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Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman [pdf] (gnu.org)
438 points by justinzollars 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

Wow, the close of Lessig's introduction is powerful. We have indeed not earned that freedom yet.

> I don’t know Stallman well. I know him well enough to know he is a hard man to like. He is driven, often impatient. His anger can flare at friend as easily as foe.

> He is uncompromising and persistent; patient in both. Yet when our world finally comes to understand the power and danger of code — when it finally sees that code, like laws, or like government, must be transparent to be free—then we will look back at this uncompromising and persistent programmer and recognize the vision he has fought to make real: the vision of a world where freedom and knowledge survives the compiler. And we will come to see that no man, through his deeds or words, has done as much to make possible the freedom that this next society could have.

> We have not earned that freedom yet. We may well fail in securing it. But whether we succeed or fail, in these essays is a picture of what that freedom could be. And in the life that produced these words and works, there is inspiration for anyone who would, like Stallman, fight to create this freedom.

Everyone knows Stallman is very hard to work with. But not everyone knows he is also one of the nicest, most honest, down-to-earth people ever.

He actually spent time to read and answer every single email I sent to him despite me being a little no one. I know he couldn't possibly have hired a person who pretends to be him -- he corrected the lingo of the sender. Ah, such a Stallman thing :).

I don't have much to say to Stallman most of the times. So I just sent him notes thanking him for GNU on GNU anniversary and wishing him a happy birthday on his birthday. Last time I sent him a happy birthday note, he replied something like he will not live forever. We need more people who stand up and fight for software freedom. Are you ready to become one?

I wonder if he will actually be the last person who is a genius and willing to set aside personal financial interests and live humbly, or maybe he will be the last person that has the balls to actually do it.

BTW - Normally I don't care what people call anything. But Stallman wanted to call desktop distros GNU/Linux. So when I created a distro, I call my distro Crankshaft GNU slash Linux. I use his software everyday to get things done. It has never asked me to activate, never asked me to patreon him, never asked me to pay, never asked me to like and subscribe. It never betrays me and I know it never will, it just works. If he just asks me to call his software in a funny way, I am happy to call it GNU slash Linux out of respect for him.

Very much agree with the point about how accessible (especially via email) RMS is. A month ago I too have exchanged some email with him about license clarification of some slides he's worked on in the past. He responded within a day with precise details. (From my exchange I was again reminded of his funny auto-responder email.)

And not to mention how unfailingly honest he is, which is impossible to miss when you read and listen to him. Say what you want about the man and his idiosyncrasies, but I am yet to see another high-profile Person in Tech come close to match Stallman's integrity.

    [[[ To any NSA and FBI agents reading my email: please consider    ]]]
    [[[ whether defending the US Constitution against all enemies,     ]]]
    [[[ foreign or domestic, requires you to follow Snowden's example. ]]]

That's the header you get when he himself replies. But his auto-responder has:

I am not on vacation, but I am at the end of a long time delay. I am located somewhere on Earth, but as far as responding to email is concerned, I appear to be at the edge of the solar system. [...]

I'm not sure you would describe him as "nicest" if you had talked to him in person.

I think being nice requires you to be able to acknowledge other people's viewpoints, even if you don't agree with them. Stallman comes across as fundamentally incapable of that.

> But Stallman wanted to call desktop distros GNU/Linux.

If a parasite with the intent to undermine free software had burrowed into Stallman's brain, something like this naming debacle is what it would use.

Reasonable people like you and me find it makes sense on Stallman's part. He did the work. He should get credit in the naming. Calling his work by the name of Linux isn't technically fair. Stallman has every right to call out unfairness, esp. if he is suggesting a compromised name that resolved the unfairness.

Reasonable people who aren't like you and often have their first experience with Stallman's dogged commitment to justice by hearing him interrupt and correct someone else's nickname for his system. They then hear him suggesting a verbally awkward compromise which he expects them to immediately adopt to communicate with him at all.

There are only so many times one can roll their eyes before having to confront the unfortunate fact that the naming tactic not only isn't working but also is eating up time and effort for very little in return.

