How do you view FSF's goal, that stated on their website as The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software ---particularly the GNU operating system(used widely today in its GNU/Linux variant)--- and free (as in freedom) documentation. In particular, how do you interpret what the word free means in respect to software and programmer's rights?
Bradley Kuhn: I believe strongly that all published software should be Free Software. Users should get all the freedoms as defined in the Free Software Definition. Namely, each person who receives a copy of a software program should have the freedom to study, copy, share, modify, redistribute and (optionally) redistribute modified versions of that program.
But that's surely no surprise--if I didn't believe that, I certainly wouldn't enjoy working for the FSF. ;)
As for the other half of your question, "programmer's rights," I certainly think programmers, like all users, have a right to all those freedoms I mention above. However, programmers don't deserve any "rights" that infringe on the freedoms of others. Often in society, we decide that the right to act a certain way should be limited because it infringes on the freedom of others.
For example, in the USA, white people used to have the right to own slaves. As a society, we eventually decided that this right was too restrictive on the freedom of the people who served as slaves. Because of that decision, it is now illegal to own slaves in the USA.
Our society took away the "freedom" to own slaves. Today, no one would even argue that owning slaves is a freedom. People now say that slavery is an inappropriate power that one person holds over another person.
Today, some argue that the "right to choose your own software license" is the greatest software freedom. By contrast, I think that, like slavery, it is an inappropriate power, not a freedom. The two situations both cause harm, and they differ only in the degree of harm that each causes.
Proprietary software is an exercise of power, and it harms the users by denying their freedom. When users lack the freedoms that define Free Software, they can't tell what the software is doing, can't check for back doors, can't monitor possible viruses and worms, can't find out what personal information is being reported (or stop the reports, even if they do find out). If it breaks, they can't fix it; they have to wait for the developer to exercise its power to do so. If the software simply isn't quite what they need, they are stuck with it. They can't help each other improve it.
Discussions of rights and rules for software use have usually concentrated too much on the interests of programmers alone. Few people in the world program regularly, and fewer still are owners of proprietary software businesses. But the entire developed world now needs and uses software, so decisions about software determine what kind of world we have. Software developers now control the way the world lives, does business, communicates and is entertained. The ethical and political issues cannot be avoided under the slogan of "freedom of choice (for developers only)."
The real question we now face is: who should control the code you use--you, or an elite few? We (in the Free Software Movement) believe you are entitled to control the software you use, and giving you that control is the goal of Free Software.
Current copyright law places us in the position of dictator for our code, whether we like it or not. We cannot escape making some decisions for others, so our decision is to proclaim freedom for each user, just as the bill of rights exercises government power by guaranteeing each citizen's freedoms. That is what the GNU GPL is for: it puts you in control of your usage of the software, while protecting you from others exercising their dictatorial power. This is the ethical choice, in a situation where laws give us and others such power.
New term for "Free"?
Is the FSF brainstorming any ideas on alternatives to the term "Free"? Unlike many other languages, it seems that English does not have separate words for "without cost" and "having freedom." So, we in the Open Source community end up using phrases such as "free as in beer" or "Free with a capital 'F'" (neither of which are immediately intuitive to the public at large).
Much better, I think, would be to come up with a new adjective to describe such Free software ("Free" with a capital "F", that is). One idea that has been batted about is "liberated software," but that has the connotation of "stolen software" to some people. Of course, this isn't to say that the term "Free" wouldn't be used anymore -- but it would be nice to have an alternative for use at, for example, picnics or family gatherings.
BK: I find it odd that you talk the question in terms of the "Open Source community". The term "Open Source" is typically used to focus the discussion away from talking about freedom. Thus, a question about the drawbacks of the adjective "free" seems strange when in the context of "Open Source". But, nevertheless, I am glad to see an Open Source supporter talking more about freedom! Thank you for doing that.
