are rarely if ever helpful.
    • ...How about religions? They are awefully effective at doing what they want to do.

      Yet no religion is without a charismatic leader "at the apex".

      Helpful or not I'm not the one to judge, still from my experience I can see a body of people performs more effectively when there is a leader.

      An effective team is made of many pairs of hands but one mind. And, coincidently, an easy way for a "body" of people to share one mind is to have a leader.

      I'm not saying it is not possible any other way (in fact if a group of people can share one mind without a leader, that'd be very impressive and imaginably should outperform a group with a leader), but it is an easy way to achieve similar results.
  • That's latin for "appeal to false authority."
    Without commenting on whether open source/free software is a good thing or not, what determines whether it is a good thing or not is a matter of economics. Yet someone who has a background not in economics but software development is considered to be insightful and wise when commenting on a very complex matter outside of his field.
    General Motors would not promote even it's best engineer to be the companies CEO, nor should those seeking wisdom on the impact of free versus commercial software rely on the screeds of the economically ignorant.
    • I am sorry, but that is wrong. Richard Stallmans's argument is one of a moral right to software (that may be simplifying the argument a bit-my point is that he does not base his goal of free software on any economic argument). It has absolutely nothing to do with economics. The open source movement has made the claim that open source is good for business (which, I suppose you can translate into economics). Even if proven that open source is a bad economic idea (a notion which I would disagree with, but just for a hypothetical..), Richard Stallman would still argue that free software is good...it is a moral good.

      Furthermore, and this is just a general pet peeve of mine, why is it acceptable to listen to the advice of someone with economic/business background but no technical background? Why should someone who has no technical background, has never written a line of code, has no concept of how much difference a code engineer can make, acceptable to comment on the impact of free vs. commercial software. Note that I am not saying the poster is making the claim, but there seems to be the general sense that you need a business/economic background to run a business or comment on a business decision (ie, the use of free vs. commercial software), but you do not need a technical background. Richard Stallman is very intelligent. I think it is incredibly closed-minded to assume he cannot understand economics or that he knows nothing about it. Further, GM may very well put its best engineer as the companies CEO. Let's not forget how many engineers/technical people have built (and led) very profitable businesses. Here are some examples: HP (as it was when Hewlett and Packard ran it), Bill Gates, Red Hat (I understand he is a computer programmer, but I may be wrong). The list goes on. It is foolish to automatically disregard someone who knows a great deal about the type of business a business is in just because he/she does not have a business background...
    • General Motors would not promote even it's best engineer to be the companies CEO

      Maybe not, but when Chrysler promoted Lee Iococca (formal training: engineering) to CEO they were the happiest carmaker in Detroit.

    • by sphealey (2855) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @12:21PM (#3200583)
      what determines whether it is a good thing or not is a matter of economics. Yet someone who has a background not in economics but software development is considered to be insightful and wise when commenting on a very complex matter outside of his field.
      People with training in formal economics believe that all interaction among intelligent life forms can be explained by the "laws" of economics, particularly classical microeconomics and utility theory. They have convinced some of the academy and a good portion of Western government of this as well.

      Many others, including very smart people, disagree with economists that this is so. To cite just one minor problem: preferences of real humans are not transitive. This is a non-resolvable argument, since the economists say "you don't understand economics", the non-economist replies "I am questioning the basis of your argument, not its conclusions", and the economist trumps with "since you haven't stated your argument in terms of economics, it is by definition invalid".

      However, in an open discussion forum please don't assume that everyone agrees that everything is explained by "economics" without defining and justifing your argument. Thanks.

      sPh

      • People with training in formal economics believe that all interaction among intelligent life forms can be explained by the "laws" of economics, particularly classical microeconomics and utility theory.

        Um. Yeah. Whatever. I guess you don't count people like Nobel Prize in Economics winners and professors of endowed chairs of economics at the University of Chicago when you make sweeping, erroneous, and out-of-touch-with-reality generalizations like that, huh?

        To cite just one minor problem: preferences of real humans are not transitive. This is a non- resolvable argument, since the economists say "you don't understand economics"

        You neglect to mention that it was, in fact, an economist who first "discovered" that preferences aren't always transitive. One such economist who did work in this field, rather than being told he didn't understand economics, was given a Nobel Prize.

        without defining and justifing your argument

        Hey, maybe you could justify your argument that all people with training in formal economics believe what you say they do?
        • You neglect to mention that it was, in fact, an economist who first "discovered" that preferences aren't always transitive.
          Sorry, I structured that paragraph badly. Either I should have put the example in ()'s or broken it up into three paragraphs with additional explanation. Unfortunately my employer does ask that I do some work from time to time ;-).

          Since the winner of the "Nobel Price in Economics" (not actually granted by the original Nobel Prize committee BTW) is determined by experts in formal economics, I am afraid I do not find your argument overly pursuasive.

          sPh

    • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @12:26PM (#3200630)
      what determines whether it is a good thing or not is a matter of economics

      Not everything in this world can be explained by economics. Economic analysis only works where things can be converted in to a particular 1-dimensional measure (money or its equivalent). Every human activity has some degree of "impedance mismatch" when trying to convert it into simplistic economic models. Economic analysis works well for things such as pork belly futures, but not so well for things like religion.

      Most economists probably assume that software is like a commodity. RMS probably assumes that software is like a religion. I suspect that it has aspects of both.

      Thus, RMS is qualified to comment about his software area, and economists are qualified to comment about theirs. Neither viewpoint covers the whole picture by itself.

    • T. Boone Pickens (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GMontag (42283)
      T. Boone Pickens [famoustexans.com] is a contradictory example, kinda, from the oil industry. He is not an Engineer, he is a Geologist that became a captain of industry.

