GNUisance: Pigdog Journal Interviews Richard Stallman
ES: One of the criticisms I've heard of Free
Software is, um, that it's too hard to use. Do you think that
eventually there'll be, like, nice GUI applications?
RS: It's clear. You know, given that
two different projects are working on such things, it's gotta
ES: Would Mozilla be one?
RS: No. Gnome and KDE.
ES: Gnome? What about GNUStep -- GNU
RS: GNUStep I think is sort of --
LE: It's a framework.
RS: It's a framework, and I guess it,
you know, I think it interoperates with Gnome now, and there's lots of
people on that, so...
NM: I've been using WindowMaker for a long
time now. That's, that's the window manager for GNUStep. And I know
that there's a page called GnomeMaker, which is how to get Gnome and
WindowMaker together, so... It proves that they are working
RS: So, uh, I don't if WindowMaker is
build using GNUStep. I think it just works with GNUStep.
[General assenting noises]
But I think that uh, I think that uh, GNUStep works on their stuff
to make it work with Guile and interoperate with Gnome. I think. I'm
not sure how far they've gotten. Uh, I don't give, uh, I don't give
GNUStep as our focus. It's something some people work on because they
like NextStep and they want something like that on top of... I'd be
happy to have them working on it, but, uh, that's not the GNU
project's desktop focus.
Gnome is the project's desktop focus.
RM: There's a current editorial by Jim Dennis
urging the Gnome and GNUStep people to join forces in some fashion. I
haven't read it yet. [Then maybe you should pipe down, Rick!]
RS: Wholly I agree. I've been talking to
the GNUStep people all the time, saying it's important to work well
with Gnome. And I, I don't remember exactly what they said, but my
vague memory is that they said, "Yeah." So I don't think that there's
any need to, to cajole people. I think that they are working in that
RM: You may find it to be of interest, by the
RS: Yeah. [Does that thigh-drumming
thing again.] But yes, you're right, it's, well, when the GNU project
started out we set out to make a system that was like Unix. And
that's what we got. The GNU/Linux system is a Unix-like system. It's
as powerful as Unix, and it's as easy to use as Unix. [Laughs]
So we need to make it easier to use. Free Software shouldn't be
only for hackers. It should be for everyone. It's not surprising
that the first thing we made was for hackers, was being made by
hackers. But fortunately there do turn out to be hackers interested
in making things that are good to use for non-hackers.
MB: Right. Which is one of those kind
of arguments that people use against Free Software. That hackers will
never make something that's not for them.
RS: But what's happening is that
nowadays the events are proving them wrong.
NM: Now this is, this is partly where I tend
to think that proprietary software for Linux [Damn him! He got away
with not saying "GNU/Linux"!] can be an interesting means to more Free
Software for free operating systems.
RS: No, of course, it's not for Linux of
course, it's for GNU/Linux. [BUSTED! Ha ha]
NM: I was thinking of the... OK, yeah, now
that we're using glibc, I was thinking more the...
RS: It always was.
NM: You're right.
RS: The C library that was used in the
GNU/Linux systems was always a modified version of the GNU C
NM: But, um, it's sort of like, you know,
people get used to saying, you know, people get used to saying, "Well,
you know I've this great free GNU/Linux system, except for this one
program that I have to use to fulfill one need or another." They use
that, and then they say, "Well, now it's time to write a free
replacement for it." And I've seen a lot of that.
I mean, I mean, there's been apps out there for a long time, and
people are saying, "Well, you know, we really do need a good, FREE
word processor of this quality (or better, hopefully) soon," and
that's what the OmniSource (?) people are all about.
Sort of like --
RS: Wai-wai-wai-wait a second! This is
not what you're saying! What we're seeing here is that A) there was a
proprietary package available and B) somebody's writing a free
RS: I don't the existence of that
proprietary package was necessary or -- there's no reason to think it
played a specific role in convincing somebody to build a free one.
It's not as if -- what you said before is a person is using a
proprietary one, and then he or she decides to develop a free one.
It's not clear if that is happening here.
NM: OK. You're right, you're right.
[Garbled arguing -- RS and NM are talking over each other. I can't
RS: --are former Applix users.
NM: Right. OK. But I can see someone getting
fed up with the walls around a proprietary program, that one or two
RS: You CAN, but --
RS: I think we could have an even
stronger response if we all had the idea that proprietary programs
were just out of the question. Just off limits. Then the motivation
to write a free one would be even stronger.
The number of people who *don't* write a proprietary one --
[correcting himself] who don't write a free one because there is a
proprietary one that they can use, if they can morally stomach it,
what that does is mainly two things.
One, the motivation of "I want to get this job done" goes away as a
motivation to write a free program. And two, the act of using a
proprietary program leads you to find excuses to say it's OK. Because
otherwise you'd feel uncomfortable with yourself. So what it does is
it undermines the resolve of people against proprietary software.
So I think that it does mainly harm in two, in two different
NM: OK... See, the thing is, my job -- part of
my job -- where I work, at S.u.S.E., is at least internally replacing
proprietary programs that we've been using internally from way long
ago with, y'know, Open Source replacements.