By the way, I don't think about the "Open Source community" as a distinct entity. There are two movements afoot: the Free Software Movement, whose focus is the political and ethical issues of software freedom, and the Open Source Movement, whose focus is to avoid political issues of freedom, and to talk about the technological benefits of "Open Source". The movements differ greatly because their fundamental philosophies and motivations are different.
However, together we form one community---the same community that started in 1984 when the Free Software Movement started. In 1998, within that community, we had another movement start up with a different focus, but we've always been together in one community. Thus, I hope you'll think of the community as including both the Free Software Movement and the Open Source Movement, and remember that it originally started as the Free Software community. At the very least, please call it the "Free Software and Open Source community", so that Free Software isn't left completely out of the picture.
As to your question about the adjective "free," we in the Free Software Movement have never come across a term that has any great advantage over the term "Free Software."
The term "liberated software", which you mention, has a clear drawback in that it only applies to software that was once proprietary software, and is now Free. GNU Emacs, for example, was never proprietary software, so it isn't "liberated software."
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to clear up the confusion, and make up for English's shortcomings. Many of us say "free (as in freedom) software" when there is ambiguity.
Others say "software libre" or "free (libre) software", using the Spanish word to make things clear. In fact, whenever I am speaking to an audience that I know will fully understand what "libre" is (in Europe, for example), I favor the term "Libre Software".
Also, when talking about the general concept of what we stand for, I always use the term "software freedom". This doesn't change what we call the software *itself*---that's Free Software---and there's really no other good term for it. But, the term "software freedom" gives an easy way of talking about the overall concept that is completely unambiguous.
So, while the term Free Software does have some drawbacks, the confusions are easy enough to clarify, and the drawbacks here are fewer than the other alternatives. Also, using the various methods that I mention here can work well together to help clear up any confusion.
Next big technical effort?
by Lumpish Scholar
Congratulations on the release of version 3.0 of the GNU Compiler Collection. This is the cumulation of a lot of work by contributors to the GNU project from all over the world. What do you see as the GNU project's next big release? Mono and DotGNU? Bayonne? Something else?
BK: You are quite correct that the GNU project is a collaborative work of contributors from around the world. It's the work of a cooperating community---no one person deserves the credit: the congratulations go to the GNU project as a whole. (BTW, I encourage you to thank the GNU project by reminding people that the system so often called "Linux" is actually the GNU system with Linux as its kernel).
As for the next "big" release: it's hard to say. We don't force any sort of schedules on GNU developers---they work as best they can, and put a release out when they see it as ready. So, I might be surprised to find out next week some major project is ready for a big release. So, I cannot make any prediction as to what the next big release will be, as I could easily end up being proven wrong later. (However, FWIW, a project that I know is getting close to a big release is GNU Emacs 21.)
FSF and the cause?
What is your stance on Software protection? In the FSF stance, what would you do or recommend to be done if (check that if -- WHEN) a GNU program and programmer is attacked in a way that will be very like what we see with Dimitri. Many of the GNU programs and software packages are, as far as I am concerned, in real danger of being attacked or persecuted by large corporations. With laws like the DCMA and other unbelievable laws that are being drafted as bills every day, What do you think can be done to protect this freedom?
BK: We must all act politically and speak out to defend our freedom. I feel as you do that we are about to enter a rough period in the history of the Free Software Movement. Large corporations such as proprietary software companies and entertainment companies now have a financial interest in restricting various software freedoms that many of us currently take for granted.
We might very well have to fight for this freedom in courts in the USA or elsewhere. We are preparing ourselves for this possibility, and we will rise to the challenge if it comes to that. The FSF is saving up money in case we need to fight a legal battle. Eben Moglen is also working with large donors to set up a separate Free Software Legal Fund.
Meanwhile, the best thing we can do is to work hard to get laws like the DMCA repealed. We encourage everyone in the USA to contact their congressional representatives, and explain why the DMCA is harmful.
Another way you can help fight the DMCA is to attend the "Free Dmitry Sklyarov March" on the Federal Building in San Francisco on Thursday, 30 August 2001. The USA government is prosecuting Dmitry, under DMCA, for making a particular program available to the public. Please join the protest---everyone is meeting outside the Moscone center in San Francisco at 11:30 in the morning on August 30th.