      This happens all of the time, when and only when a person with technical skill also has an instinct for business.

      In the computing world, Bill Gates is a better example than Ross Perot [perot.org] since Perot was mostly a salesman for IBM before becoming a captain of industry, rather than being a programmer. Thus the Perots of the world support your conclusion, but they are not the only cases.

      Yea, I know that mentioning some of these names gives me an automatic karma hit, but they are good examples for this point.
      • Without commenting on whether open source/free software is a good thing or not, what determines whether it is a good thing or not is a matter of economics.

      I disagree. What you offer is a false dichotomy. Either Open Source/Free Software is justified on the economics or it's not.

      Why must this be justified on the basis of economics? Would you recommend a review of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution based on economic impact? Are there, perhaps, other interests and principles at work that may justify Open Source/Free Software?

    • General Motors would not promote even it's best engineer to be the companies CEO

      It has done so in the past, and should consider doing so in the future. It'd be better to have a "car guy" running an automaker than a beancounter...or worse, the "shampoo salesmen" the company has been known to hire into top positions in recent years. I suspect that one of the factors in the imminent demise of Oldsmobile, for instance, was that they installed a "brand manager" at the top who they'd gotten from Procter & Gamble who didn't know jack sh*t about cars. (FWIW, GM appears to be relearning this truth right now...some of the "shampoo salesmen" and their ilk are going away and being replaced with car guys.)

      Business sense is a Good Thing, but it isn't everything. Probably 95% of it is just common sense to anybody who isn't a communist (at least that's the impression I got from the macroeconomics course I took one semester).

    • Except GE's former CEO Jack Welch (some say the best that ever was) rose from the engineer ranks with an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering. And Roberto Goizueta was also Chemical Engineering (makes you wonder, eh?) for the Coca Cola Company.

      As with everything however, you can't be JUST an engineer or JUST a business major. Perhaps business school types should be required to take more engineering courses and vice versa, eh?

  • Poorly edited! (Score:4, Informative)

    by igbrown (79452) <spam AT hccp DOT org> on Thursday March 21, 2002 @11:49AM (#3200321) Homepage Journal
    While I thought this book was well written and thoroughly interesting, it definitely needed a better copyeditor. There were frequent typos (in one confusing case it states that the first version of GNU Emacs was released in 1996!) and mispellings. For one of the first in-depth, published profiles of such an important individual in the history (albeit breif history) of free software/open source, I would have expected a bit more care on O'Reilly's part. That said, it is well worth the read, as it gives a pretty balanced take on RMS.
    • > ... the first version of GNU Emacs was released in *19*96!

      You mean as opposed to the steam driven Emacs released in *18*86?

      Peace, &c,
      (jfb)
  • by loraksus (171574)
    He can be a bit extreme, a bit repetitive at times, but he does fight for stuff that is damn cool. His steadfast determination alone should ensure him a place in the geek history book.
  • RMS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 21, 2002 @11:58AM (#3200383)
    I know RMS personally. I work on the same floor as he does at the AI Lab, so I bump into him in the hallway a fair bit. We're not close friends, but we occasionally talk for a few minutes. All I can say is he has more than his fair share of quirks, but once you get to know those quirks, he's pretty easy to get along with. He's got a lot of enemies (or people who are strongly opposed to his philosophy), however, and a lot of the things you hear about him are lies and exaggarations propagate by those enemies in an attempt to undermine him. Eric Raymond spent a good chunk of his early career bashing RMS (initial versions of Cathedral and Bazaar have a few smears that were later removed when Eric surpassed Richard in popularity).

    I'm guessing that if not for a few people, Richard would be stil slightly controversial, but pretty globally respected, in the general slashdot community.
    • Re:RMS (Score:5, Insightful)

      by s20451 (410424) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @12:06PM (#3200448) Journal

      I'm guessing that if not for a few people, Richard would be stil slightly controversial, but pretty globally respected, in the general slashdot community.

      Or is it that people bash Stallman because he attacks first? Anyone with a high profile in an important community, who makes statements to the effect of: "It is immoral to do X", where the majority of the people in the community owe their livelihood to X, is bound to be highly controversial, regardless of the opinions of others. Or am I one of the "few people"?

      • Re:RMS (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Cyno (85911)

        Well, think of this on the same terms as you think about religion or christianity. Christianity says greed is one of the 10 worst sins. Yet our entire economy, and capitalism, is based on the pursuit of greed. So while christianity tells everyone that its immoral and wrong you don't hear anyone complaining about christianity, do you? There are the few that voice their opinions against the religion, but generally people leave it alone. I don't see how the FSF is any different. The Free Software Movement is a religion. Everyone following it accepts and agrees that information needs to be free if we are to accomplish anything on our own, such as writing a whole operating system with enough functionality to compete with world class corporations. And GNU/Linux more than competes. And guess what it cost? Nothing because it was all done by volunteers. Proof that greed is not necessary.
        I'm not a christian. And I rarely contribute to free software (because I'm stupid), but RMS is one of my heros.
        If you owe your lifelihood to the pursuit of money maybe you should take a step back from your life and reevaluate your priorities. Believe it or not there was a time when humans survived without working for Microsoft. But we're too civil for that, aren't we. I don't know about you, but I wasn't always working for the man. And I certainly don't own him my livelihood. I can make a living anywhere I damn well please, doing anything I feel like. It just so happens that being a sys admin is much easier and makes 20 times as much as moving sand bags. But if I was moving sand bags I wouldn't have a sore back right now, think about that for a moment. I've become lazy all because I'm expected to be some educated professional, when in fact I'm nothing more than an intelligent human, which isn't saying a whole lot. Our livelihoods should not be based on the work we do. But that's a whole different arguement.
        • Re:RMS (Score:3, Informative)

          by Bodrius (191265)
          1.- Greed is not in in the 10th Commandments. You're confusing the Commandments with the "Seven Deadly Sins", a part of Christian theology that is far from universal. But even in the circles where it is observed, greed is usually defined as "desiring material wealth at the expense of the spiritual", not a statement against material wealth in general.

