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Why FSF Founder Richard Stallman is Wrong on Steve Jobs (readwriteweb.com)
116 points by diegogomes on Oct 7, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 215 comments

Stallman is admittedly rather tactless, particularly in his recent comment about Jobs. To him, there is no freedom but absolute freedom; any compromise whatsoever is unacceptable, and he will not sugar-coat his opinions to make them more palatable to those that don't think the same way that he does. That is undoubtedly a shortcoming on his part.

Still, I think that if you can look past his poor social graces, the man makes some very valid points. Time and time again, he issues statements that draw eye rolls and sneers, only to be vindicated later when his seemingly over-dramatic predictions actually come to pass.

Dislike the man if you must. Criticize his poor diplomatic communication skills. But his role in our technological ecosystem is vital, and I for one am glad he's around.

> To him, there is no freedom but absolute freedom; any compromise whatsoever is unacceptable, and he will not sugar-coat his opinions to make them more palatable to those that don't think the same way that he does.

Yes, when asked he will express disdain even for projects like Ubuntu. He will say that iOS is worse, but to him, neither are acceptable. This keeps him from connecting strongly with many who are sympathetic to his cause.

I don't think people who have read a great deal of what he's said, and what others have said about him, are surprised by his recent statement about Steve Jobs. I was actually surprised that he waited 24 hours and managed to keep it short and say something to make it a little less personal (the Chicago mayor quote). I think he's maturing.

Isn't the job of a spokesperson to figure out how to effectively communicate the "valid points" of a movement so that people are not distracted by "the poor social graces" of their source? Stallman's ideas don't make him a poor spokesperson- his communication style does.

That depends entirely on what the goals of the organization are.

The FSF seems to be primarily focused on providing information and tools to those who wish to seek it. At this, I believe they do a pretty good job. There are other organizations focused on selling the idea of F/OSS to outsiders, such as OSI.

Not according to their own website they are not: http://www.fsf.org/

First bullet point.

And Greenpeace pickets Japanese whalers.

Realistically, these sorts of organizations are not looking for outside support. They thrive on controversy and know their target audience well.

I don't financially support the FSF, I don't financially or intellectually support Greenpeace, and I think the politics of groups like The Yes Men are tedious. I also don't think any of them are going to change the world.

I do respect the hell out of all of them though.

Free Software truly does deserve better than RMS. The guy is just about the least-suited person to being a spokesman (or any public figure) I've seen. As a hacker and behind-the-scenes guy, sure. But his complete lack of tact, social skills, and presentability makes him more harmful than helpful as a figurehead.

[There goes my karma...]

Since a lot of people here seemed to have an emotional reaction to Jobs' passing, I had no desire to say anything here. But now the topic is Stallman, and for whatever reason, people are wanting to discuss his comments.

I (and probably most people I know) don't think Stallman's comments are a big deal. Steve was known for acting cruelly to people; apparently acted like a sociopath. If he treated people like shit when he was alive, then it's not the end of the world when someone says a few less-than-respectful things about him when he's gone.

When confronted with the death of someone he disliked, I doubt Steve would be so sentimental. (At least not inwardly.)

> Steve was known for acting cruelly to people; apparently acted like a sociopath

Stallman is also a sociopath by your definition then; remember his comments in some mailing list when someone announced they had had a child. There are plenty of other examples. Richard Stallman is an asshole. A brilliant and useful asshole, but an asocial asshole incapable of basic empathy nonetheless.

I don't admire either of them (though I'd give more credit to Stallman for fighting the good and difficult fight all these years), but it seems to me that Stallman's supporters behave exactly the way they claim Jobs' supporters do - by eulogizing and finding excuses for the ugly sides of their heroes and claiming "the others" are a cult.

History is full of brilliant and useful assholes. both Jobs and Stallman should be given their rightful due and called on their failings. But neither of them should be casting aspersions about the other (not that Jobs can do that anymore). At some level they are fundamentally the same.

>remember his comments in some mailing list when someone announced they had had a child.

I can't find that comment:(

I'm not sure whether to laugh or grimace.

The problem is that Stallman is a very public spokesperson for free software and he does an absolutely terrible job.

It’s impossible to ignore the effects he has in his role and they are terrible.

I am yet to see a press release saying a company decided to go closed source because they disagree with what Richard Stallman says. Can you point to any specific examples where Richard Stallman and his views have pushed a project that was on the open source path into the closed source direction.