On another matter, please make your congress-person aware of the threat of software patents! Software patents are harmful to Free Software, but they also hurt just about any software developer who doesn't work for a big corporation that has access to large patent pools. Let people know the threat that software patents have for small software businesses and Free Software.
If you live in Europe, please help fight the possible EU decision to approve software patents.
So, what types of software do you use at home?
BK: I use only Free Software on all computers that are under my control, which include the ones I use for my work at the FSF and my home computer.
I use Official Debian GNU/Linux ("testing" on my work laptop, "stable" on my home desktop machine).
As for specific programs, I spend most of my day using an email client, and I use mutt running inside GNU Emacs' ansi-term. (It sounds weird, but it really works well for me.) I use GNU Emacs for all of my editing, text manipulation, and the like.
I have always been more command-line-oriented than GUI-oriented, so I run a minimal X Windowing System desktop. I use sawfish as my window manager, which I really like, because I can script it so I rarely have to use the mouse.
I use Mozilla when I need a graphical web browser, but also use a mix of links, lynx, and Emacs/w3 when graphics aren't needed.
I use GnuCash to manage my personal finances. I really enjoy that program, as I am pretty pedantic about keeping track of ever penny I spend. If you ever go to dinner with me, you'll notice that I ask for a receipt for everything: that's so I can come home and type it into GnuCash. ;)
Related to that, I'll mention this additional amusing story since someone else asked what my "position" is in the "Church of Emacs". I officially became a saint in the Church of Emacs on 31 December 1999. I had given up nearly all non-Free Software in April 1998, but until December 1999, I still used one non-Free Software program: Quicken running under WINE. I finally got the time to convert my files over to GnuCash, and decided that I'd make a clean break with the new year (2000), and fully switch to GnuCash.
Thus, GnuCash made it very easy for me to move into full sainthood. ;) And, I've never looked back. I feel so much better using and developing only Free Software now.
The one thing I am still missing is a "saint name". At one point, I'd thought of another existing saint whose name sounded good with a "gnu" in the middle (like IGNUcius). Sadly, I didn't write it down right away, and promptly forgot. If anyone has ideas for a saint name, let me know. ;)
But, please keep in mind the the entire idea of a "Church of Emacs" and saints therein is just a joke. Sometimes, people get confused and think that Emacs really is a religion. It's not a religion, even if it is a way of life for some of us. ;)
Apple and the FSF
Now that Mac OS X and Darwin are out, Apple obviously has a vested interest in supporting the FSF. They have been trying to get changes to gcc for Altivec support and PPC optimization merged back into the tree, and they are showing at least some support for both Open Source and Free Software. Plus, development of more Cocoa software should in theory lead to better support of GNUStep in the future. With these changes, has the FSF's opinion of/relationship with Apple changed since the boycotting of the '80s, or is it still more or less adversarial?
BK: Today, our feeling toward Apple is like our feeling toward most software companies who do both Free Software and proprietary software. We thank them for their Free Software contributions, but still push them to go further in supporting software freedom. We have to judge each action separately. Some things that Apple does are good for the Free Software community, and some things it does are bad Free Software community.
Apple has allowed many of its employees to contribute to various GNU programs, and we are glad that they have done so. But Apple still develops lots of proprietary software and for that we criticize them.
Also, I wouldn't say that Apple "obviously has a vested interest in supporting the FSF". They clearly have some interest in helping certain Free Software projects (such as GCC and GDB), but I don't think they are really dedicated to the goal of software freedom. For them, it's likely only a pragmatic necessity that leads them to support some Free Software projects.
I also should mention that it was only a partial victory for freedom in January 2001 when Apple released APSL 1.2. They came much closer to a Free Software license than the APSL 1.0, but they fell short by continuing to require that "deployed" versions in an organization be published. Thus, they still restrict the important freedom of private modifications.