          2.- Christianity was controversial at its birth, precisely because it told everyone what they did was immoral: worshipping the Roman Emperor, killing enemies and looting their houses, engaging in gluttony at banquets, engaging in ritual lust (saturnalia), etc.
          The only reason it's not controversial anymore is because Christianity had 2000 years to become the status quo, modify people's behavior and, in turn, be modified into a more flexible belief system.
          Do you think Christians were sent to the lions as entertainment because of the prejudiced whim of Roman Emperors? They were sent because they were unpopular and seeing those preachy loonies in the pit was entertaining to the crowds.

          I'm not a christian either. But your analogy really holds no water.

          3.- Believe it or not there was a time when humans owed their livelihoods to the pursuit of money and had nothing to do with Microsoft. It comprises Modern and Contemporary times.
          Believe it or not there is little moral difference between the relentless pursuit of money (a flexible exchange system) and the relentless pursuit of a particularly valuable set of resources, such as gold, land, or even prestige and bloodlines, used at that point as the usual exchange system.
          Believe it or not almost all civilizations have been supported by systems as the above. Of the few that have not, I'm not aware of any that progressed through gift-economies. Of those where livelihood was provided to the citizens independently of the work they actually did, the success rate is not very high either, unless you also count in those that degenerated into feudal class systems.

          By the way, I find the phrase "But if I was moving sand bags I wouldn't have a sore back right now" amusing. You have not done construction work for a living ever, have you? Or at least it seems you haven't seen the results by the time they retire. Professionals have less of a chance to need a chiropractor, and more of a chance to be able to pay for it.
  • He should give us something to work with. A man with a beard have plenty of secrets, let them be known. Open Source them :)
  • by BadmanX (30579) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @12:00PM (#3200401) Homepage
    ...if he would promote Free Software as "a good idea" (which it is) rather than "the One True Way For All Humanity" (which it most certainly is NOT). Stallman has not and never will adequately address the issue of how we'll feed our kids in an all-Free-Software world. You cannot make money selling software if you're also freely giving it away. You cannot make money on service and support of software that doesn't need service and support. And because of the above two truths, big corporations will not ever, EVER go to an all Free Software solution, so the idea that in the future we'll all draw salaries for writing Free Software is a pipe dream of the highest order.

    Commercial software is not immoral. I have never been able to fathom why making a chair and selling it is a-okay by Stallman, but writing a program and selling it is not. Commercial software makes Free Software possible, since it allows programmers to make money while they sharpen their skills. Yes, there are many awful aspects of commercial software: shrinkwrap licenses, spyware, copy protection, no guaranteed rights for the user, etc. But the whole model of "You give me money and I give you a copy of my software" is never, ever going to go away, and Stallman could make many inroads simply by taking a more pragmatic view and admitting that to himself.
    • Hear, hear... Your 'chair' metaphore is bang on. I'm no rabid capitalist, but if ever come up with something really innovative software-wise, it will be mine to share in whatever manner I choose. Give it away, sell it, whatever.

      I have found with any software I've developed and given away, my core rationale (however uncomfortable it is) has been 'ego'. Perhaps Mr. Stallman has a similar well-spring.

      Interesting to note... The company I work for (large bank) will not use any product that is freeware or public-license. Why? They need a 'tie to grab' if something goes wrong, needs mods, etc. As well, my company is not in the business of managing someone else's code, even if that someone else is the Open Source Community.

      • They should fire their entire legal department for being flaming morons then. Every commercial EULA has all sorts of language disclaiming liability and the Government is falling all over themselves making these EULAs legally enforcable. Believe me, if an Oracle database blew up at your bank and cost them millions of dollars in business Larry Ellison wouldn't even have to so much as say "I'm sorry".

        The "legal liability" argument for commercial software has no legs whatsoever.
        • We don't rely on boilerplate EULA arrangements. We contract exactly what we want and what obligations exist in terms of support levels, etc. If an Oracle database blows up, it matters not what Larry Ellison says. This is the way of world in large corporate customer environments. But, we're big enough to make this work (not without difficulties, though).

          The real issue is economic, though. If we use an open source product, we have no one to modify that product (bug fixes, enhancements, etc.) and no timetable on which to operate. Ultimately, we have to either (1) rely on garnering support in the open source community or (2) fork the code on our own. Neither of which is particularly effective for us.

            • If an Oracle database blows up, it matters not what Larry Ellison says.

            Really? Can you cite specific examples where damages have been awarded based on buggy software when those warrantees had been explicitly renounced in the EULAs?

            What does happen is that if customers complain too loudly, the manufacturers become concerned about their reputation.

            Which is why various organizations have sprung up to offer support for Free Software products, like Covalent for Apache, Linuxcare (and the distro vendors) for Linux, several firms for Postgresql, etc.

            • The real issue is economic, though. If we use an open source product, we have no one to modify that product (bug fixes, enhancements, etc.) and no timetable on which to operate.

            Like Commercial software vendors give you timetables for bug fixes? They don't generally, in my experience. The commercial vendors can and do EOL products (with outstanding bugs) you depend on requiring you to completely retool your operation. This couldn't happen with Open Source.

      • The chair analogy is facetious. There is nothing that prevents you from selling GPL'd software. Stallman's basic argument for free software boils down to this: software has bugs, some of which may be repairable by the user of said software if the source code is available. Unless you are shipping bug free software you should ship the code as well or you are doing a disservice to the end user.