"The open source path" includes many steps before you actually see any source from people. Once they've released source, it's a little late to go back. But they might be turned away from going through the trouble and risk of releasing source in the first place if they perceive that Richard Stallman is the type of person they'd be appeasing.

But more to the point, Stallman does not just want open-source software. He wants free software, and just based on my informal observations, his ideas of free software seem to be losing traction these days. Yeah, there's a lot of open-source software, but BSD, Apache, MIT and other open-source-but-not-free licenses are taking the lion's share.

Even among projects that do use GPL, they mostly seem to prefer v2 rather than the more-free GPL3 and AGPL.

BSD, Apache and MIT are all Free licenses, even by Stallman's viewpoint. They're just not copyleft.

He thinks the Open Source movement misses the point, but he has no problems accepting their software as Free.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that keeping existing open source projects open source is all Stallman wants.

Do you honestly believe that his comments help push for more free software? I don’t.

I dont claim to know what Richard Stallman wants or what effects his words have.

What?! I think Stallman has always been pretty clear about what he wants. It’s not clarity that he lacks as a spokesperson.

Your original post had - "It’s impossible to ignore the effects he has in his role and they are terrible.". You failed to cite a single effect let alone it being terrible. I merely asked you to point out things that you think are hard to miss but that I dont know about at all.

I think that claiming to know what someone else wants falls in the same category as speaking on their behalf - something that should only be done in very limited circumstances.

Anyone more competent as a spokesperson for the FSF... would not be.

It is the sort of position that can only be publicly lead by someone who is more than a little eccentric. Anyone else would not be able to walk their own walk.

Richard Stallman does an excellent job of defining what it means to be a free software radical. He makes the rest of us look far more moderate and reasonable by comparison, which is a very valuable thing.

Why do you feel he does a terrible job? Does the Tea party do a terrible job? Does Dawkins do a terrible job? Did Marx, Nietzsche, Augustine, ... do terrible jobs? I don't doubt you can think of awesome people that others think are doing -- or did -- terrible jobs.

I'm glad someone says the things he says and I think it would be a loss if nobody said these things anymore. He's as much a visionary as Steve Jobs was, only his vision does not get carried out be a multi-billion dollar company, so he needs to keep spreading it with his mouth. He doesn't care about selling the vision, because that doesn't work in a world where many people believe Ayn Rand is someone with deep insight in how the world could and should be organised.

I’m not so much talking about content but about delivery and style.

free software isn't a religious movement like Stallman would like it to be.

it's just a social concept (one of many) of how we humans should organise our interactions with regards to software.

I believe it's an useful concept and probably so do you. For god's sake, we don't need a spokesperson!

Arrogant? For sure. Narcissistic even? perhaps. Sociopath? Give me a fucking break.

I think he meant psychopath rather than sociopath. It's been hypothesized that many great CEO's are psychopathic.


"Sociopath" is the new term for "psychopath", more or less. The differences are hairsplitting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathy#Psychopathy_vs._soc...

If they've got anything to say to Steve they should've said it to HIS FACE when he was alive. RMS is a low life pig and a coward and I won't be surprised if people piss in his grave after he dies a lonely death.

You can say a lot of things about RMS, but coward is not one of them.

RMS has been saying very public things about Apple for almost 30 years. If he met Steve Jobs in person, he would not have hesitated to say much, much worse.

I don't doubt they've met each other on several occasions and that RMS has told Steve to his face that he disagreed with him. They moved in a lot of overlapping circles and RMS is many things, but certainly not a coward or a hypocrite. He has always put his money where his mouth is.

" RMS is a low life pig and a coward and I won't be surprised if people piss in his grave after he dies a lonely death"

So.. did you say this to his face ?

I upvoted you on purely on the basis of human decency.

Edit: I'll leave this up, downvote away. I made my comment on the basis of the first part - "If they've got anything to say to Steve they should've said it to HIS FACE when he was alive."

RMS's statement lacked any class or tact, and I will be more than willing to tell RMS what I think of his comments should I ever meet him in person.

While I am with you about finding RMS action here despicable, the comment you upvoted was not appropriate for HN.

As I have no doubt RMS would have told Jobs what he thought directly as he has done this in the past with many people. I remember him getting an award and in his speech speaking his mind about the people giving him the award (it was an opensource conference) about using the word opensource etc... He's not shy to insult whoever contradicts his views.