I hope that Apple will take that final step in the next version of the license and make the APSL into a Free Software license. I urge those of you who use code released by Apple under the APSL to work at convincing Apple to make the change.
How can you get the average person to support FSF?
How is the FSF going to compete with Microsoft and other closed-source-companies in public relations with the non-tech-savvy masses? Microsoft has legions of corporate and individual clients (and partners in other projects) extolling the virtues of closed-source, and spreading all sorts of vile lies about the Free Software Movement. How do you and Stallman plan to bring the goals and ideology of the FSF to the average person in a way he/she can understand and appreciate? It seems to me that without widespread public support of the FSF, judges and legislatures will tend to support the big corporate interests that (in the case of the legislators) pay for their campaigns in any conflict, such as a GPL violation case or software laws.
So, how will you rally the non-techie public to the FSF and GPL, dispelling the image of both as the product of socialist, somewhat freaky nerds? And how will you pay for such a campaign?
BK: Fortunately, we are fighting for rights of people---the same people who ultimately elect the legislators who represent us. Today, many people are beginning to feel corporate interests encroaching on their rights, and we simply need to empower them with tools to do something about it. We began our efforts reaching out to highly technical people and have been quite successful at creating momentum for Free Software alternatives to proprietary software.
Now, reaching non-technical people is an active goal for us, and we are open to ideas. I am a hacker (in the original, positive sense of the term), so I am much more comfortable talking to those who develop software. However, I am trying to retrain myself to learn how to think as non-hackers, politicians, and judges think, so that I can better deliver our message to them.
Recently, I changed my mode of dress to be a bit more traditional, and I cut my long hair. I did this in part because my fiancee wanted me to, but also in part because I realize that non-hackers are sometimes threatened by the "typical hacker style." This actually wasn't my idea; I got it from Jello Biafra, a social commentator and spoken-word artist (who is most famous for leading the now-defunct punk band "Dead Kennedys"). Jello pointed out that the "Halloween costume" approach (i.e., wearing clothes that seem like a costume to you, but are "normal" to most people) can really work when trying to reach people who don't agree with you. Some people are uncomfortable enough with our ideas, and if our dress, clothing, piercings, or mannerisms turn them off, they won't even take the time to listen to our ideas. Since I was never that attached to long hair and my "t-shirt and jeans," I decided to make the changes, in case it might help to reach such people who would otherwise be turned off. I kept the beard, though, because I really don't want to shave every morning!
That's an example of a superficial change that I've personally done to make myself more accessible to non-hackers. I also think a lot about how our work can improve everyone's life, and I always try to address my points to a person's individual concerns. For example, when talking to teachers, I often point out that proprietary software puts students at a disadvantage. The best way to learn to be a great programmer is to study the historical works of programming and to try to make them better. Only Free Software gives the freedoms required to learn well. Teachers often connect with this point, or at least it raises for them some cognitive dissonance about their school's use of proprietary software.
The point here is that you have to give each person reasons for software freedom that are relevant to her daily life. The best way I've found to do this is to imagine that person's use of software, and express to her how freedom could make her life better.
If you are trying to convince a large group of non-hackers about Free Software, please keep in mind that the FSF has a speakers' list and several on the list are excellent at reaching non-hackers. Eben Moglen, for example, is a law professor and is an excellent speaker on our behalf. Tony Stanco, who started FreeDevelopers, is also a lawyer and is good at reaching non-hackers. We also have Robert J. Chassell, who has been involved with the FSF since its inception, and he is very good at speaking with the non-hacker business community.
But, it's up to each of us to speak out about software freedom when we talk with others. Please help us. If anyone has additional ideas on how we can reach non-hackers with the message of software freedom, we'd love to hear from you.
As to the question of how we will pay for it, this is the reason we are 501(c)(3) charity. Part of what we use our funds for is these sorts of advocacy efforts.
BTW, just as "Open Source" is not what we advocate, "closed source" is not what we're against. The opposite of Free software is proprietary software. We have been working for 17 years now to replace proprietary (non-Free) software with Free software. All closed source software is non-Free, but some open source software is also non-Free.