        To make the chair analogy more apropos, imagine getting on of those wonderful particle boards in a box assemblies from IKEA without any instructions for assembly. IKEA can claim to have sent you the requested piece of furniture but without a guide for assembly it is useless to the user. Granted for simpler pieces a sufficiently motivated person may be able to assemble it anyway, but for any furniture with a significant number of hidden supports that is not the case. As with all analogies this breaks down upon close examination, but then again, that was my original point: software is not equivalent to a finished manufactured good

        Incidentally, a better analogy may be other complex systems delivered to an end user such as a nuclear power plant. The handholding and training that the manufacterer (usually Westinghouse or Siemens) has to give to the user (your local utility) is roughly equivalent to providing the source code.

        Finally, the "grab a tie" argument has little legitimacy either. If I have a problem with my Linux Kernel, I can hop on the boards (and admitedly absorb some abuse from a few socially underdeveloped board lurkers) and get an answer from the actual software developer themself. Compare this to my officemate who is navigating the "customer support" network of his network card driver manufacterer in an attempt to find the linux drivers the manufacterer claims exist (on thier webpage) but do not provide in any obvious form. He is grabbing lots of ties, but so far the only result is an intense desire to turn them into hangman's nooses.

        • The chair analogy is facetious. There is nothing that prevents you from selling GPL'd software.

          Sure, there's nothing legally preventing me from selling my GPL'd software. But nobody will buy my software if there's a version they can download for free.

          This is a huge blind spot that none of the GPL zealots ever will address. It just doesn't exist to them. "Sure, sell your GPL'd software! What? You're having trouble selling copies and staying in business? Huh. Can't imagine why. Your software must suck."
          • by WNight (23683) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @03:32PM (#3202327) Homepage
            So don't exist by selling software. Exist by selling hardware that uses it, or by supporting software other people write, or writing custom software that is of much more value to the company that commissioned it than it would be to anyone else (and thus, would never be programmed without their sponsorship.)

            Nobody whines that there's no market for ice now that everyone can afford a freezer. (There used to be a thriving market in selling large blocks of ice for homeowners to use basically as a refrigerator.) It could be that selling software has only temporarily been a means to make a ton of money. It wouldn't be the end of the world.

            There isn't much precedent in the world for intangible goods. Even art used to take a master to forge, and if an identical copy was made people would still value the original more simply because of its status as an original.

            Now we have software though, which can be copied essentially for free, and which has no special original that people want. Any copy is the same as any other. Why should we expect a market based around this to work like other markets?
      • Hear, hear... Your 'chair' metaphore is bang on. I'm no rabid capitalist, but if ever come up with something really innovative software-wise, it will be mine to share in whatever manner I choose. Give it away, sell it, whatever. can we assume that if you write a book, you will reserve the right to prevent us from lending it to our friends? your attitude doesn't take into account that a product whose representation as a set of bits has some important qualitative differences with one that can only be represented by physical matter. as many have quoted, "trying to make bits uncopyable is like trying to make water not wet". your desire to give your software away in the manner you choose appears to overlook the fact that what you are giving away is quite different from a chair (or even a book, for that matter).
      • Two things.
        One, all software once was free (as in beer) and swapped freely via user groups. Why? The profit model was in hardware and support licenses. That once was taught in the CS curriculum, although I could be showing my age ;-) The model of selling use-rights via EULA is within-my-lifetime new and no more a part of human nature than the use-rights selling models that the RIAA and MPAA push (sorry, Hilary, sorry, Jack). You may wish to check your employment contract to verify that you have more rights to your creations than Prince has to '1999'.
        Two, I've seen more than one company left holding a tie attached to an empty suit while desperate programmers attempt to reverse-engineer a closed-source business-critical application or utility. It might not be entirely legal, but it happens.
    • Let's pretend Stallman with a snap of his fingers instantly erased all proprietary software and the business depending on the sale of it. Who would pay people to write software?

      Like today, most software would be written on demand, for a specific purpose. Without the shrink-wrapped software, this category would increase a lot. We'd probably see great development in ventures like Collabnet. Then there would be all the hardware manufacturers that, like today, need software written to be able to sell their products. The world would still need software and with that demand, somebody will make money by supplying it.

      The software business would not go away, it would just be different.

      • Let's pretend Stallman with a snap of his fingers instantly erased all proprietary software and the business depending on the sale of it.

        I would immediately beat him to death, since he would have just destroyed (among other things) computer and console gaming. No Grand Theft Auto 3 for you, punk! It's commercial software, and therefore evil!

        Who would pay people to write software?
        Like today, most software would be written on demand, for a specific purpose.


        I would dispute that factoid. But even if it's correct, it doesn't mean that there's no market for general-purpose software. Quite the opposite!

        Without the shrink-wrapped software, this category would increase a lot. We'd probably see great development in ventures like Collabnet. Then there would be all the hardware manufacturers that, like today, need software written to be able to sell their products. The world would still need software and with that demand, somebody will make money by supplying it.

        And now we're back to nebulousness. Make money HOW? Feed my kids HOW? The truth is, if Stallman could snap his fingers and destroy commercial software, we would simply build it back up as fast as we could, because it works. Doesn't work perfectly, or even well sometimes, but it does work.

        The software business would not go away, it would just be different.

        Different how? Details! Tell me HOW I WILL GET PAID!

        Here is the truth of it. If Stallman could somehow decree that No One Can Ever Sell Software Again, then 90% of programmers would find themselves out of work, and demand would trickle almost to a stop. People would still keep programming, but on their own time as a hobby. Technical advancement in the industry would grind to a halt. Sales of computers to private individuals would slow since (among other things) there wouldn't be any more commercial-quality software (especially games) to use.

