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GNUisance: Pigdog Journal Interviews Richard Stallman

MB: But, so I guess what I'd, what I'd wanna know is, I mean, there's a lot of movement behind names like "Linux", like "Open Source"...

RS: Right. And it's the wrong movement.

MB: The wrong...? [RS stops his drumming.]

RS: Probably. Yes! That's why it's so important, you see, because it's a different movement. It's actually, ahem, Free Software and Open Source Software are, um, if you look at their definitions they describe the same, approximately the same, category of software, as far as anyone can tell. But they _say_ very different things about them. So it makes a big difference which one you say.

MB: Uh, OK. [pause] So, what is the difference?

RS: Free Software movement is about freedom. It's a movement for freedom. About having a kind of society in which people can cooperate with each other. It's about community. The Open Source movement seems to be about encouraging businesses to do software development differently for a goal that is merely a matter of technology. Eric Raymond is constantly pointing out that doing things (as he says) "Open Source" will lead to faster development and greater reliability.

MB: Hmm.


Stallman at his trusty machine

RS: Well, I, I, I'm glad if it's true, but that's hardly as important as freedom and community.

MB: So, "Free Software" gets the idea of "freedom" across, whereas "Open Source" gets a technical detail _achieving_ that freedom across.

RS: Well, it's one of the good things that you can expect... You can expect that good things will happen when people have freedom. And he's focusing on one of the phenomena, one of the good things that happens when people have freedom and work together in a community.

What he *doesn't* talk about is freedom and community. He doesn't talk about it as an ethical issue, more important than technology. Which is what I say it is.

ES: You mean, the ethical is more important than the technology.

RS: Absolutely. I wouldn't, I wouldn't claim that every free program is going to be superior to proprietary programs to do a similar job. Especially if there are things like patents that simply prevent us [from making free software of that kind].

We've shown that we can do a good job. We can make good quality free software that works well, and does a lot of jobs, BUT, that doesn't mean...

You know, the people who write proprietary software are not necessarily stupid or incompetent. They're sometimes going to do a good job -- in a merely technical sense. They'll NEVER do a good job of helping the community, but they can do a good job if you define "good" in a very limited way.

MB: A _technically_ good job.

RS: Yes, exactly.

MB: Not a capital-G "Good" job. Like, doing Good.

RS: Exactly. So, if people think you should choose whichever program is _technically_ superior, sometimes they'll choose the proprietary software. But I would [choose free software], because I care more about freedom and community, and I will _never_ choose a proprietary program if there's _any_ way I can avoid using it.

And sometimes the way I avoid using it is by not doing the job with my computer. I don't _have_ do to everything with a computer that a computer can do. If it can't be done with free software, well, if I really care, if it's so important to me, I would write the program to do it.

MB: I wanted to talk to you about your computer. What do you have? What do you use when you're computing?

RS: [points to kinda grungy looking laptop] This is a Toshiba laptop that was donated to the Free Software Foundation by Toshiba.


Stallman's kinda crufty laptop

MB: Cool. What's it running?

RS: It's running Debian GNU/Linux.

MB: Good. That's great. And, that's [the machine] you use most of the time?

RS: Yeah.

MB: You carry it with you a lot?

RS: Yeah.

MB: How much do you travel? Are you on the road a lot?

RS: I'm travelling about a third of the time.

MB: Wow.

RS: And I use this a fair amount when I'm home as well.

MB: Do you do most of your work at home? What's the FSF office situation?

RS: There isn't really one. Yeah, FSF has an office that is used for people who mail order, and there are people there, and there are some offices at MIT that some of us use, and that's where I do most of my work. I don't actually take my computer home ever because I only go there to sleep, anyway.

ES: There's been a lot of articles recently about, um, how you're sort of maybe, uh, too radical...?

RS: Well, I'm sure Big Business would like you to think so. Business would like to be the definition of what is thinkable and what is reasonable, and what's desirable. And anyone who doesn't agree they would of course say is radical.

That is _not_ what I say is radical. It's very common-sense ideas of right and wrong, applied in a place where most people have been taught to turn them off.

ES: Do you think that there's sort of a, I dunno, sort of a _conspiracy_ to sort of co-opt Free Software...

RS: Well, a conspiracy I wouldn't say. I wouldn't say "conspiracy", but it's the kind of thing that business tends to do. You know, businesses are not all conspiring with each other, at least not most of the time, but they're all pushing in the same direction.

And it's got so bad, though, it's so far gone, that there are many people who sincerely operate on the premise that Business is and always will be totally in charge of society and therefore anything you want to do in society has to be done by appealing to Business on the terms of Business.

But this makes it hopeless. Community and freedom are not concepts that business understands. So if you want to do something for freedom and community, you've got to start out by rejecting the idea that you do it by talking in terms of, in terms that Business understands, or Business cares about. Business isn't important.

ES: It seem like they've taken this Eric Raymond guy, and sort of, uh, made him a new focal point, that...

RS: I'm sure that, you know, it's clear that his views are less _challenging_ than mine. Right? I'm not radical, but I'm saying something that criticizes the part of society that he doesn't criticize. And so, to have his views is easier.

ES: So, what do think about this idea of uh, I know that you believe that free software should have free documentation...

RS: Absolutely. Because documentation is a necessary part of a software package.

ES: I know you don't like the term "Open Source", but what do you think about the term "Open Content"?

RS: I think it's just as bad. For the same reason. There should be a, it should have a name that relates to freedom or community.

ES: Free, not as in, uh...

RS: ...price. Pricewise.

NM: One of the things I always thought was, wouldn't it be more clear to say something like "liberated"?

RS: Well, the problem is that "liberated" will have two meanings that will come, jump to everyone's mind. One is, "liberated women", and the other is, "Oh, yes, I've 'liberated' that box of supplies." [laughter]

So, it also has the implication of something that was formerly not free, and is now free. Which doesn't apply to GNU software, which was never at any time not free. It's not as if we pried it loose.

NM: Right but --

RS: No, but there's a couple of exceptions, there's a couple of cases where something was not free. You could describe Mozilla as liberated software, right? But most free software was written to be free software. It was _born_ free.

NM: "Live Free or Die." The thing is, I'm wondering, English is a language built from so many other languages anyways --

RS: Right.

NM: -- why not find a word in another language, uh...

RS: Well, the easy one, the most obvious one is "libre". But it looks, it, it's a bit pretentious to use a French word.

NM: Well, there's pretentious and then there's... you know. I would almost be pretentious...

RS: In some cases you can get away with it. The point is to do it all the time would be no good, but to use it from time to time could be OK. When it _works_, it's OK.

NM: I would much rather be clear than be, y'know.

RS: Well, y'know, there's advantages and disadvantages, but when you can get away with it, by all means.

LE: What was the word you suggested?

NM: Libre. [kinda throaty... more like "Leeb-grblkhbubrbub".]

LE: From French?

NM: Yea`.

MB: You know, you have to do that French "rghrghrr", though... [makes an ucky face]

NM: Yeah. [to RMS] In all your examples you use the word "gratis" --

RS: As the opposite.

NM: As the opposite. So I always thought it'd make sense to use the term in another language that showed the other side of the word "free".

RS: [Reluctantly] Yeah.

More Stallman

 

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

burton@pigdog.org


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