Jobs was a notoriously private person, so I'm fairly confident saying that if you didn't know him personally, you aren't qualified to guess how he'd react to the death of someone. My guess is that he'd be quite reflective on the concept of death, but then again, I'm not qualified to speculate either.

That's why Linus, not Stallman, is the first name that comes to my mind when I think about FOSS. He's headstrong, sometimes a bit mean, positively pragmatic but also handsome, and -- oddly -- very likable. He's a bit like Steve Jobs, in a twisted way.

He definitely has charisma. I remember seeing a video of him and Stallman on stage, and Linus' kid comes on stage and starts playing with Linus while Stallman is ranting about freedom.

This one? Stallman receiving Torvalds award at LinuxWorld conf 1999


It is kind of hard to oust a figurehead if he is also the founding father. Perhaps the FSF likes his uncompromising views. (Think of PETA and their crazy-ass leadership.)

Also this isn't new behavior. Stallman has been like this his whole life. People are hitting back in this case because it is about Steve Jobs.

>People are hitting back in this case because it is about Steve Jobs.

I'm hitting back because it's just another in a very long line of events that suggests Stallman is something other than a 'people person'. I've made the point before that I thought he was a poor choice to speak for the FSF, and was downvoted for it, iirc.

I don't think what he said about Jobs was that bad, but I think he showed incredibly poor judgement as a public figure in saying it. It's indicative of a lack of suitability for the role he's chosen.

He's also an extreme fundamentalist. I don't think he knows what 'compromise' or 'real world' mean.

He lacks taste, class and humanity.

>I don't think he knows what 'compromise' or 'real world' mean.

Isn't that how we got a functional free software stack though? A "real world" "compromise" pragmatic guy would have bought another printer and moved on.

The world needs idealists. We may not always agree with them, they sometimes sound crazy, but they play an important role.

I dunno, Linus does pretty well, doesn't he?

For those of us who've been around a while, GNU wasn't very notable until the Linux kernel came around. I figure Linux has probably done more for GNU PR than rms or anyone else.

GNU already included the best C compiler, the best text editor, and a number of other development tools, before the Linux kernel came around. For the people who were on the internet already at the time, it was quite notable.

It is certainly true, though, that without Linux, GNU might easily have collapsed in the early 1990s.

I didn't really consider gcc or much of the other GNU stuff very viable back then. Emacs, sure. But most of it seems to have matured after Linux's popularity grew.

It might depend on what you were doing. I mean, Cygnus was founded in 1989, and I think they had revenue by 1990. So at least some people considered it so viable they were willing to pay a tiny startup hundreds of thousands of dollars for it by then.

I'm pretty sure we've always had free software, from the moment people started writing software.

Surely most of us started out downloading free software from BBSes? Remember fractint?

Sorry, but if Stallman hadn't done anything, we'd still have Linux, and all the other software we enjoy today.

Fractint is a perfect case study. It has died, not because people stopped computing fractals, but because it was under a no-commercial-distribution license, not a free-software license. That meant that commercial Linux distributors like Red Hat couldn't include it in their product, and so it gradually lost the contributors who could have kept it relevant.

Linux was originally under a similar license. It could have died in the same way, leaving only the BSD projects, which have been much less effective at attracting contributors. You could argue that maybe without competition from Linux, they would have been able to attract more contributors; but I think the truth is the opposite — with fewer free-software users, there would be fewer free-software contributors, and less free software, increasingly marginalizing free-software systems.

And, without inspiration from Stallman's ideology, even BSD would never have become free, according to Keith Bostic.

So we'd have some free software, but we wouldn't have a coherent movement that strives to ensure that everyone can use a 100%-free-software system.

I disagree. It died once everyone had generated a billion fractals and it was no longer particularly cool.

They started being repetitive because the software stopped gaining new abilities, because people stopped working on it.

>Sorry, but if Stallman hadn't done anything, we'd still have Linux, and all the other software we enjoy today.

Are you absolutely certain about that? Think about it: if for example Linus had released his kernel with a more permissive license, he might not have received as many contributions, and maybe Linux would never have become as great as it is now.

Personally, I'm certain it would have happened anyway. Even going further, if Linus hadn't done Linux, someone else would have hacked together a free open source Unix OS and got a following behind it.