        This is the world Stallman apparently wants. But I don't, and I don't think you do either. Think for just a minute. Think about what a Free-Software-only world would be like. Imagine if every single program took as long to get good and usable as Linux did. Or KDE or Gnome. Or Apache.
        • The software business would not go away, it would just be different. Different how? Details! Tell me HOW I WILL GET PAID! You could and go to work for a company that needs software to do something that has never been done before. They will pay you to do that work. If they never sell it to anybody else, RMS's ideas about the GPL are completely beside the point. You're only in trouble if you work for a company whose primary business is selling existing software.
        • Imagine if every single program took as long to get good and usable as Linux did.

          When did Windows 1.0 come out? And when did NT3.51 come out? Next question.
        • The software business would not go away, it would just be different.
          Different how? Details! Tell me HOW I WILL GET PAID!

          You're missing the point.

          This is going to sound harsh. Understand that I'm a software engineer as well. I've so far worked exclusively on commercial (and proprietary) software. What I'm going to say applies to me as well.

          How you and I get paid is irrelevant to this discussion.

          We're not talking about how we're going to make money. We're not talking about what is good for the economy.

          We're talking about ethics. We're talking about what is best for society. (And society does not necessarily mean the economy.) If society decides that a given behavior pattern is harmful, the loss of an industry associated with it is an acceptable loss. A particular business practice may make money today, but society is under no commitment to ensure that it makes money tomorrow.

          Maybe you believe that proprietary software is completely ethical. Fine. However, arguing that it's ethical because you'll put people out of work and destroy an industry is silly. Societies have destroyed industries that society felt were unethical before. In just the United States we've destroyed industries based on slavery, opium, heroin, marijuana, prostitution, animal fighting, and alcohol (briefly). Instead, argue that proprietary software is ethical for other reasons.

          As a software engineer, I certainly hope that I'll still be able to work in the field. Unlikely though it is, I have to accept the possibility that society as a whole will decide what I do is unethical. If I don't, I'm just a hypocrite who should not be supporting restrictions on any of the industries in the "laundry list of evil" above.

        • Its about freeing the code.

          If you do a good enough job, you'll get the money from people who want to use YOUR code and not write their own. That's a fact jack.

          This is the ONLY profession that steadfastly refuses to understand the scientific method and the principles voiced by Newton; "I see far because I stand on the shoulders of giants." Scientific progress is about an upward spiral.

          Instead we have midgets grubbing around in flat little circles trying to use "clean room" techniques to reinvent the wheel so some ass-hole won't try to sue them for having used some fuckin' common sense.

          You have NO progress that way. You have no Linux, No GNU, no standards. You have the victory, and a mighty small one it has to be, going to who is already the winner. That does you dick all good in both the short and the long term.

          If you're missing a feature now, its "tough tits!" because the code is locked up. If Word doesn't do something you want now, you're totally fucked until M$ wakes up and sees some competitive advantage in doing something like it but you know it will be done to their advantage not yours. Otherwise, you're sucking bus exhaust.

          When software is free ("Free" as in "libre" a great concept I do wish the English language had a word for so I wouldn't be putting a French word in quotation marks [1],) then you can add it, test it, use it and toss it back to the developper for inclusion into the product and further refinement by the community of other people who would be interested in the feature.

          Most people will yawn. That's not value added to them. Lets face it how many of you can even put a scalar on the number features in the average software package.

          The days of trying to sell software made by the creeping feature creature are over. Its not about standards, interoperability, colaborative software, APIs.

          If you software can't communicate with mine, then I don't want to know about it. I have no possible use for it because you've witten software I can't possibly use.
        • It's commercial software, and therefore evil!

          Ah, someone else who can't tell the difference between commercial and proprietary. Or who thinks that because the two are currently often present at the same time, they must be interchangeable. Or who thinks others think this way. Who cares which, it's wrong any way.

          Different how? Details! Tell me HOW I WILL GET PAID!

          Why should I care? Honestly, tell me why I should care whether or not you are smart enough to get paid? Why should I care that your favorite business model would no longer work, and you aren't creative enough to come up with one that would? Why should I care that you are so tied to the notion that the only way to make money off software is to sell proprietary software in shrink-wrapped boxes that your children will starve as soon as that model ceases to work? Why should I describe to you how to survive when things change, because the only way you know how to live is to keep them the same? Your fear of change is not my concern.

          Or to put it succinctly: Figure it out yourself. There are plenty of examples, so I can't believe you'd find it so hard. I get paid to program, and we aren't selling any of it. Honestly, there are bad business models, and sometimes a model that used to good becomes bad. Deal.

          Here is the truth of it. If Stallman could somehow decree that No One Can Ever Sell Software Again, then 90% of programmers would find themselves out of work, and demand would trickle almost to a stop.

          Perhaps so. Thank goodness that isn't what Stallman is trying to do! Your inability to distinguish between commercial and proprietary just highlights your crippling inability to imagine how software could be commercial without being proprietary. Demonizing someone else based on your own lack of vision is too typical to be condemned, but I'm also not going to give you any sympathy for it.

          Imagine if every single program took as long to get good and usable as Linux did. Or KDE or Gnome. Or Apache.

          Those are all really bad examples. And if you compare these open source projects and the amount of time spent on them to the internal development cycles of commercial products, I don't think you'd see much difference. But of course that is moot, because the world you're imagining isn't one that anyone else is trying to cause to exist. Because there are more than enough people smarter than you who would continue to profit from software development even in a proprietary-free world. Those who aren't smarter than you might stop development, and thus, yes, the total amount of software might decrease. But frankly, I can't say I'd expect to miss software written by those people.
          • Your inability to distinguish between commercial and proprietary just highlights your crippling inability to imagine how software could be commercial without being proprietary.

