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
MB: The wrong...? [RS stops his
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
MB: Uh, OK. [pause] So, what is the
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
Stallman at his trusty
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
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
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,
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
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
MB: I wanted to talk to you about your
computer. What do you have? What do you use when you're
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?
MB: You carry it with you a lot?
MB: How much do you travel? Are you on
the road a lot?
RS: I'm travelling about a third of the
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
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
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
NM: -- why not find a word in another
RS: Well, the easy one, the most obvious
one is "libre". But it looks, it, it's a bit pretentious to use a
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,
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
LE: From French?
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".