History is littered with cases where a large number of people 'discover' or 'invent' something, and then one of them happens to be credited with it, and goes down in history as "the inventor". But it was bound to happen anyway.

>History is littered with cases where a large number of people 'discover' or 'invent' something, and then one of them happens to be credited with it, and goes down in history as "the inventor". But it was bound to happen anyway.

You could say the same of Einstein, or ... even Steve Jobs :)

I think it's a little different though. There's millions of programmers with all the skills needed to write gcc or linux etc. The only thing needed is time. But to be an Einstein or Jobs requires a bit more skill and there's far fewer people in the right circumstances to be an Einstein or Jobs.

Selective bias again. Jobs seems to have this effect on people. Torvalds is more than just a coder, and his mix of what's important and his personal philosophy is every bit as special as Jobs'.

We wouldn't have had Linux without GNU (or something like it).

Why not? Wouldn't Linus have just hacked together the tools he needed like gcc etc?

Not having software isn't a show stopper. It just means you have a bit more work to do. So yeah maybe building gcc might have taken a few months, but it wouldn't have prevented anything, only delayed the inevitable.

It's impossible to know whether or not Linux would exist without GNU, but GCC isn't something you can hack together in a few months. Clang is the closest thing to a GCC replacement we have, and it didn't compile Linux until October 2010 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clang)

Since GCC exists, the motivation to build another gcc is far less. If gcc had not have existed, people would have built what was needed.

This isn't rocket science, it's just programming. We don't invent things, we just build what needs building.

You might naïvely think that, but it turns out that things that need building often don't get built, or at least not for many years after they first needed building. I mean, you could have written jQuery in 1999. We still have problems with hardware that isn't supported by free software.

You're comparing a compiler (necessary to build stuff), with a javascript library which makes things a bit easier for newbies?

If people needed a compiler, they would have built one. Jquery was an optional addition that some like using. It hasn't enabled things that weren't possible before.

> You're comparing a compiler (necessary to build stuff),

You may not be aware of this, but people were writing working computer programs for almost 20 years before they invented compilers. People still occasionally write working computer programs today without compilers.

> with a javascript library which makes things a bit easier for newbies?

I've been programming since 1980. I've been doing AJAX (and Comet!) since 2000 — very reluctantly at first! I've shipped production software that kicked Cisco's ass, in the market, at managing Cisco devices. I'm in the AUTHORS file for Perl 5, although I don't deserve to be. Among other things, I've written OLAP systems; user interfaces; music softsynths; 3-D engines, one of which was in JavaScript; full-text search engines; mailserver software; and compilers.

And I think jQuery is awesome.

> If people needed a compiler, they would have built one. Jquery was an optional addition that some like using. It hasn't enabled things that weren't possible before.

No software "enables" things that weren't possible before; obviously if it hadn't been possible to do the things that the software "enabled", it would have been impossible to write the software.

In particular, any software you can write with a compiler, you can write in machine code. It's just more work.

But some software gives you a lot of leverage. jQuery is a good example. A C compiler is another good example. The leverage provided by the two is roughly comparable.


Its sort of difficult not to call your posts trolling.

Not having tools at hand is a major factor for not to pursue a project everywhere in the world. Not just in the open source world. I don't think Guido or Larry or Matz would have taken trouble to write a compiler to write Python or Perl or Ruby.

Not to mention nearly all major open source projects and many other closed projects are using gcc one way or the other. I bet even Apple uses gcc in some way.

Work happens by incrementally building on others work. Even Linus agrees RMS is one of the giants on whose shoulders he has stood to look farther.

RMS might have some problems communicating in most socially accepted ways. But he has achieved and helped other achieve far more things valuable. And he has done it in time. A lot of people have built on top of his work. And a lot of that work has made a lot of money and provided employment.

Its wrong to compare Steve Jobs and Richard Matthew Stallman. They are great in their own rights. But in terms of absolute comparisons, RMS has achieved far more than Jobs.

iProducts are the cool must have gadgets of this era, they haven't changed the world any more than video games have.

Whoah there. He may lack conventional taste and class, but he is driven by his humanity. It's his whole reason for being - to free everyone from technological shackles. He's all about doing this for the benefit of all.

Is he? Or is he fundamentally a troubled, self-righteous individual with an axe to grind? It's easy to rationalize this behavior as primarily altruistic, but in RMS's case I kind of doubt it.