Edit: clarification

>Reasonable people who aren't like you...

I don't care about other people's distros, I didn't rename them. I didn't ask them to rename. I told you in the comment above it was my distro. I have all rights to name it whatever way I want, and the way I see fit is respecting his wish.

A followup: The GNU project was born while I was in junior high, gcc started when I was a senior in high school. Linux was started when I was in college.

Stallman, in a very real sense, made my entire career possible. Likely yours too.

That is a jump, software may have eaten the world without free software and been more lucrative. It is impossible to know.

I agree with you that it's a jump. I was around early enough to see what the world was like before the FSF. While my professional career started after that, for much of it I worked with $5000k per seat compilers, libraries and frameworks that didn't include source code and I even accepted jobs (out of need) that forbid me from using anything without a restrictive (to the point of abusive) license.

I've seen both worlds. You don't want to be in that other one, trust me. What I will say is not that free software has made my career possible, more that it has made it possible for me to do my job without going crazy. No more reverse engineering bizarre bugs in my tools. No more building everything from scratch because I can't possibly trust anybody else's code. Not as much struggling to deal with boneheaded vendor lock-in that some executive in the nose-bleed seats commits me to (OK... it still happens... but it's a lot better).

I'll be honest, though. I didn't actually believe that the reality we have today, as flawed as it still is, would come. I'm incredibly grateful.

Unlikely, software is eating the world in large because it is extremely accessible unlike most other industries.

Consider Git vs BitKeeper, for growth difference of libre and closed source software.

Could I have made a lot of money in software had the free software movement never started? Sure. Could I have had my particular career? Nope. Could the current world of a zillion startups enabled by cloud computing exist without the GNU project or something like it? Seems unlikely to me, but perhaps my imagination is limited.

People would be using software with or without free software existing but that's completely beside the point. Free software enables people to do computing. The fact that you can do computing at home with state of the art tools is something you can thank the GNU project for.

I am not religious, but I think that Richard Stallman is as close as we can get to an actual literal saint. He has changed the world through his works, will and vision in ways that are still unfolding and that will not be fully understood for a long time. There has been a lot of criticism of the GPL and the principles behind it often by people who do not wish to abide by the licence. This has led to some bitter and unkind criticism of RMS personally. Yet historical saints have always been difficult and determined people and often misunderstood in their own time. It is not an easy avocation.

For those who didn't know: https://stallman.org/saint.html

Warning: taking the Church of Emacs (or any church) too seriously may be hazardous to your health.

A lot of what makes Stallman hard to like is that what he says are inconvenient truths.

It took me a while to realize that.

It's the same reason people hate vegans or hippies etc. People hate having their comfortable illusions shattered.

False. Stallman's work and vegans/hippies are unassociated. Veganism is an unhealthy lifestyle. Hippies are dropouts/losers. Don't spread around unhealthy advice.

I'd be really interested to hear how you arrived at the conclusion that a vegan diet is unhealthy.

It's got _The Right to Read_. I think that does a better job explaining why we should care about the freedoms he's spent his life trying to advance than perhaps the entire collection of his other writings.

I just re-read it, and for some reason it made me think of this old science fiction story from some 1950s pulp zine that I only learned about because of a Neil Gaiman essay: _Business As Usual, During Alterations_[1]. The story made my bookmarks. The Gaiman essay did not :-)


Someone should adapt it for TV. It'd be a great episode for a Black Mirror or something similar (and, at least, it'd have a happy ending, which is rare in BM)

"Business as usual, eh, while Rome bums. "

I think this version is from a faulty replicator.

One of the things that free software lacks strength is in EDA tools. There were people who created free software for hardware guys but with the lack of fund and volunteers, the development deteriorates. While hardware development is not easy compared to software development, I hope there will be a strong move in EDA tool development.

Free software deserves the praise for saving everyone's ass.

Kicad is great, but suffers from the library system.

There really needs to be a standard file format for a part in the electronics industry that has the symbol, pinout diagram, footprint, and 3d model in one file, to make it easy to integrate with existing products. So much time is wasted making your own symbols, pinouts, and footprints.

