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GNU is Not Unix

Ask Richard Stallman Anything 573

Richard Stallman (RMS) founded the GNU Project in 1984, the Free Software Foundation in 1985, and remains one of the most important and outspoken advocates for software freedom. RMS now spends much of his time fighting excessive extension of copyright laws, digital rights management, and software patents. He's agreed to answer your questions about GNU/Linux, free software, and anything else you like, but please limit yourself to one question per post.
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Ask Richard Stallman Anything

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  • Microsoft and GPL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by allots ( 2783683 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:31PM (#42118127)
    What does RMS and other Slashdot readers think about Microsoft's recent offerings to come closer to open source model? Microsoft has Codeplex for open source code and they have made vivid and vast improvements to the Linux kernel and software stack. Is it good that open source is now working closer with Microsoft than ever before?
  • by spiffmastercow ( 1001386 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:33PM (#42118163)
    Seriously, did you eat your toe cheese on stage [google.com]?
  • Capitalism and You (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:34PM (#42118169) Journal
    Your monkish lifestyle would leave most people who work in software screaming for a Lear Jet and you have stated "I've always lived cheaply ... like a student, basically. And I like that, because it means that money is not telling me what to do." Growing up in the United States, I have been served the koolaid of Capitalism several times and I have been taught that the inherent competition and struggle for money in all aspects of our lives make us the greatest country ever. I've read a lot of your comments on intellectual property reform and I can't help but feel that it just isn't compatible with capitalism. Have you ever had problems rectifying your stance on intellectual property with capitalism? Do you see any problems at all with no copyright or patent laws inside a capitalistic society?

    I feel like you have this admirable and altruistic quality where money isn't the ultimate driving force and when you speak to people who base their entire lives around money, there's a fundamental disconnect that is overlooked.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:35PM (#42118195)


    Do you remember attending this hacker's convention? What was it like interacting with all of those notable guys back in the early days?

  • by concealment ( 2447304 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:36PM (#42118211) Homepage Journal

    A problem with software and operating systems is what I call the "aggregation problem," which is that what we have now is an aggregate of past solutions to problems that may no longer exist. The stuff piles up, increasing complexity and decreasing the uniformity and effectiveness of the interface. At what point do software projects call for a top-down redesign? How can free software do this where industry cannot?

  • Revolution OS ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:41PM (#42118281)

    Interviews with you comprised a big percentage of the documentary Revolution OS.

    If it were to be remade today, and the financial aspects ignored, what do you think would be different? If you were producing such a documentary today, what would you focus on?

  • Hypocracy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:42PM (#42118291)

    Do you not find it a little hypocritical that you support free software, as it allows all the well known benefits like people collaborating, adding features, fixing bugs, using your code in unexpected ways, and producing generally awesome stuff; but, at the same time support deliberately breaking software designs (e.g. that of gcc), and making it hard to integrate them, edit them, and use them as a third party[1]?

    Doesn't that make gcc just as bad as closed source software, as you're going out of your way to make it difficult to do all the great things that free and open software allows?

    [1] http://comments.gmane.org/gmane.comp.gcc.devel/59296 [gmane.org]

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:43PM (#42118333) Journal
    Months ago, ACM published a column titled A Generation Lost in the Bazaar [acm.org] by Poul-Henning Kamp and in it he said:

    That is the sorry reality of the bazaar Raymond praised in his book: a pile of old festering hacks, endlessly copied and pasted by a clueless generation of IT "professionals" who wouldn't recognize sound IT architecture if you hit them over the head with it. It is hard to believe today, but under this embarrassing mess lies the ruins of the beautiful cathedral of Unix, deservedly famous for its simplicity of design, its economy of features, and its elegance of execution. (Sic transit gloria mundi, etc.)

    Does Kamp have a point? How do you refute his example and his drawn conclusion from it? Have you issued a rebuttal yet?

  • by gQuigs ( 913879 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:45PM (#42118353) Homepage

    What free software project is using a license that doesn't actually match with it's mission - or hinders free software in other ways? In other words, if you could *magically* switch the license of one project - which would you choose and why?