RS: Yeah, on the other hand, S.u.S.E.,
S.u.S.E. is known for including lots of proprietary software in
their GNU/Linux system.
MB: Well, that's because A) they're Bad
People and B) they're Germans.
RS: I'm not gonna say that.
MB: That was me. [into microphone] That
RS: I don't want to say a bad thing
about Germans. Uh, you know--
MB: That's OK, because I'll do it for
RS: It's been about sixty years since
there was a reason to do that. And, uh, I have no reason to think it's
because they're German. There are lots of idealistic Germans working
on Free Software.
But this company has chosen a business strategy that might be an
effective business strategy, but it's not based on concern for
freedom. And what can you expect?
You know, when you've got, when you let decisions about freedom be
made based on somebody's business interests, what do you get? You
know, it's rare when you get something good.
I think it takes a certain amount of idealism that most
businesspeople don't have. You can make a business that's ethical,
but there's constant temptation, especially if it looks like whoever
does the unethical thing first and most is gonna have an advantage
over the rest.
NM: You also have to look at the fact that
S.u.S.E. has done some other things as well, namely in the XFComServer
(?). In other words, they wrote proprietary X servers for chipsets
that weren't supported, and worked as hard as possible to be allowed
to make them free.
RS: And were they allowed to make them
NM: The Geometrix (?) server is now. There's
one other now that's free.
ES: The elsub (?)?
[Gar gar gar]
LE: The credit for the gar gar gar server is
given to Red Hat.
LE: I was just reading that the other day and
I was really surprised.
NM: But I don't believe they ever wrote
RM: I believe that's an error.
LE: I'm pretty sure I saw it last night while
I was reading through all the documentation.
RM: Let's just say that there are several X
servers -- including in XFree86 3.3 -- that got their start with
S.u.S.E. GmBH [He really said "GmBH"!] as closed-source--
RM: --proprietary products, under NDA's from
the chipset manufacturers, who got gradually coaxed by S.u.S.E. and
other people to allow first the replica-- putting out the binaries, of
course, and then making the source code actually free.
The remaining stuff that has yet to be done, in I think all of
these, is convincing them to open up the APIs so that the now-free
source code can be effectively maintained. It's really rather hard to
debug the source code, however free it may be, if you don't know the
NM: However, it has made some interesting
steps for some people to reverse-engineer and come up with their own
lists of APIs. Reversing the code. Which is kind of an interesting
backwards way to look at the hardware.
DM: [?] certainly has given the world a lot of
hard practice doing that.
NM: Oh boy.<'p>
RS: See, this can be done by, you know,
by reverse engineering a proprietary XServer, or any proprietary
driver for the hardware. There's another way to find out the specs of
I believe it's now legal in the U.S. officially...
MB: Is it? To reverse engineer a --
RS: For that particular purpose, of
making something that interoperates.
MB: So, but --
RS: According to what I read that was an
explicit provision in the recent mostly-disastrous copyright law.
NM: That's another thing that I always
wondered about. I remember reading something on a Web site about
this, but I almost always that that what would have been more useful
at this current point in time is not necessarily freedom of software
-- software free to be modified and distributed -- but simply the
legal permission to write a particular kind of software. I mean,
people aren't allowed to write certain kinds of encryption software
RS: Well, listen listen listen. It's
true that people are not allowed to write certain kinds of software.
But the reason is, not exporting, what you're thinking. The reason is
a patent. You can't implement the RSA algorithm.
Patents are a very big threat to the Free Software world. You
can't write MP3 encoders or decoders. There are no, there is no Free
Software for that, and it may be 15 years before there is. I don't
know when those patents were issued -- I think it was 5 years ago or
more, so we probably have 15 years or less to wait. That's a *long
time*. It's really sad. You know, it may be obsolete by the time
we're allowed to use it. And something else will be the rage that
we're not allowed to use.
Software patents are really dangerous.
LE: Could you FTP a file to a MP3 compression
server in a country where software patents are not recognized, and
then download the resulting MP3's?
MB:Are there countries where software
patents are not recognized?
NM: Anguilla is the one that Seth David Schoen
always quotes to me as the ultimate anarchic paradise. I'm not sure
whether or not that's true, but I do know that a lot of interesting
work sort of goes through there.
There's this guy, his name is -- his user name is -- n@ai, because
his name is Ian, and that's Ian backwards.
"Dandy" Don Marti,
Wannabe Hakr d00d
RS: Well, anyway. You know, you might
do it. I'm not sure. I don't know what patent law says about
But you know what else you could do? You could just post an
encoder there, and in fact as a practical matter people could snarf
it. But you could get sued.
DM: I have a decoder on [garbled]. The original
developer had to take it down cause--
RS: Well, it should be, it should be
posted in Anguilla or someplace else where you can't get sued for
DM: Well, I think if I make their lawyers
spend 32 cents on me, and they spend 32 cents on everyone else who has
a random software directory, then it might slow them down a
RS: Of course, what slows them down even
more is post it in Anguilla. If it's on the Web in Anguilla, and
therefore anyone who wants a copy can get it from there, and these
lawyers are never gonna know who it is.