Field of Science

Free software and Richard Stallman

So Richard Stallman was in my office last week, and we talked about - what else? - free software. Stallman is famous as the founder of the Free Software Foundation, and perhaps even more famous as the inventor of the GNU software that forms the basis of most of our Unix systems. (He also wrote emacs, my favorite text editor.)
Well, he's quite a character. First of all, don't use the words "open source", "intellectual property," or even "Linux" in his presence, not if you want to finish a sentence. He'll interrupt you to tell you that software must be "free", and no other word will do, and that "intellectual property" is a muddy term that conflates copyrights and patents, and that "Linux" should be "GNU plus Linux" because of all the GNU software that comes wrapped in Linux distributions. I enjoyed talking to him because I agree that software should be free, but he is incredibly dogmatic about it. I don't know if he convinces people who don't already agree with him, but at least he's very up front about his agenda.
He gave a talk in my department (U. Maryland Computer Science) afterwards, and if you're interested, his talks are on his own website.


  1. Did you have lunch with him as well? When he visited the University of Waterloo in 1999 or 2000 a bunch of us had lunch with him and he seemed oblivious of all the food that would get stuck in his beard -- we couldn't decide if it was intentional (to appear like a mad genius, as Jim Watson was said to have done in his younger days...)

    He does have a sense of humor, so it's possible -- I remember he had some sort of hat which he put on and pronounced himself St. Ignucius of the Church of Emacs and when someone asked him if using vi was a sin he responded "Yes, but it is also its own penance".

  2. no, I wasn't part of the lunch group - didn't have time - but during his meeting with me he kept pulling at his beard, twirling parts of it, and even putting bits of it into his mouth. Very weird and a bit disturbing, but I did my best to ignore it. He also took his shoes off and put on slippers the minute he arrived in my office. I don't think this is intentional super-nerdiness, I think it is genuine.


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