No one will even notice when RMS dies.

Exactly. There is no difference between either the Phelps or the Stallman message. Insane fundamentalists looking to draw attention to themselves and their ideals through an offensive message when they know that the community is experiencing an emotional event together.

It's akin to car-bombing a funeral; something only really insane or angry people do. And last time I checked, Stallman doesn't have much to be angry about.

There is no difference between either the Phelps or the Stallman message.

There... uh.. seems to be a lot of difference between "god kills soldiers because gay people exist" and "software should be free." Even though his quip about Jobs's death was tacky, I'm still gonna give RMS more points than the Westboro Baptist Church.

> Even though his quip about Jobs's death was tacky

There's a big difference between being tacky out of ignorance and immaturity and deliberately hurtful in a public forum with a measured audience. Coupled with a sense of timing and purpose, any sane and intelligent person would be able to make that distinction.

And much like a car-bomber at a funeral, what sets Stallman aside from the rest of us is the opportunistic cowardice with which he operates. If he truly felt harmed by Steve Job's actions whilst living, why didn't he make a case for him to die sooner rather than waiting for his death to be fait accompli?

Not sure where you're trying to go with that last part, but I disagree that one can equivocate car bombing, Fred Phelps, and RMS.

Guess I should've just wrote that it's wrong to kick people while they're down.

Are you seriously asking why Stallman doesn't desire the death of his ideological opponents?

What? Stallman specifically says he's not glad Jobs is dead, but he's glad his influence is gone. He's not happy that Jobs is dead.

As for opportunistic cowardice? Have you ever heard of RMS before? He's constantly saying these things, and to anyone who will listen (and some who won't).

Likening Stallman to a car-bomber is far worse than what Stallman actually said - you don't really have the moral ground to call someone else an opportunistic coward.

Says the guy who chose the name of a mass murderer for his HN handle.

RMS: the guy who doesn't have what it takes to finish GNU even after 27 years.

They finished the "Not Unix!" part, but then they have to go and do the remaining GNU part. Since it's recursive, this could take a while.

The vast majority of GNU is running on every Linux machine out there. That's why RMS insists on calling such machines "GNU/Linux machines", because they're running GNU with Linux as the kernel.

What would it even mean to "finish GNU"? That doesn't make any sense.

He probably means Hurd.

the OS/kernel

RMS has stated publicly that GNU Hurd has been significantly deprioritized for some time due to the introduction of Linux. Specifically noting that the deficiencies Linux suffers would not be resolved by the completion of GNU Hurd.

On the other hand, a friend of mine does use GNU Hurd on one of his machines. He's a little loopy though.

If you want GNU/Hurd so much, why don't you start working on it?

Sure. deprioritized. Whatever. HURD blows.

"HURD blows."

Be careful, I think you just agreed with RMS there. ;)

On a more serious note, you seem to be doing some pretty heavy trolling today. Why don't you step back from the computer and go get some air? Life is good.

Hence its indefinite de-prioritization, yes. Is there actually a dispute here?

you know what. i think that's a good idea.

"I'm not glad he's dead, but I'm glad he's gone."

This means to me that Stallman is glad that Jobs is no more a malign influence on people's computing.

But he is not glad that he is dead.

That is exactly the same thing the poster says about Stallman:

"While I'd love it if Stallman would retire, or at the very least improve his social skills, I hope he lives to be 120. As long as he's alive, there's hope he might change. I'd never be glad that he's gone. And I'm certainly not glad that Steve is."

Saying that you'd love it if Stallman would retire means that you would be glad if he's gone.

That is exactly the same thing the poster says about Stallman

Yup. Stallman tried to separate the Job's death from the end of his influence on the computing world. It was short and to the point and not the most tactful, but that molehill is reaching mountain proportions. Way more has been written about it than seems reasonable.

If you read closely you can see what has really upset people isn't just lack of tact. Its that Stallman's ideals of computing paints Jobs' contributions as a net negative. See this line in the article: and insult millions of Apple users simultaneously. It doesn't insult me that someones ideals give them a different opinion of a piece of plastic sitting at my house. I'm a nerd, but my identity isn't that caught up in my devices.

48 hours after someone's death is not the appropriate time to start trying to draw distinctions between their death and their absence, and declare their influence "evil".

When that's your initial reaction, there's no way you're not going to come off like a giant ass.

