Renowned programmer and promoter of free software Richard Stallman developed many flagship software, notably those underlying the GNU project and the general public license known by the acronym GPL.
He wrote GPL with the lawyer Eben Moglen and the collaboration of Roland McGrath. This program was at the origin of the flowering of the Wiki, initiated by Ward Cunningham in 1995.
The Wiki is a community of Internet users constructing adjustable websites, such as Wikipedia and the free encyclopedia. Stallman was also the author of the term copyleft, an ironic reference to the notion of the copyright that he was fighting.
Richard Stallman’s Life
Born on March 16, 1953, Manhattan, Richard Stallman became acquainted with a computer at high school, in 1969, at the age of 16 years. At the end of his secondary studies (1970), he found his first job at the IBM Scientific Center in New York and began writing his first program for IBM 360 computers.
He began studying physics at Harvard University, where his intellectual knowledge and astonishing understanding of practical problems and their resolution made him aware.
Inducted king of the hacker, he entered the Department of Research in artificial intelligence of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
His atypical career as a researcher and activist is told with panache in Richard Stallman’s biography and the free software revolution. Sam Williams and Christophe Masutti devoted the book to him. Stallman collaborated on the book by modifying it, completing it, and annotating it. It was published in French edition at Eyrolles and is available in bookstores or on the web. It is also offered under GNU Free Documentation License online.
Considered by the computer community the father of free software, Richard Stallman became interested in the subject when he worked at the MIT artificial intelligence laboratory. The lab had a printer that often went down, but since the researchers had the source code for the printer driver, they changed the program so that the printer would send a signal to each printer.
One day, the lab buys a new Xerox brand printer, more reliable than the previous one. However, the printer driver is not supplied on delivery. Richard Stallman later heard of a laboratory with this pilot’s sources. He went there and asked for the code but was told that the laboratory had promised not to broadcast the pilot’s sources. Seeing this refusal as an assault, Richard Stallman became aware of the danger of “proprietary logic”.
He decided to found the Free Software Foundation. Aware that it is impossible to use a computer without an operating system and that without a free operating system, it is obligatory to use proprietary software, it starts the first project of the foundation, the GNU2 project. This project aims at designing a complete and completely free operating system. This system will be UNIX-compatible but will be different. Today this system exists and is called GNU/Linux.
To validate this system, a legal basis is required. This legal basis is the GNU GPL, for GNU General Public License. The GNU GPL is the license of free software par excellence. It determines distribution conditions that guarantee the freedom of the user. A program protected by the GPL is free, but the GPL also requires that any work derived from this software remains free.
Richard Stallman is also the author of much free software, including the GNU EMACS editor, the GCC compiler, and the GDB debugger, and is actively involved in developing other free software.
Since the 90s, he has been dedicated to the promotion of free software around the world against software patents and digital rights management (DRM).
Putting his life in harmony with his convictions, he now derives the revenues that make him live from the lecturer’s fees granted him during his tours.
One anecdote among a hundred others
A Friday in June 2006 was to be an important date for the 165,000 signatories of the petition against the DADVSI (Copyright and Neighbor Rights in the Information Society) Bill. Richard Stallman was to give the French Prime Minister the 15 and a few meters of leaves to the thousands of names collected by Eucd.info.
He was also to expose the authorities to the dangers that DRM (digital rights) implied. A crucial visit when the DADVSI bill was still open, hesitating between the joint committee wanted by the Minister of Culture and the second reading in the Assembly.
Frédéric Couchet of the FSF France says
“The appointment is therefore fixed at 3 pm, close to Matignon, under a sun of lead. A petition under the arm, our group was then heading, not without hope, towards M. de Villepin. Lost penalty: CRS blocks the passage a few hundred meters from the main entrance.
Shortly after that, an official points his nose and indicates that no meeting with anybody, counselor, or prime minister will be possible. “We are sorry, the decision has been carefully considered,” he insists, “begging us to stop there.”
Richard Stallman then decides to unroll these meters of paper on the floor and the sidewalk. The scene will be surreal: 165,000 signatories in the gutter, the historical and world figure of Free Software squatting at the same level, with forces of order everywhere.
Frédéric Couchet mentions the difference in treatment between the reception of Bill Gates as head of state by the President of the Republic and that of Richard Stallman by the Chief of Security of Matignon. Stallman believes he has the explanation: “Gates is the emperor, we are only citizens,” he calmly drops.
Always knees in the gutter, he finds time to explain the problems of DRM, Free Software, etc. To a few passing Americans, astonished at the situation.
“We were expected today, since all the authorities had been informed of the visit of Richard Stallmann for three weeks,” Frederic Couchet said, adding that “the least politeness was to receive him. Beyond the bottom, on form, I find this perfectly lamentable.
And the interested person to explain again that the solution is now on the side of the citizens, with the boycott of the majors who sell DRMized products.
Every generation has its philosopher, writer or artist who seizes and embodies the imagination of the moment. Sometimes these philosophers are recognized during their lifetime, but most often it is necessary to wait until the patina of time has an effect. Whether this recognition is immediate or deferred, an epoch is marked by these men who express their ideas in the murmurs of a poem or the roar of a political movement. Our generation has a philosopher. He is neither an artist nor a writer. He is a computer scientist.Sébastien Broca
Richard Stallman denounces the proprietary nature of Cloud Computing
After Larry Ellison of Oracle, it’s Richard Stallman’s turn to criticize the excitement around the vanguard concept of cloud computing. From another perspective, however, for the inventor of the GPL license and founder of the Free Software Foundation (FSF).
In his eyes, cloud computing is “stupidity” whose pernicious effect is to go hand in hand with a supplier. And far from being synonymous with savings, one of the promises of the concept, these offers will ultimately be very expensive, he said in September 2008 to the British newspaper The Guardian.
They force those who adopt them to entrust information to a third party, believes the longtime opponent to the principle of proprietary software. “This loss of control is one reason why Web applications should not be used for your IT. For Stallman the cloud computing “is a trap”, its users losing control of their applications. He sees it as an advertising concept without interest, a phenomenon of fashion, joining the criticisms expressed by Larry Ellison. It’s as bad as using a proprietary program. “
“On your computer, opt for a program that respects freedom,” he recalls, as usual. “If you choose a proprietary program or use a third party web server, you are defenseless. You are at the mercy of their developers. “
This enthusiasm for cloud computing was deliberately created by a coalition of companies, he argues, without naming. “Worse than stupidity, it’s an over-the-top marketing campaign.”
- Free software is software, not free – although most are – but free, the user can see, use, modify and distribute the source code of the program freely (with some restrictions to respect the author). The word “free”, one might think, is badly chosen.
- Cloud computing or cloud computing is a concept referring to memory usage and computer calculation capabilities and servers around the world linked by a network such as the Internet. Users no longer own their IT servers but can access many online services without having to manage the underlying, often complex, infrastructure. Applications and data are no longer on their local computers but in a cloud consisting of several interconnected remote servers.