    Examples: Move Mesa to GPLv3, Move Linux from GPLv2 to v3, Make andriod GPLv3, GCC - from GPLv3 to Apache.

  • The future of GCC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:45PM (#42118357)

    How do you see GCC progressing in the future? Several things you argued against (converting to C++, allowing non-GPLed code access to the internals of gcc) are occurring, and gcc is getting major competition from the BSD-licensed clang and LLVM.

  • When passing this question on to Mr. Stallman, try replacing "open source" with "free software". He prefers the term "free software", despite that the Debian Free Software Guidelines are nearly identical to the OSI Open Source Definition.

    So since 2009, when FSF's essay on Microsoft [gnu.org] got a major update, is it good that free software communities have begun to work closer with Microsoft than ever before?

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:47PM (#42118397)

    Shouldn't we push more for Open Specifications vs Open Source Code.

    If a hardware manufacturer just releases the specification we could create a program to interface with it. If say Microsoft was fully open about its Office Document Specification we could program a 100% compatible system for it.

    Having access to Source Code has limited appeal to me. Everyone codes differently and as software gets older it will undoubtedly get to a point where it needs a fresh rewrite. If you release the specs then it allows the freedom of a new system to be made without all the legacy code that most people are afraid to touch.

    The argument if the program is Open Source then it is Open Spec, isn't a good one. For example I had to maintain some FORTRAN Code. Then I needed to parse a data file the program made. I had the source... However the Data File wouldn't read when I recompiled the code on a different system. As the Datafile dumped the endianness of the memory into the file. In order for me to parse the file I had to get access to the specification of the original hardware to show me the difference in endianness of the old system with the new one.

    Writing code is easy. Remaking code is easy too. Knowing the specification of the program now that is hard. So if there was a bigger push to Open Specification vs Open Source Code, I feel we would have far more software freedom in the world.

  • This is my first of two questions about free software business models [pineight.com].

    Several kinds of software have historically depended on the business model of restricting distribution. One is video games. Video games consist of far more than a computer program; they also consist of so-called "assets" [wikipedia.org], such as textures, meshes, maps, audio, and other kinds of non-program works for which you don't want people using the term "content" [gnu.org]. In a world where all software is distributed under a free software license, how would the development of new video games be financed? The model of selling support, which Red Hat has successfully applied to business software, might work for massively multiplayer online games but wouldn't work so well for anything else because a single-player game doesn't need much support after the sale once it's running.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:50PM (#42118431) Journal
    You're a fan of science fiction and speak Spanish and French. Do you know of any good Spanish and French sci-fi that English speakers should look into? The field seems to be dominated by English writers and I've been making an effort to reach out to foreign authors and looking for translations. And if you don't know of any, who are your current favorite sci-fi authors? Any unknown sleepers that you've found that people should read?

    I just read "Roadside Picnic" and it was so good, I was surprised I had not heard of it until recently.
  • Any regrets? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Catiline ( 186878 ) <akrumbach@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:50PM (#42118445) Homepage Journal
    It has been very nearly 30 years since the founding of the GNU Foundation. In all that time, what is your biggest regret?
  • by Digana ( 1018720 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @12:54PM (#42118493)

    Although GNU and the FSF's views are often thought to be exactly the same as yours, they are not. GNU and the FSF are many other people and although they overall have the same aims, individuals associated to each organisation may deviate slightly from your views.

    The FSF right now is pretty indepenent from you. John Sullivan is actively leading it, but there are other very public members [fsf.org] of the FSF. It has become independent from you, even if you're still the president of the FSF. Unlike its beginnings, the FSF is also no longer primarily concerned with creating free software, but rather it is now involved in campaigning for free software. Social activists mostly aligned with your views have replaced the hacker majority in the FSF.

    GNU has no such clear independence. You have the final say on aything that happens in GNU, such as for example usinng bzr as a DVCS for Emacs, a choice of dubious tactical advantage that has generated much discontent. You have nevertheless vetoed any dissent on this topic. Your health is apparently deteriorating, and I hesitate to think what will become of GNU when you die.

    Is there any clear path for the future governance of GNU you in the same way that the FSF has done this?