Does kicad really suffer though? Even with an altium license, I spent just as much time on footprints, there are too many variations for anything else. For instance, the last board of designed had a msp430 that was almost, bit not quite a standard SOIC-16 (wider pads needed). Personally, I wouldn't trust any library footprints at all. My major gripe is how slow the footprint editor is to pull up on stock formats, considering it has to check the repos each and every time.

Yeah, it really does. It will get better with KiCad 5.0 though which should be released soon.

Care to explain what's new in 5.0 regarding library management?

I'm considering rolling out a standalone library (package) management for Kicad re-using infrastructure from Haskell (stripped down Hackage + Stackage servers). This way there would be a versioned repository people could upload their libraries to and from your own project you can depend on these libraries. Stackage would then create a snapshots of these so even stuff built years ago can still find correct version of Kicad and libraries.

The big changes are the foot prints are being downloaded instead of using the github plugin.


I think there's maybe two things added to kicad that could be very awesome.

1. For SMD components, take a part, put it on a flatbed scanner and scan the footprint directly and allow you to edit widths before using it. Then I could just order the parts and use them in my designs without having to spend a lot of time constructing the footprints.

Heck even just an overlay of the image onto the grid would be fine.

2. Something like what you're doing, except as a full blown SaaS solution that does pins, symbols, footprints, and 3d models on demand.

I just installed and run the 5.0rc2 release from the KiCAD ppa on ubuntu.

The library is speedy, it's really easy to find parts. They are also separating the Kicad Library into it's own github repo, which should make it simple to add and update parts.

Footprints can be imported from an image directly (which means you could scan a part and save the raw jpeg.) The only trick is that you need to know the X&Y dpi for the image. This means you could calculate from scanning a ruler, or by editing/cleaning up the the image in a photo editor and then importing it directly into kicad.

The FSF claims to care about EDA, but contributes to the problem by pushing strong copyleft at any cost. Like the time Stallman refused to relicense LibreDWG (GPLv3) so that LibreCAD (GPLv2) could add support for Autodesk DWG files. (http://libregraphicsworld.org/blog/entry/whats-up-with-dwg-a..., http://libregraphicsworld.org/blog/entry/libredwg-drama-the-...)

He cares about his copyleft philosophy and GPL dogma more than the ability of free software to use free software.

Well, as somebody put it extremely succinctly in his /. sig:

  If you don't like the GPL write your own damn software.
I agree.

I'm not convinced that's an example of your point -- "[RMS] cares about his copyleft philosophy and GPL dogma more than the ability of free software to use free software". And some parts of the blog you pointed us to are simply wrong, like saying "[GPLv3] doesn't work for end-user software" is also wrong in that that's not true (there are many GPLv3, GPLv3+ -- GPLv3 or any later version -- and even GPLv2+ programs intended for users to run) and mischaracterizes the underlying issue. The heart of the issue has to do with understanding why GPLv2 licensors won't switch to GPLv3 (which would be fine but risk revisiting this problem again later) or GPLv3+. Furthermore, this is hardly an intractable problem, particularly among copyright holders who want to look out for their users' software freedom.

As http://gplv3.fsf.org/rms-why.html rightly points out, "both GPLv2 and GPLv3 are copyleft licenses: each of them says, “If you include code under this license in a larger program, the larger program must be under this license too.” There is no way to make them compatible.". So LibreCAD could relicense to be either GPLv2+ or GPLv3 which would allow making a program with code from LibreCAD and code from a GPLv3 program. Asking a GPLv3 or GPLv3+ project to relicense under a lower version GPL would be heading in the wrong direction for preserving user's software freedom. Asking the FSF to do a worse job of defending software freedom is a silly thing to ask.