GPL for web-apps
As both Bruce Perens and Tim O'Reilly have pointed out, it is possible to publicly deploy a web-app that is derived from GPL'd software without having to distribute your modifications.
While I certainly feel that it should be possible to do this for applications that are deployed internally without having the deployment count as 'distribution,' I am less happy about deployments on public websites. I would want web-applications that I create to have an additional 'public-performance' clause in their license that would require modifications that are publicly deployed to be made available in source form.
This is the so-called 'web-app loophole,' and I was wondering what your thoughts on the matter were?
BK: When a web application is run to provide a service to the public, I believe that the service provider has an ethical obligation to make the software available as Free Software to the users of that application.
Of course, we realize that the GNU GPL, version 2, does not require this. But, calling it a loophole is an exaggeration. The GPL does prohibit the worst possible wrongdoing, which is to publish a non-Free version of a Free program. In the case of web services, it doesn't prohibit a lesser form of wrongdoing.
As it turns out, it is a hard legal problem to figure out if a copyright license can even try to make this sort of requirement. This is something RMS and Eben Moglen are working on for the GPL, version 3.
Work on the GPL, version 3, has been on hiatus for nearly two years. First, work stopped so that we could do the GNU Free Documentation License (GNU FDL). After that was done, GPLv3 work was slowed substantially by personal matters that kept Eben Moglen from doing pro bono work for us during much of late 2000 and early 2001. Work on GPLv3 is just getting moving again.
I should note that it was well worth it to spend the time on the GNU FDL. It has gained adoption, as print publishers are discovering that there is a way to license their books that gives freedom and is profitable. For the first time, we can begin recommending that GNU users buy some books released by the commercial publishers. It's a very short list, but it is growing. (You can see this list on our website).
How is working with RMS? If compromise is needed does he give in or does he stick to his line no matter what?
BK: RMS never compromises on matters of ethics. This is, of course, something that makes me quite glad. The last thing we want is the president of the FSF saying: "Oh, well, we might as well permit people to distribute proprietary versions of GPL'ed software." And, fortunately, I agree with the ethical positions that the FSF takes, so I never have disagreements on ethical matters with RMS.
RMS and I do disagree from time to time on matters of tactics, and on practical and technical matters. In these cases, I have found RMS to be strong-willed, but not uncompromising. In fact, when I compare RMS to other hackers that I know, he is among one of the most fair and even-handed. RMS always hears out the point of view of all sides and asks good questions to clarify the data and people's positions.
I have never known him to make a decision rashly, and he always seeks feedback from others before making any major decision. And, if we can prove to him that we have a better way to do something, and can back it up with evidence, he will change his mind.
In short, it's easy to lump "taking a firm ethical stance" together with "uncompromising". I believe these are separate issues, and I would say that RMS takes a firm ethical stance, but is willing to compromise on issues that don't impact an ethical position.
'Raving Lunatic' Image?
In spite of all of RMS's great understanding of the working of Free Software, and his passion for promoting real Freedom, he has unfortunately picked up this image of a foaming-at-the-mouth raving lunatic pinko. How to you plan to combat this image, without compromising on the real issues behind Free Software, or the passion with which the FSF promotes these ideals?
BK: It's easy to dismiss someone as a "lunatic" if they are the only a few people standing up for a particular point of view. Some people once thought that abolitionists, suffragettes, and union organizers were "foaming-at-the-mouth raving lunatics", too.
For years, RMS stood up firmly for software freedom, and thus some people attacked RMS in that unfair and inaccurate way. He is still standing for software freedom all these years later, but now there are many more standing with him, including me. The best way for us in the Free Software community to combat the "lunatic" image is to stand for software freedom with him. As more people take a strong ethical stance for software freedom, those who use this underhanded tactic will find it less useful.
The ultimate solution is to change USA political sensibilities, so that USAmericans don't immediately label someone as a "lunatic" or "pinko" simply because (s)he puts freedom, community and goodwill as higher goals than the profits of shareholders. RMS has said publicly that he isn't a communist, and he isn't. As for "foaming-at-the-mouth" and "raving", those are just insults designed to turn those who don't know him away from what he stands for.