When is an appropriate time? How about 30 years before his death, which is about when RMS started calling Apple/Steve Jobs evil.

Yep, it's okay to criticize someone before they die (though "evil" is usually overdoing it). And it's okay to criticize someone with a reasonable buffer after they die. But taking the opportunity of their death to criticize them is just plain tacky.

yeah, but I'm saying this is about par for the course with stallman, and even if people happened to expect tact from him, why the huge fuss? Say "Not the right time for this conversation RMS" and _move on_. By attempting to refute his point about Jobs' absence, they lose whatever higher ground they might have had about timeliness of his statement.

It upset me enough that I never want to use any of RS's software again.

Are there any FSF/GPL/GNU stuff on OS X? Ubuntu? (I'm trying to think of anything I use that is GPL/FSF/GNU).

I don't use any of Microsoft's stuff anymore because generally I've found better alternatives. I think open source software is a better philosophy. I think the same thing about the GPL/FSF/RS/GNU stuff, (I think it's a bad philosophy), and I'd love to rid myself of it.

Could someone give me some pointers how I can avoid RS's stuff completely?


Are you, by any chance, saying that you have certain principles that outweigh things like convenience and fitness for purpose? That you are prepared to go out of your way to reject the use of certain software purely because you dislike its philosophy, and not because it’s objectively worse for you?

If so, you and Mr. Stallman have something in common.

I used to use Windows, even though I had gripes, because it was okay and there was no good alternative.

GNU/FSF/RS helped create a good alternative.

I've used their stuff, despite my gripes, because there was no good alternative.

Now there is. There's a tremendous amount of rock solid, MIT & other licensed open source software out there. And I want to switch to that. And ditch GNU/FSF/RS.

It's a free marketplace, and RS & Co. have to compete too. They got me to switch from MSFT, but now they're the ones who are behind the times IMO.

There's a ton of GNU and GPL software that you probably unknowingly use. If you don't use any MS software, and you don't plan on using any FSF/GNU/GPL software, then you're really limiting yourself.

I don't even think it's really possible to avoid it all, GNU libraries/compilers/... are used by pretty much everything that's not on Windows platform. You'd basically have to write all your software yourself.

What are these? I don't know of one program on OS X that is GNU. I'm probably wrong, just curios to know.

Well if you ever printed from OSX then you used CUPS which is a GNU tool. The shell is filled with them, if you ever used bash you used a GNU tool. You might say I never used that stuff directly but GNU libraries, shell scripts etc... are built into so many other applications that it's hard to not use any at all. Most applications written in C on the mac are probably compiled with gcc that means they have gnu code in them. I'm not 100% sure but doesn't all iOS app also get compiled with gcc? Xcode includes it as the default compiler.

Apple has done a good job hiding those things from us to build a user friendly operating system and tools on top but at the bottom there a bunch of GNU tools.

I guess it depends how gnugan you want to be. But it's probably got some GNU code in everywhere.

You would stop using software written by millions of people because of one comment made by a selfappointed spokeperson that seemed a little harsh?

Prepare yourself to abandon technology altogether, I guess.

I think you're missing an important distinction here: Stallman has not, in fact, died. The writer of the article is talking about a living person. That fundamentally changes what you're allowed, in polite society, to say about him.

Bingo. Stallman, and many of his supporters, are just missing the nuance. You simply don't say, "I'm glad he's gone" a day and a half after someone dies. Even if you are, and even if you don't mean you're glad he's dead. It's one of those unspoken rules of human interaction that Stallman just doesn't seem to get.

I'm not particularly interested in Stallman and most of his ideas and comments. I like open source but I don't think they've completely figured out the philosophy yet and of what roles it has—this is another story, but, ..

How do people on HN generally feel with the idea that we allow ourselves to be offended/annoyed OR we should act rather than react. There will forever be people who say things like this that some group of people do not like but is it not their choice to either have a knee-jerk reaction or to craft an intelligent reply or ignore the person?

Basically, I don't like to allow myself to become annoyed or offended even though I've been in more than enough situations, even recently, to allow that.

My concern is not with being offended (I wasn't), but with the fact that's it's just a very stupid thing for a public spokesperson to do.

Which is why Stallman explicitly said "I'm not glad he's dead".

People may be reacting to it regardless, possibly even subconsciously, because it was placed (and sounded) like a 'hedge' phrase.