GPLv3 has substantial practical improvements over GPLv2 which all GPL licensors ought to consider. A few examples: nicer termination terms than GPLv2 -- under GPLv2, any infringement causes a infringer to lose their rights under the license unless the copyright holder(s) restore those rights. GPLv3, on the other hand, grants an infringer some time to come into compliance to account for accidental infringement. GPLv3 has anti-TiVOization, anti-DRM, and patent licensing language not explicitly present in GPLv2. GPLv3 has a more modern source distribution requirement than GPLv2 (which was written before Bittorrent). Again, as http://gplv3.fsf.org/rms-why.html rightly points out, "Further advantages of GPLv3 include better internationalization, gentler termination, support for BitTorrent, and compatibility with the Apache license.".

http://gplv3.fsf.org/ has complete details on GPLv3's advantages and http://gplv3.fsf.org/rms-why.html concisely states multiple reasons to switch to GPLv3. There are plenty of good reasons to license under GPLv3 or "GPLv3 or later" to avoid this problem in the future.

Oh my goodness, I love icarus verilog, I wish there was a push to get to icarus systemverilog...

... or a more recent version of the verilog standards ...

And I am very sad about this. Here are my thoughts about why:


I think there's more people in EDA than average who side with the paid-for model --- after all, many companies sell IP cores and nothing physical.

Well this is going to be a fun read.

For anyone that wants a physical copy. Not from Amazon, of course: https://shop.fsf.org/books-docs/free-software-free-society-s...

Most people don't believe in idealism but the open source movement is living proof of it. This is a society that worships 'wealth creators' and is skeptical of altruism and has no way to understand or value their work.

Stallman, Torvalds and thousands of others have undeniably added immeasurable value to society and have directly and indirectly enabled thousands of startups and tons of jobs. Yet they are not thought of as 'wealth creators' and 'job creators' and its those who use their work for profit who get these self-congratulatory titles.

Stallman was particularly prescient but it does not look like the values that powered the generation that created and grew the open source movement will persist. Those who work for and defend the surveillance economy can hardly claim them.

The communities that were more open source focused have more of less died and a lot of that tech traffic spills here but HN itself is not focused on open source but how best to use it for profit - not that that is a bad thing. But now its a side effect of efforts to make money.


>So, what is this thing called Richard Stallman? Quirky, yes. Dedicated, yes. How much fun can it be to tell the same story hundreds of times, and get the same old questions hundreds of times. Is he arrogant or paranoid? No. Everything he said was warmly said, and said to motivate. He spreads a message he deeply believes in, and encourages others to believe just as deeply.

>Richard Stallman is not a madman. He is not the enemy. He has a simple and logical story to tell, about individual and collective freedom, and communities of cooperating individuals. You might conclude that his dream can never be fulfilled, but I believe that you should listen to his message, and consider how you can improve your own life by improving everyone's life. I respect him, and I respect what he has to say.

>Stephen McKay 1999-05-11

Stallman has been my man for more than twenty years (the first time I heard him). I still 100% agree with his core values. But a while ago, he explained that mobile phones were closed/proprietary/spying and, in the very same talk, explained that if he had to give a call, then he'd use someone else's phone. That sounded wrong to me. I told it to him but the answer was not clear... So to me, he's mostly perfect, but that makes him a bit more of a human being, which I like too :-)

He talked about the cell phone thing in some video I saw and that answer bugged me a bit too. At first it seems like that line of reasoning could be used to justify using all proprietary things. But I think that cell phones are proprietary spying tools is one issue, a reason not to register one in your name due to maintaining anonymity, as well as a reason not to do personal computing on, because who knows what the hell it's doing in the interest of the proprietor. On the other hand, making a few phone calls through someone else's phone is basically the same level of risk as using a pay phone. So both points are about cell phones but one is about cell phone as a computer/gps and the other is about the cell phone as a phone. If he had said he'd use someone else's phone to check his email, I'd be worried about his line of reasoning :)

I doubt he explained anything proprietary as being "closed". He spends considerable time correcting people when they summarize his views and use that term because (as he also explains) that's a reference to open source, a group founded over a decade after the free software movement which ostensibly promotes a development methodology purpose-built to remove the ethical underpinning of free software. See https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html#Closed for more on this. In practice, open source philosophy is disposed of in the face of powerful, reliable proprietary software ("How can I get a copy [of that proprietary program]?") and that's why proprietary software businesses like open source and don't care to discuss anything in terms of software freedom. But software freedom is far better for computer users in cases where the two philosophies conflict or diverge. See the section named "Different Values Can Lead to Similar Conclusions…but Not Always" of https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.... for how this plays out in practice.