            And this is your crippling inability: the inability to realize that to outlaw proprietary software is to outlaw commercial software, because if you cannot control the distribution of your software, then you cannot get paid for it. Period. End of disussion. Full fucking stop.

            I want to write computer games. Who is going to pay me for my game when they can download a copy for free?

            Free Software is not a panacea! It is not a valid model for every aspect of this business, and I wish you people would stop saying that we should simply give up and "trust the Force" here. Anybody with a brain can see that it won't work!
    • I would like to see the facts about how many people who write software are actually supported by the sales of that same software.

      In my 20+ year career, I've worked mostly in integration and support. I guess there have been times when something I've written has gone into a product that has been sold, but overwhelmingly, I've produced custom changes for a specific organization's use, I've done integration of software into a specific environment or I performed technical support of systems in use.

      I don't think that I've ever supported myself or my family on commercial software. So, I don't feel very threatened by Free Software. In fact, I think my opportunities for integration, custom modifications and support would improve if Free Software were more prevalent.

      YMMV, of course.

    • by Srin Tuar (147269) <zeroday26@yahoo.com> on Thursday March 21, 2002 @01:27PM (#3201143)

      Commercial software is not immoral. I have never been able to fathom why making a chair and selling it is a-okay by Stallman, but writing a program and selling it is not. the whole model of "You give me money and I give you a copy of my software" is never, ever going to go away, and Stallman could make many inroads simply by taking a more pragmatic view and admitting that to himself.


      No one said that the speculative manufacturing model was the only way to make money off software. Its perfectly valid to work on a contract basis, where you get paid as you go for the work you are doing. In fact thats what most programmers do.


      Think of programming as service sector rather than manufacturing sector. Stallman is never going to admit that hoarding information using force is moral, which you seem to want him to do. Software is a commodity, deal with it. You certainly arent paying royalties for every bit of knowledge in your head, why should others?


      The ranks of rms detractors are heavily stocked with the short sighted affiliates of manufacturing sector software companies. They want to make money by oppressing others, using patents, copyrights, and other tools of force. They dont understand that sharing an infinite resource makes noone poorer. If everyone shared, we would all be much richer for it.

    • by ChaosDiscordSimple (41155) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @01:32PM (#3201183) Homepage
      I have never been able to fathom why making a chair and selling it is a-okay by Stallman, but writing a program and selling it is not.

      But once I've purchased the chair, I'm free to reverse engineer it, modify it, hire someone else to modify it, resell it, lease it, rent it. I'm not able to with most commericial software.

      I might be able to make exact copies of the chair I purchased, the only restriction would be copyright law (and perhaps patent law). I suspect Stallman would be very unhappy with being unable to make copies (possibly modified) of a chair he really liked and giving them to his friends and neighbors. It simply hasn't become a real issue yet because making copies of a physical objects is slow and expensive. At some point humanity may create technology making it easy to make copies of chairs, cars, and other physical objects and we're going to have this entire argument again.

      Stallman isn't against commericial software. He's against software which restricts the freedom of users. Freedoms we take for granted with physical objects. Does his point of view make it very hard to support a commercial industry in software? Perhaps. Perhaps the industry will adapt. (After all, most software is developed for internal use in a company only.) But if you really believe that something is immoral, you need to fight it even at the potential cost of an industry.

    • I would like Stallman more if he would promote Free Software as "a good idea" (which it is) rather than "the One True Way For All Humanity" (which it most certainly is NOT).

      Yet another "I wish he held my ideas, not his ideas (which I'll dismiss out of hand)".

      Stallman has not and never will adequately address the issue of how we'll feed our kids in an all-Free-Software world.

      He certainly has. He says that you should work in some other field if you can't earn your living with free software. In his own case, he has said (tongue in cheek?) that he would work as a waiter. You may not like this answer--but see point one.

      • He certainly has. He says that you should work in some other field if you can't earn your living with free software.

        I think that may be the most arrogant, self-centered thing I've ever heard in my life.
        • I think that may be the most arrogant, self-centered thing I've ever heard in my life.

          Opinion noted.

          Still try and apply this to air. We all agree that the ability to breath air should be granted to everyone without some sort of licensing requirement. Any such industry that builds up around the selling of air, and that sues people who breathe air without paying is just plain wrong. Our laws should not support that kind of thing. Our society should not applaud those industry leaders. That entire industry would be, if it existed, in the wrong! People working in it, should find another career because they're supporting something that is wrong.

          Switch air and software, and you get RMS's point of view. To RMS, software is *supposed* to be as free as air. Anyone who supports such an industry and justifies their support of it because they've based their livlihood on it, well, that's just tough.

          If you believed that software was supposed to be free, you'd probably do and say the same things that RMS does and says. Think about how you'd feel about an industry that licensed you the right to use air, and you get an idea of how RMS thinks about the software industry.

          Now you may disagree with RMS about his basic belief as to whether or not software should be free. But that's a whole site different than saying that he's behaving badly. He's behaving exactly like I would behave if I really believed the same things he believed. Which means that if I want to change his behavior, I've got to address the the belief, not the actions that result from it.

          • Still try and apply this to air. We all agree that the ability to breath air should be granted to everyone without some sort of licensing requirement. Any such industry that builds up around the selling of air, and that sues people who breathe air without paying is just plain wrong. Our laws should not support that kind of thing. Our society should not applaud those industry leaders. That entire industry would be, if it existed, in the wrong! People working in it, should find another career because they're supporting something that is wrong.

            Switch air and software, and you get RMS's point of view.