You know, when I hear the word "pinko", I can't help but associate it with the first time I ever heard that word. "Pinko" was the word that Archie Bunker always called his son-in-law, Mike "Meathead" Stivic, on the USA television show All in the Family.
It's interesting to me because, as a child in the early 1980s, that character, Mike Stivic, was the first person I ever saw on television talking about the kinds of social change and political views that I believed in. Of course, Mike wasn't a pinko, except in Archie's distorted thinking about the issues. Today, I can't hear the word "pinko" without thinking of Archie Bunker.
Your opinion on Java
Your perljvm -- The Perl to Java Virtual Machine Compiler -- is impressive. I believe you've the authority to answer this question.
Sun has its sole control to their Java VM, and the control is extended to other JVM versions. As Richard said, free software build on non-free platform/program is useless to Free World.
We had much expectation on kaffe. However, it has halted its development long time ago, since Microsoft made business deals with Transvirtual. The only free JVM is basically dead now.
I'd like to have your opnion on this: do you have Java in your vision of Free World?
BK: You didn't ask the perljvm question that I was expecting: "Why isn't it done yet?" ;) (The answer to that one is: I've been working so much for my official duties at the FSF, I haven't had time to hack on it!)
But, your question is an interesting one. I certainly agree that we have to watch Sun, or any other company that exerts efforts over a 'de-facto' standard, closely, to make sure we can implement that standard in Free Software.
However, in the case of the Java environment, I am not too worried. I agree that Kaffe development seems to have slowed, but that is likely because the VM itself is quite stable and usable. (I use it as a development environment for perljvm.) I have heard they are pushing to make it compatible with newer versions of the Sun's proprietary software JVM, and I am happy to hear it.
In addition, now that GCJ has been fully integrated with GCC, Java, the language, is a first-class citizen in the GNU system. I think as time goes on, we'll see even more Java support on GNU systems. I recently saw, for example, that the GNOME-GCJ bindings are getting pretty good. So, I think that support for Java in the Free Software World is going to grow and get better, not wane. Eventually, I believe that the installed base of free Java platforms will grow enough that Sun won't be able to make incompatible changes without coordinating with the Free Software community, lest they have an outcry from the user base.
But, with Java, as with any software technology, we must keep watch for proprietary software twists that can leave the Free Software community constantly playing "catch-up". This threat exists for any technology, though, as long as we continue to live in a world with proprietary software.
In practical terms, for users of this technology, this means that we must only use those features of a technology supported with Free Software. If you are a Java programmer, make sure that your software runs in Kaffe and GCJ first, and don't make changes that require the use of a proprietary software Java environment.
Do you and/or the FSF support any certain hardware or hardware companies to go with free software?
Does the FSF have anything in mind to deal with hardware issues in the future?
BK: The important issue with hardware is to make sure that it can be controlled completely with Free Software. Some hardware companies are friendly enough to release their drivers as Free Software. Others cooperate enough to give full specifications, so that at least we can write our own drivers to compete with their proprietary ones. Sadly, some hardware companies still work against us, by keeping the interfaces to the hardware secret.
You, the hardware-buying public, have the power to change this situation by not purchasing any hardware that can't be run with Free Software. You can do even more to help by informing hardware companies that you would have bought their hardware if they'd only made a Free Software driver available.
There's a threat to freedom every time a new hardware device is released. We as a community have to watch closely and make sure that each exciting new hardware technology is fully supported with Free Software.
For a long time, we've wanted someone to build a full list of hardware vendors and note how friendly they were and are to Free Software. Compatibility HOWTOs exist, but this would be a list that gave reports of how much a given vendor helped us. If anyone wants to work on this, please let me know.
