Richard Matthew Stallman (or "rms") needs no introduction, it is a fabulous programmer from which programs such as the GCC compiler, the GDB debugger and even the Emacs editor have come out. He is also known for his GNU project and for being the inventor of the "copyleft" concept. But if Richard Stallman is known for something, it is for being the founder of the free software movement.
Mr. Stallman is yet another link in the chain of interviews that we started a few months ago and that we will continue with more prominent characters. Richard has kindly made a gap between his occupations, and has answered the questions of our questionnaire, which you can read and enjoy below. And at the request of the interviewee, some questions have been fragmented to be answered little by little.
Linux Addicts: On our blog we have announced the releases of new versions of GNU / Hurd. What advantages do you see in the Hurd kernel over Linux?
Richard M. Stallman: We launched development of the GNU Hurd kernel in 1990 so that the free GNU operating system would have a kernel. I launched the GNU system in 1983 to make it possible to use a free computer, which requires a free operating system, made up entirely of free programs. (It also requires free application programs, but it would be another stage.) But all operating systems were proprietary, that is, they deprived those who used them of their freedom. To do computing in freedom, we had to escape from them. See http://gnu.org/gnu/the-gnu-project.html.
Any operating system requires a kernel as a component. For a free operating system, you needed a free kernel. In 1990, there were none. Linux, the kernel that Torvalds would develop, had not started. Having (more or less) all the rest of the system, it was time to start the kernel.
Today, Linux is a free kernel (apart from the "binary blobs": firmware programs, without source code, hidden in Linux), and it works fine, so there is no need to replace it. Therefore, we no longer prioritize the Hurd. We delete the "blobs" to have a free version of Linux, which we call "Free Linux" even in English, and we use the GNU system with Free Linux. See http://gnu.org/software/linux-libre.
By contrast, replacing "blobs" (present in Linux as Torvalds publishes it) with free software is a high priority project. Without the blobs, some peripherals don't work; not wearing them is a sacrifice we make for our freedom. We want to make them work in freedom; then we have to replace blobs with free software.
LxW: Bell Labs Plan 9 claimed to be the successor to Unix, but ultimately failed because Unix was good enough.
RMS: I don't know why, but I doubt that explanation.
LxW: Do you think the same thing that happened to Plan 9 with GNU / Hurd can happen?
RMS: The analogy between Plan 9 and the Hurd is wrong: it had different goals. Plan 9 was intended as a technically superior replacement for Unix.
It failed, and the goal was not achieved. We conceived the Hurd as the first Unix-like kernel that was free. It was not a replacement for another, because we did not have another. This goal has been achieved, not by GNU Hurd but by Linux. The GNU system is used, although not with the GNU Hurd but with Linux. So we have advanced to fight proprietary software on other battle fronts.
LxW: Let's talk about the "enemy" ...
RMS: Our "enemy" is proprietary software, software that attacks the freedom and community of users, as a whole. Microsoft is one of the enemies. Today, it seems to me that Apple is a worst enemy of freedom. I invite you, dear readers, to escape from both, and finally from all proprietary programs.
LxW: You know that Microsoft's philosophy has changed somewhat lately.
RMS: I see the change that you indicate, but it does not seem to me to change much.
LxW: Has released some projects, has released .NET Core and Visual STudio Code for GNU / Linux
RMS: Some parts of .NET are free, for a few years. But Microsoft refuses to promise not to attack .NET users with its patents.
So using them is somewhat risky. We advise against developing software with .NET. As for Visual Studio, it is a proprietary program. So it is not a solution, but an instance of the problem. The solution would be to replace it with free software.
That this proprietary program already works on GNU / Linux does not legitimize it, morally. It is not why to thank Microsoft. See
http://gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-even-more-important.es.html. If we developed GNU primarily for our success, with no deeper goal, I suppose we would celebrate the availability of a proprietary program like Visual Studio on GNU / Linux. Sure, it can increase the success of the system.
But we have a deeper goal that is worth more than success: free computing.
Our goal is to free users, that proprietary programs stop depriving them of their freedom.
If someone uses Visual Studio on GNU / Linux, it is much better than using Visual Studio on Windows, because Windows no longer submits it. But it has not yet come to freedom, because Visual Studio still submits it. You need to develop a free program to replace Visual Studio.
LxW: But the most striking thing is that lately there is rumor about a possible internal discussion to "open the code" of Windows, what do you think of this possible free Windows?
RMS: I fight for free software, that is, for freedom and the community of users. "Open source" is another idea, conceived to be apolitical and amoral, with which I disagree. See
http://gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.es.html. Therefore, I do not use the words "open" or "close" to talk about the software. On a practical level, if a program is "open source," it is almost always free; the exceptions are few. So if they release "open source" Windows, it will almost certainly be free.
If Windows is free software one day, it will basically be ethical. More clearly, its mode of distribution will be ethical. We would have to see if it has any other ethical issues, but I wouldn't reject it just because it comes from Microsoft. I have no prejudice against Microsoft, or Apple, or anyone. I judge each developer according to their conduct ...