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:01PM (#42118591) Journal
    During a Q&A Session a while back [archive.org] you were asked about people and movements near and dear to your heart and you said "I admire Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, even though I criticize some of the things that they did." I love World War II history and I also find myself in a love-hate situation with Churchill. Could you go into further detail about what specifics lead you to single out these two over leaders like Lincoln, Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin or even historical figures who have enabled information itself like Turing, Shannon, etc?
  • by SpzToid ( 869795 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:02PM (#42118609)

    Yeah really RMS, who do you look up to yourself? I'll venture to guess Ralph Nadar and perhaps even Mr. Fred Rodgers who are both, (also) impressive Americans that have worked to set stellar examples in their field.

  • by Digana ( 1018720 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:03PM (#42118635)

    GNU is supposed to be a free operating system as well as a group of people working towards building this OS. To a casual observer, however, GNU does not appear very active. Some of the most prominent and supposedly GNU packages, such as Gimp, Gnome, GTK+, and R are mostly GNU in name only. The hackers working on these projects have very little interaction with other hackers working on GNU projects and they very frequently espouse views contrary to GNU's philosophical aims. Thus to an outside observer, GNU does not appear to be a cohesive group of people working towards a common goal. Many GNU mailing lists being private further the public perception that GNU is not even actively producing software anymore.

    What can be done to remedy this situation? How can we strengthen GNU, make it reach out again to the people it's supposed to be freeing?

  • Favorite hack (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:10PM (#42118737)

    (insert my standard question for all tech type people)
    Give me your best hack. Specifically something YOU did personally not hire / grad student.
    Hardware, software only (yes yes the GPL is cool but I'm looking for code or schematic or at least a description of something made out of source or solder)

    I can't put words in your mouth but the ideal answer would be something like "I'm particularly proud of the O(n) memory garbage collection routine in emacs implemented around '89 and how it worked was very roughly ..." or "I really like my homemade fully automatic automotive relay based routing system for my OH scale model railroad sorting yard" or "I built my own legal limit ham radio amplifier" almost certainly a different topic of course, but something of this form of answer.

  • by marcello_dl ( 667940 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:13PM (#42118779) Homepage Journal

    IIRC at least once, some lin... er... GNU/Linux distro packagers modified some referral codes kept in the source of a program, overriding the upstream authors' choice, which would deprive them from the donations of the modified package.

    This seems technically compatible with the freedom allowed by GPL, what do you think of such a practice, anyway?


  • Free non-software (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kthreadd ( 1558445 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:24PM (#42118981)

    Mr. Stallman the free software movement have as its name implies focused on free software. But there's a lot of other areas where the same principles can apply. For example literature, music and movies are in a similar field. But interesting areas could also include things like electronics and hardware design, or even medicine. What's your opinions on a free software-like movement surrounding areas like those?

  • Why should we care? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:28PM (#42119071) Homepage

    It's well known that not everybody shares the same enthusiasm for open software, and sometimes this enthusiasm borders on a religious fervor that alienates people by being confrontational and borders on "my free software philosophy is right and yours is wrong".

    This can cause people to start tuning out the entire viewpoint and stop listening -- it certainly has for me.

    So, why should we care? And why must software be open to your standards?

  • by nysus ( 162232 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:30PM (#42119097)

    There are two kinds of people, those who use proprietary software but are ignorant of the freedoms they give up as a result and those who willfully forego those freedoms in exchange for the convenience. I count myself in the latter camp. In some ways I feel badly about it but in other ways it seems impractical. I don't want to spend large chunks of time battling configuration problems and bugs or miss out on all the wildly cool proprietary software that's available. I simply don't have your kind of monkish-like fortitude to use only free software.

    What do you say to someone like me?

  • by JigJag ( 2046772 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:31PM (#42119115)

    There is a provision in the US Copyright Act allowing one to use a small subset of code under fair use. Slashdotters might look at it from the point of view of sampling non-free, closed source into their own code and claim that their sample is so small it must qualify as fair use.

    You wrote the GPL so that proprietary companies couldn't lock free code. My question is related to the reverse approach, where a proprietary company "samples" some free code and claims fair use. While you certainly consider this unethical, what protection could you think of to prevent such events? Would you want to prevent such events?