The Middle Initial
by Emil Brink
So, I notice that you share a middle initial of 'M' with RMS. The natural question then, becomes: what does your 'M' stand for? ;^) Also, for comparison's sake, what does RMS' stand for? I've actually wondered this for quite a while, but my (obviously worthless) attempts to surf it up have all failed. Thanks. BK: As people already noted on the slashdot comments, RMS' M stands for Matthew, or its pun variant: "Math You." ;) My M stands for "Michael," which sadly has no pun variant that I can think of. ;)
Food (ask, he'll understand)
Gold Star or Skyline? Aglamesis or Graeters?
BK: I was amazed at how many people referenced my time in Cincinnati in the questions. I lived in Cincinnati for only four years before moving to Cambridge, MA. I lived in Baltimore for nearly 24 years, yet no one asked me my favorite restaurant in Baltimore ;), (which, BTW, is now closed: the Hacienda on Bel Air Road at Moravia).
But back to nowt's question: I never even went into Gold Star, but it seemed like they didn't have any vegetarian options on their menu. (I've been a vegetarian for about nine years.) Skyline had a few vegetarian items, so I ate there occasionally. My friend Matthew really hated eating there, so we stopped going on his account.
I heard of Aglamesis, but never went there. There was a Graeters not too far my apartment (I used to live near Clifton and Ludlow, as a slashdot comment mentioned), and my fiancee really loved Graeters' Chocolate cake with chocolate icing. We made sure we bought one a few weeks before leaving to have it one last time.
The Cincinnati food item that I miss most, though, is Adriatico's pizza. When he visited Cincinnati, RMS tried a piece and liked it too. I like Bertucci's, which is a brick oven pizza chain that started here in Somerville, MA, but I really miss that Adriatico's garlic crust.
Of course, I'll have to give it all up if I go completely vegan, which I've been thinking about doing. (For now, I have just resolved to reduce my dairy and egg intake by about a half.)
"Why do you answer Richard's email for him?"
by Anonymous Coward
Bradley, I've heard that you read Richard Stallman's email and replies to it, signing Richard's name rather than your own with no indication that someone else wrote the reply. In fact, I've gotten a couple of emails from "Richard" that definitely seemed like they were not written by him -- they directly contradicted things he'd said in other emails and did not sound like his style. How can you ethically justify this? Isn't it totally dishonest to sign email with someone else's name?
I do not recall ever posting nor emailing something with RMS' name on it unless RMS himself specifically gave me the text and said: "Send this as me." I do this from time to time, since RMS' network connectivity is sometimes spotty when he travels. Once or twice, I may have made very trivial edits to the text, if I saw a typo or an incorrect URL, but if I did that, I sent the text back to RMS so he knew what change I made.
One of the tasks that I was originally hired to do at the FSF was help RMS handle his huge email spool. The original idea we had was that I'd compose candidate responses, send them to RMS, and he'd decide whether or not to use them.
This ended up not working out, because RMS had to spend time editing the candidates, and it didn't save much time. However, there may have been times that RMS sent a response that was mostly written by me. But, he always saw the text and agreed that he wanted to say that first.
We at the FSF never say something came from RMS unless he approved the text (save a very rare minor typo fix, which we always inform him of after the fact).
Note, though, that there have been a number of cases of people impersonating RMS, particularly on slashdot. I believe that the slashdot staff got this under control, but what you may have seen are RMS impostors.
Most of these impostors do make statements that contradict what RMS would say. However, there's one particular case of an RMS imposter who made good points about software freedom that we agreed with. We tried to get in touch with him, to enlist his help in a non-imposter way to make points about Free Software. But, sadly, we never found him.
BTW, I'd like to note that unless I am in a big hurry or not at my own machine (both of which are rare), I GPG-sign all my messages with my GPG key. Even when I answer a general-contact addresses, such as <firstname.lastname@example.org>, you'll know that I answered by the GPG-signature.
RMS also has a GPG key, and occasionally he might be willing to sign a message if you are unsure about whether or not he wrote it. But, it's somewhat inconvenient for him to GPG-sign messages, so if people ask for it too much, he will likely not be able to oblige everyone.