As to using someone else's tracker (tracking is what those devices do most of the time, so why not acknowledge that's what they chiefly are by calling them by their rightful name?): this is right in line with understanding that software freedom concerns control of one's own computer. Remote services (such as /., Hacker News, Google mail, and more) might run on nonfree software. That's a bad choice for the computer owner (all computer owners deserve software freedom) but it doesn't say much about use of the service because service users don't have a say about someone else's computer. By the same token, those that choose to own and keep trackers on their person have already divulged the location of the tracker (and thus themselves), and that choice was never Stallman's to make. So the choice for Stallman (or someone using someone else's tracker) comes down to making the call or not.

>> service users don't have a say about someone else's computer

yep, except when you spend 2 hours in a conference explaining why people should use free software. At that point, as a service user, RMS says something about someone else's computer.

I agree with the logic of your argument, but it sounds like a lawyer's argument : it's ok by the law eventhough i'ts not super "ethical".

Be reassured, I support free software, specifically on the political side.

"except when you spend 2 hours in a conference explaining why people should use free software. At that point, as a service user, RMS says something about someone else's computer."

As to "spend[ing] 2 hours in a conference explaining why people should use free software": Be careful about the trap of concision as explained by Herman and Chomsky in "Manufacturing Consent". It takes time to lay out new ideas, ideas which mainstream media never discuss. Software freedom is still (even 30+ years after the fact) regarded as a new idea.

Regarding saying something about someone else's computer: I don't clearly understand your point. Are you sure this isn't giving someone convincing reasons to favor free software? Can you point to an example of where RMS is a service user and makes demands of that service beyond recommending what they ought to do to get the software freedom they deserve?

"I agree with the logic of your argument, but it sounds like a lawyer's argument : it's ok by the law eventhough i'ts not super "ethical"."

What's not ethical about not having control over someone else's computer?

ah, I like your arguments because I agree with them. But somehow I'm unable to drive my point home (so your arguments, while right, are not aimed at what I try to say :-)) :-(

let's just say that what you say is logical but sounds a bit incoherent to me. I expect coherency at the level of one's choice : if I complain about a tool because it's non free, because it's spying, then I do my best to not use it, be it mine or someone else's.

RMS says : "proprietary software represents an unacceptable danger to a free society" (citation from https://www.fsf.org/about/what-is-free-software ), but somehow proprietary software is acceptable when one needs to make a phone call...

I'm not trying to nitpick about what RMS says ('cos I totally agree with him, and I perfectly understand what the whole thing is about), it's just that, on that occasion, I found the argument weak.

I'll stop the argument here 'cos my english is not good enough to convey my idea precisely (and it's late) :-(

From the first essay, a word that should be reclaimed.

"The use of “hacker” to mean “security breaker” is a confusion on the part of the mass media. We hackers refuse to recognize that meaning, and continue using the word to mean, “Someone who loves to program and enjoys being clever about it

I would say that hacker is a person, who enjoy doing hard and complex stuff just for fun. Spending hundreds of hours, just to tune your car engine a little bit, is pretty close to hacking for me. I think that hacker is a curious person with deep knowledge in some areas, more or less involved in DIY projects

Join us now and share the software....

Is this the first edition? There is a third edition, so why not post it instead?


One guess might be that the forward for the third edition was provided by Jacob Appelbaum, who turned out to be not such a cool guy.

I’m glad the version with the Lessig forward was posted (though I should probably read the new essays, too).

> who turned out to be not such a cool guy

all I could find was allegations of sexual assault which could not be proven? Or was that comment about something else?

Without talking about this specific case (I've never heard of that guy) sexual assault is basically impossible to "prove" without clear video recordings. :/

I don't want to get involved in this, but none of his 'victims' have ever reported it to any authorities. It's basically a social media smear campaign. They even registered a website under his name with fanfic stories.

So guilty until proven innocent?

It's better than "never guilty because proof is impossible".