            But nobody has to make air. It's just there, and without it you die, so of course it would be illegal and immoral to try to limit people's access to it. So his analogy is flawed on a fundamental level, but because he's got tenure and sycophants surrounding him, he never has to face up to that truth.

    • The chair analogy is bu11$h177. Stallman has no problem with people who buy and sell objects that have been constructed for trade. For example, he has no issue with someone who would sell the GNU Emacs Manual. He does have an issue with someone who would take the ideas that are expressed in that book and make their use conditional on payment and treating the ideas as property.

      IANRMS (I Am Not RMS) but from what I've heard him say, his view is that programs are no different from speach and ideas. He believes that the use of ideas cannot be limited through barter and trade. Comparing a chair with... oh say... the first ammendment of the US Constitution is pure nonsense! You cannot require that someone only be allowed to make use of the first ammendment only if that person has purchased it from a qualified retailer.

    • by ftobin (48814) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @03:11PM (#3202122) Homepage

      Commercial software is not immoral. I have never been able to fathom why making a chair and selling it is a-okay by Stallman, but writing a program and selling it is not.

      Here's the key. The idea of Free Softare has no problem with you selling software. Just don't restrict the customer in his ability to manipulate that software to his liking, and redistribute it.

      Of course, the catch is the problem of your potential customers getting the software from your first customer. I haven't entirely resolved this issue, but the once-removed customer certainly does not get support from you. This is key to RedHat's business model.

  • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @12:01PM (#3200412) Homepage
    Important political movements, in particular genuine grass roots movements are not in general the work of one person. But that is the story the media knows how to sell so that is the story they promote.

    Before the Internet became ubiquitous RMS was pretty much a lone voice in the wilderness. There were a lot of people like myself who thought it somewhat off that academics could develop software with public money and then sell it for personal profit.

    The Web took off because of open source, but without the RMS ideology. The original CERN libwww was pure public domain with no restrictions whatsoever. In retrospect we really should have at least required applications to inform the end user of the source. If we had done that NCSA would have had to at least mention CERN in the documentation, and the fact that CERN had provided most of the lines of code. Had we actually protected outrselves against Marc's plagarism then we might not have got kicked out of CERN.

    What I absolutely have no regrets about is the complete lack of any viral clauses.

    People complain about Microsoft and others ripping off my ideas for profit. Well heck, first I am not exactly doing baddly these days. But more importantly I want my ideas to be used.

    Even attribution is not such a big issue. I realised that it was useful for there to be a US citizen that the notoriously xenophobic US media could project as the inventor of the Web. What I did not anticipate was that he would then hire a major PR firm to promote himself as the sole visionary behind the Web and attempt to erase Tim and the rest of us from history.

  • RMS is so biased towards free software that anything that he characterizes any attempt to charge money for software as evil.

    Sorry Richard, but this is how some of people put bread of the table. There is nothing evil about seeking training, obtaining a skill, and then marketing that skill.

    Recently NaN went out of business. They published a closed source but free beer piece of software called Blender. They gave a free version away and sold manuals and such to support the company. Towards the end, they came out with a slightly higher end product and charged money for it, while still maintaining the free version. It was the best peice of 3d software for Linux, bar none.

    I would pay good money to bring back NaN and Blender. I financially support them, and would again.

    Some people write free software and give it because they can afford to. Linus is one of those people. Good for him. But if he decided tomorrow that he needed to sell the Linux kernel instead of giving it away, I'd pay for it. He's proven it's worthwhile. And RMS would shaft Linus publicly for it.

    I guess what I wish RMS could understand is that free and charity are good, but supporting small business and start ups and freeware independant programmers is also good.

    When an underdog company produces a piece of software that beats whatever M$ has made, RMS could get behind them, but he won't. RMS will have none of that.
    • RMS is so biased towards free software that anything that he characterizes any attempt to charge money for software as evil.

      That is a factually incorrect statement.

      Please see Selling Free Software [fsf.org], an official FSF position document which encourages free software authors to sell software, for a counterexample.

      Please retract your error.

      • I will not retract my statement. RMS wants all software code to be open under terms such as GPL. The code is the ONLY THING that a small company or independant programmer owns. And I think they have the right to own that code and keep it private if they so choose.

        While opening the code would allow wider development, bug-checking and all of that good stuff, it also removes the incentive to pay the original author.
        • I will not retract my statement. RMS wants all software code to be open under terms such as GPL. The code is the ONLY THING that a small company or independant programmer owns. And I think they have the right to own that code and keep it private if they so choose.

          Again, factually incorrect. Stallman and the FSF have always supported the right of authors to keep their code private and not release it at all. In fact, the FSF objected to Apple's license for the free portions of OSX, because the license said that the source code had to be made available for any deployed version of the software, rather than any published version of the software. Stallman has always held that authors should have the right to keep their code private if they wish.

          What Stallman and the FSF object to is publishing/selling software and then restricting the freedom of those you sell it to to use it how they wish.

          You're zero for two so far, buddy. If you're interested in debating Stallman's opinions, I suggest you do some reading and find out what they actually are.

          TheFrood

    • If you'd like to spend some money on software, why don't you consider purchasing some software from GNU?

      https://agia.fsf.org/ [fsf.org]
      • I have paid for GNU software. I paid Red Hat for it's distribution of Linux.

        Oh, I'm sorry, did you mean I should pay RMS for some GNU software? Well, when you give your code away to your competetors you have to accept that they may package your code with something that adds to it's value. Red Hat has done just that. And next time I may buy Mandrake. They took Red Hat's (and RMS's) code, and added still more. Just because my money didn't go in RMS's pocket doesn't mean I didn't buy it.