  • non-GNU Linux? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by redelm ( 54142 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:36PM (#42119193) Homepage

    What parts of distributions you believe should be called GNU/Linux should be replaced so they are no longer GNU and can be plain Linux, just as you have never insisted *BSD be called GNU/*BSD? The Linux kernel itself is _not_ GNU, and *BSD also uses gcc. Most users make little use of bash or fileutils and many used KDE.

  • by Myria ( 562655 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:37PM (#42119211)

    How can we reverse the trend of more and more devices only running code signed by the manufacturer?

    That every new PC, which almost invariably comes with Windows 8, will run only Microsoft operating systems by default is very scary. Sure, you can disable that in current versions, but what about the next version?

    I personally am dreaming of either quantum computing or a major breakthrough in the hidden subgroup problem to destroy RSA, DSA, and ECDSA, but won't hold my breath...

  • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:38PM (#42119223)
    In the marketplace, it seems that consumers generally prefer the convenience of proprietary devices like the iPhone and the Kindle over free alternatives like a GNU/Linux laptop. Freedom does not seem to be winning in the marketplace. Why do you think that is?
  • Re:Microsoft and GPL (Score:4, Interesting)

    by metlin ( 258108 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:38PM (#42119229) Journal

    On a related (if ironic) note, what are your thoughts on where Apple is headed with their walled garden approach (the merits/demerits of it notwithstanding)?

    Also, speaking of Apple, where do you see DRM and content copyright going in the coming years?

    And I am not just talking about code, but of all content in general -- publishing industry, music/media industry, user generated content etc. Are we headed in the right direction or are we all well and truly f*cked?

  • Other advocates (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:39PM (#42119235)
    Who, other than yourself and the FSF, do you consider to be effective advocates for software freedom? Please name individuals if you can.
  • Re:Hypocracy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @01:40PM (#42119257)

    The point being that they're not making it difficult to create non-free software, they're making it difficult to create any software, including free software. The point of free software is to allow us all to collaborate, and come up with awesome stuff together, designing it to be difficult to build software that links against it is completely counter to that idea.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @02:01PM (#42119603) Homepage

    Do you still write code? Anything interesting lately?

  • by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @02:12PM (#42119739)

    Richard, are you really that touchy and pedantic?

  • by bigsexyjoe ( 581721 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @02:24PM (#42119931)

    Can you explain why you don't own a cell phone? Can you describe a hypothetical cell phone that you would be willing to own? Do you think such a phone will ever be created?

  • by fritsd ( 924429 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @02:28PM (#42120009) Journal
    Dear mr. Stallman,

    Do you think it would be of benefit to lobby for a law to mandate factories putting warning stickers "Warning! this is not a general purpose computing device!" on all computers that are sold to end users that have been tampered with so as to remove the 4 freedoms?

    I think the law changes much more slowly than technology, therefore it's probably best to have a protective law in place before manufacturers try to "slowly boil the frog" and force first this new UEFI and later maybe even more onerous locked-down computer devices on us, all the while pretending they are similar or equal in value to the consumer as the regular "general purpose computers" we are used to buying today.

    Here in the EU you can only sell chocolate labelled "chocolate" if it fulfils certain quality criteria, e.g. cocoa content, otherwise it should be labelled "cocoa fantasy" (Dutch example: Koetjesreep [wikipedia.org]).

    It would be very nice for all of us, not just the nerds, to be able to go to a computer shop and see quickly whether the device we want to buy is a "computer" (i.e. what we call general purpose computers today) or it has a label "fantasy computer", where the fantasy is that you own and control the device you paid for.
  • Hindsight is 20/20 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sehlers ( 2783739 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @03:05PM (#42120569)
    What mistakes did you make in the fight for free software? Did anything you support backfire and cause more harm than good?
  • Pirate Party (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 200_success ( 623160 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2012 @04:28PM (#42121761)

    Pirate Parties have recently started to become a considerable political force in northern Europe. Do you support them? Could you suggest a better name for them? What advice would you have for their political strategy?

Have you ever noticed that the people who are always trying to tell you `there's a time for work and a time for play' never find the time for play?