RMS should be the focus here. If the forward-writer is the focus, for whatever reason, it's not a good forward.

Idk. Maybe make a 3.001 or something like that with a different forward? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Or maybe a backward.

> who turned out to be not such a cool guy.

Only if you believe anonymous smear campaigns. None of the alleged victims ever made any effort to start a proper investigation and one of the claimed victims (some of the stories were written by people who thought they witnessed something) came forward saying that she was in fact not a victim and that the allegations were all bullcrap.

Greedy question, is this available (for purchase or otherwise) as an epub? The FSF only seems to carry it physically.

Essay collections are great to carry around on an e-reader and bust out whenever I have a tiny bit of free time, but my device really doesn't handle PDFs very well.

Edit: I'm going to assume that the source is available online in some kind of pure-text format, although I'm having trouble locating it. I'm also going to go out on a limb and assume that this is permissively licensed. Assuming there's not an epub available, would there be any interest in me making one?

Somebody on GitHub made a epub version, which you can find here: https://github.com/pettarin/fsfs3

In the releases tab you can find a download for a zip file containing both epub and mobi files.

I hope you're not reading this on a Kindle (or any other proprietary e-reader)! That would be some kind of insult to the great man, to read his selected papers on the most locked down and proprietary device imaginable!

Buy a physical copy, support the FSF and then buy another copy for a library!

DRM-free epubs only, but unfortunately I can't do much about the hardware right now other than avoid Kindle like the plague. I really wish a company like Purism would make a good e-reader.

You're not wrong though; I'll take the criticism. The e-reader ecosystem right now is complete crap, the proprietary hardware/software/formats are almost completely to blame, and I do regularly feel pretty guilty that I might be contributing to it.

You can see the directory by editing the URL: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/fsfs/

Looks like rms-essays.ps exists, and there are .texi files for individual essays (at least "Right to Read" and "Misinterpreting Copyrights").

Wouldn't converting this PDF to epub via Calibre work just as well?

One would think but converting from pdf is pretty crappy and the results meh at best in my experience.

My understanding is that PDFs are not layed out semantically, so the conversion experience is never going to get much better.

I have nothing against people who rely on PDFs for layouts, but I kind of wish in general we would stop using the format, specifically for that reason. I consider most PDFs to be a downgrade from a pure text format.

There's been a trend lately of technical authors publishing books as CSS/HTML, and I think that's a really good idea.

But I get it - if someone isn't into the whole responsive design thing, or they're not worried about readers being able to change contrast/size/fonts, it's going to be a really hard sell to convince that person to use a format that makes it more difficult to do pixel-perfect layout.

I have had good success converting PDF to mobile format with k2pdfopt http://www.willus.com/k2pdfopt/

I'm interested, multiple formats, ideally.

Whoa, NSFW warning please! ;)

At least he's wearing a laptop in all the pictures.

This is amazing. I hope RMS ends up reading this thread one way or another. I want him to know how truly appreciated he is.


Please don't do this here.

Stallman is my man.

RMS is the Root Mean Square: always positive! ;)

Have you installed VMRS?


vrms (Virtual Richard M. Stallman) is a program that analyzes the set of currently-installed packages on a Debian-based system, and reports all of the packages from the non-free tree which are currently installed. Software gets placed in the non-free tree when it is agreed not to be too problematic for Debian to distribute but does not meet the Debian Free Software Guidelines and therefore cannot be included in their official distribution. For each program from "non-free" installed, vrms displays an explanation of why it is non-free, if one is available.

Thanks for posting this, just added to my digital library. Like many others here, I am a huge fan and his work positively impacts me every day.

There's a very good spanish translation of the same 2002 edition here: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/fsfs/free_software2.es.pdf

I love rms

Reading this seems like a big undertaking, can someone here recommend specific essays for me to read, or are they all compelling enough for me to read them all?

Decided to buy a copy, plus some other cool stuff!

and they publish it as a PDF file?

The PDF is output from Texinfo (the GNU documentation system), which the book was typeset in. The .texi source files are also published.

Plus, it is primarily known as a dead-tree book, not as something published digitially.

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