        In the end, I'm looking for the best software, and as a consumer, I appreciate the fact that Linux distros are cheaper that Windows.
  • You gotta get out more.
  • Calling Larry Wall (Score:4, Informative)

    by mikosullivan (320993) <miko&idocs,com> on Thursday March 21, 2002 @12:29PM (#3200651)
    I wish Larry Wall would get more involved in promoting the general idea of open source. Larry would be so much easier for government and corporate types to accept, and he certainly has a solid reputation in the open source world. This is not to say anything about ESR or RMS, just that L?W would make an excellent addition to the public relations efforts of open source.
  • by Fweeky (41046) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @12:30PM (#3200663) Homepage
    I'm afraid Mr Stallman gives "freedom" a different meaning to me.

    When I want my code to be free as in freedom, I put it under a BSD, MIT or Beerware license; why should I decide someone else is less deserving of using my code than anyone else? That's not very free.

    Sure, people can place restrictions on their changes, but those changes are their work and I'd rather not take away their freedom in controling it, and I definately don't want to take away their freedom of control over code that happens to use something I've written.

    That's not to say there's anything wrong with the GPL, just that pushing it as a "free" license rather pushes the concept of freedom to breaking point IMO.
    • The GPL comes with responsibilities. Those repsonsibilities are extremely reasonable and almost never involve costs that any company is likely to care about (no, it doesn't "infect" your code). Nevertheless, those responsibilities exist, and so I've always felt that calling it "free as in freedom" software is not quite accurate: your actions are limited in certain regards. This is one more reason I prefer "open source" over "free software".
  • It may be about freedom to Dick but it's all about money to the rest of the world. Independance from corporate authority is neat but not having to pay for software is neater. First, banks don't recognize source code as repayment for loans, they still want money. Second, .coms didn't go bankrupt because the source code was uneditable but because they couldn't pay for it. Third, the most popular open source projects are free front ends to commercial libraries. If you argued with that you were moderated to -1 in those stories.
  • The review mentions that this book assumes too much background. If you're looking for a book that gives you or others that background, I heartily recommend Hackers by Steven Levy [echonyc.com] It's a wonderful tour throught what it meant to be a hacker right up to the mid 80s.

    I imagine the Stallman book would make a lot more sense after reading it. Also, if you can get ahold of "In the Beginning Was the Command Line" by Neil Stephenson, its a wonderful guide to the history of OSes on personal computers, which plays into this as well.
  • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Thursday March 21, 2002 @12:53PM (#3200857) Homepage
    Richard Stallman will be giving a talk on 'Software patents: obstacles to software development' on the 25th of March in Cambridge. I expect he will talk with reference to _all_ software developers, not just free software, because he has said in the past that both free and proprietary software developers have a common interest here.

    That's Cambridge, Cambridgeshire rather than Cambridge, MA BTW. Send mail to rmstalk@fipr.org for details.

    This is important right now because of the proposed EU patent directive; it would be good for the mainstream press to attend.
    • Here are the details of the talk on the 25th.

      As the special guest of the Foundation for Information Policy Research:

      Richard Stallman
      Founder of the GNU Project, and campaigner for free software which people are at liberty to copy, redistribute and change. Winner of Grace Hopper Award, Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer award, and Takeda Award....
      Software Patents - Obstacles to software development
      Software patents are patents on software ideas. A typical computer program today combines many software ideas, just as a symphony combines many musical ideas. Inevitably most of them have to be old ideas. Software patents mean that every design decision brings with it a risk of getting sued.
      Date: Monday 25th March 2002
      Time: 16:15-17:30
      Venue: Large Lecture Theatre, University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory
      Directions: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/UoCCL/contacts/ [cam.ac.uk]
      Poster: http://www.fipr.org/stallman.html [fipr.org]

      This event will also see the launch of the "Friends of FIPR" - this will be your chance to become a founding supporter of the UK's only effective think tank addressing Internet issues.

      All are welcome!

  • When O'Reilly's onlamp.com published an article on this bibliography, their ad serving system revealed itself to be an AI with a sense of humour by choosing a remarkably inappropriate IBM ad [demon.nl] to go along with it.
  • most interesting? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by h4x0r-3l337 (219532)
    Stallman may be one of the most interesting people alive right now

    He's an uncompromising fanatic, and that makes him interesting in the same way that religious zealots are interesting. What is more interesting is the cult-following that he has managed to achieve. He's managed to convince a group of otherwise bright people to focus solely on the gospel of the GPL.

    Weird, I started out writing this to show that Stallman isn't interesting at all, but the more I think about it, the more I realize he is. I may not like the way he or his minions behave, but it's definitely interesting...

  • Interesting ? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by valen (2689)

    Um..yeah. If you spent 12 years sleeping on the floor
    of your office, under your desk, you'd be interesting too. As well as mad as a hatter, and without a girlfriend.

    Respect and all that...but he is a freak.
  • by ftobin (48814) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @01:52PM (#3201330) Homepage

    O'Reilly has reviews [oreilly.com] of the book available. Among them, is a 'review' by Bill Gates:

    Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put three man-years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product, and distributing it for free?

    Bill Gates in his "Open Letter to Hobbyists," 1976

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday March 21, 2002 @02:28PM (#3201685) Homepage
    I admire Stallman, although he doesn't like me, because I have software patents. Without the GPL, Linux would have disappeared into the proprietary-versions hell that ate UNIX. (Remember the AT&T/Novell/Sun/Santa Cruz Operation/BSD Software mess? The two competing standards consortiums?) The real innovation in Linux was the GPL; other than that, it's another UNIX clone.

    The GPL, which is a legal concept, is Stallman's great innovation. It will be remembered long after his code is forgotten.

It is the quality rather than the quantity that matters. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. - A.D. 65)

Working...