LxW: You and Linus Torvalds have rejected the C ++ versus C programming language. Can you explain why?
RMS: In my case, it's because C ++ is so complicated, I don't think it offers a benefit worth its complexity. I don't know what Torvalds said about it.
LxW: Contributing to free software can not only be done by programming. Freeguras.com is a clear example. Do you know her? With crafts (although it would be exportable to other fields) they are managing to donate 10% of the proceeds to the FSF.
RMS: I don't know him, but this news pleases me a lot.
LxW: What would you say to people who think only of contributing lines of code?
RMS: There are many ways to help and support the free software movement. See http://gnu.org/help.
If you know how to program well, please help us programming. If not, please help us in another way.
LxW: You have changed the world, your philosophy has transcended beyond software, reaching hardware, and even projects that have nothing to do with computers (music, books, etc.). It has also served to spread the philosophy of releasing the code to other fields such as biology (free seeds, Glowing Plant, OpenWorm).
RMS: If they say "open," they are probably not interested in freedom and not promoting our philosophy.
In some of these fields, user freedom is not raised as an important issue. There are many moral issues in life; I do not insist on formulating all in terms of one. If the injustice of proprietary software has no major parallel in any field, I congratulate that field.
But let's not forget it in the field of computer science!
LxW: We are aware of the difference between open source and free software, but would you like to see the GPL license in the future in fields such as medicine, biology,…?
RMS: Copyleft, of which the GNU General Public License is an example, is legally based on copyright. Then it is only applicable to works subject to copyright. Copyright law does not apply to drugs or seeds.
Some, confused by the incoherent concept of "intellectual property", assume that patent law is similar to copyright law. So they think to directly adapt the copyright in a patent left.
In fact, these two laws are totally different, they have nothing in common. (For this reason, the term "intellectual property" must be rejected, see http://gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.es.html.
It should not be repeated unless it is in quotation marks. It is not possible to adapt the left of
author directly to patents.
I know someone who is exploring methods to achieve something similar to left-wing results with patents, but you have to do them with contracts and it is not as natural as using the GNU GPL.
LxW: I have read that most of the time it uses console mode and that it only uses graphics mode at certain times when it requires it. When you do, what desktop environment do you prefer?
RMS: Graphics mode being secondary to me, I don't want to spend time trying out the various options. I use GNOME out of loyalty because it is from GNU, and I am satisfied with it.
LxW: Normally when parents are asked which child they want more of, they always shy away from the answer and reply that they love them all equally. You have children: Emacs, GCC, or GDB. Which one do you want more?
RMS: These three are my technical "sons", but my most important "son" even because he is not technical. It is the idea of freedom in computing, the idea that users deserve to exercise control of the programs they use, and that we fight for this control.
LxW: I have seen how you commented that good documentation writers are needed, even more than programmers. Do you think dedicated people are also needed to carry out security audits?
RMS: Yes of course.
LxW: I say this because malware and critical vulnerabilities affecting GNU / Linux systems are being discovered lately.
RMS: Nothing is perfect. The proprietary programs have technical flaws, and the free programs too. But who is allowed to correct such mistakes?
With free software, any user is allowed to correct them. You can do it yourself, if you know how to program. You can employ a programmer to do this. You can participate in a group, with a few programmers, to correct it for the benefit of all.
But with proprietary software, only its owner is allowed to make this change, or any changes. You can even deliberately introduce bugs. With proprietary software, the developer exercises power over users, and often uses his power to impose malicious functionality on them that no user can correct. See http://gnu.org/proprietary/ for dozens of examples of malicious functionality in very common proprietary programs.
It turns out that proprietary software does computing for assholes. With free software, malevolent functionalities are rare because users have ultimate control and can defend themselves against the malevolent and discourage its introduction.
LxW: This last question is something special. I leave you some names and you put a brief opinion on each one:
Contains proprietary components; one is Google Play, which is malware. See http://gnu.org/proprietary/proprietary-back-doors.html.
The free version of Android is Replicant; see replicant.us.
For the issue of Android and freedom, see http://gnu.org/philosophy/android-and-users-freedom.html.
- Firefox OS:
It uses proprietary drivers, but may have less proprietary software than Android.
- Raspberry Pi:
It has a fatal flaw: it doesn't even know how to launch without proprietary software. See fsf.org/resources/hw/single-board-computers for comparison with other products.
From what I have heard, it is free and ethical. I don't have direct experience with it, because I don't do such projects.
- Linus Torvalds:
It does not fight for the freedom of the user.
It contains proprietary software, "blobs" in the kernel, similar to the "blobs" in the usual version of Linux.
- Steam OS:
It starts with GNU / Linux and adds proprietary software for the distribution of proprietary games. I wouldn't use them because I don't want to give up my freedom. See http://gnu.org/philosophy/nonfree-games.html.
Mainly enemy of our freedom, although it develops some useful free programs.
Mainly enemy of our freedom, although it does develop some useful free programs.
In some countries, a murder weapon.
In our countries, a danger to privacy.
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