So, uh, in recent years, Ken Lay, Strom Thurmond, Jack Valenti, Saddam Hussein, and Ronald Reagan all died. Quite a few people were extremely unkind to them immediately after their death, and with far harsher words than "I'm glad he's gone." People do simply say these things.

Fidel Castro is widely believed to be in declining health, just like Steve Jobs a few months ago. People have been saying that they'll be glad when he's gone for a while; do you think that they'll suddenly go quiet when he passes away?

Just because they do doesn't mean you should.

When redthrowaway said: "You simply don't say" he was describing how people should behave, not how they actually behave.

I actually wasn't talking about the moral dimension at all, I was talking about unspoken rules of human interaction and how they affect one's suitability as a public spokesperson.

For what it's worth, I agree with you that it's just not something you should do.

With the exception of Reagan, none of those people were well-liked. In the case of of Reagan, he was about equally loved and reviled. With Jobs, even most of those who didn't like him had a grudging respect for him, and acknowledged the contributions he'd made.

You can get away with saying you're glad someone's gone if there are enough people out there who feel the same way. You can't if there aren't. You can't boil it down to a logically consistent principle or moral value; it's just one of the vagaries of human interaction. You can debate the merits of such an unspoken law, but you can't deny its existence.

Stallman broke that law, and that's why his comments were viewed as distasteful, whereas you could say anything you wanted about Bin Laden after he died.

It's okay to express gladness about the death of the truly evil (Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Osama bin Laden).

It's not okay to express gladness about the death of people with whom you merely disagree, or who might have done things of which you disapprove (Strom Thurmond, Jack Valenti, Ken Lay, Steve Jobs).

The dividing line is something along the lines of "Did this dude actually murder people?" (And no, I'm not interested in discussing any particular borderline cases.)

And who get's to decide what who the 'truly evil' are? In my opinion, putting Fidel Castro in the same set as Bin Laden or Sadam Hussein is unfair, yet for you he is evil just like those other two. I could present a sh*tload of evidence that things are way more complicated than that. But it's not up to me to decide for everyone else.

Now, I think RMS could be more reasonable, it's not a nice to drop such negative and strong sentences about someone that just passed away. But my opinion remains the same concerning sadam hussein, we cannot just decide he is evil and then everything goes.

Saying that you're not interested in discussing particular borderlines cases, in your case means you're not interested in discussing any case at all, since every case has its particular borderline. Your opinion becomes of little or zero value if you're not willing to discuss it. Just saying.

I find it extremely telling that you added Osama bin Laden to the list. I did not mention him.

Not exactly - once someone dies they cannot evolve their thinking any further. No matter how stuck, people can change. (And sometimes, yes, there is very little chance that that will happen).

So as long as he's alive, there's a chance for controversy. Once he dies his followers can create gospel.

Sounds cultish, I agree.

I don't see people reacting as harshly if it was someone like Jack Valenti that RMS said some unkind posthumous words about. Steve Jobs did embody the lock down of computing. I'd say Valenti and Jobs belong to the same category of protecting the consumer from perceived evil through benevolent restriction.

I haven't seen anyone claiming Stallman is wrong. Just that he was a jerk about the death of a revered CEO who gets worshiped as a tech prophet. Jobs oversaw some great advances in the consumer computing market. That does not make him immune to criticism and especially not immune to true criticism.


I haven't seen anyone claiming Stallman is wrong.

I claim Stallman is wrong. To the extent that people may have lost freedom along one axis, they gained it along others. And these other axis most people consider far more important.

Everything in life has tradeoffs, and most people recognize that. Stallman doesn't with respect to this one particular axis (a warped view of SW freedom).

A tradeoff we've been accepting since the dawn of civilization, in a way. It's a bit like living in a city as opposed to surviving in the wilderness. Yes, there are laws to abide to and limits to what you can do if you live in a city, but on the flipside you don't have to fear being mauled by a bear. I wish Apple allowed users more freedom with the idevice and iOS itself, but as far as the App Store goes, I'm pretty happy at not having to worry about malware and such crap.

What freedoms are gained from using Apple devices? Freedom to purchase things from Apple's app store? Freedom to install iTunes?

Do you equate freedom with empowerment? I do agree that Apple's devices have empowered people. But freedom and empowerment are not the same thing. You have more freedom to modify and adapt a post-it note than you do an iPhone.

The freedom issue is whether people have control over the machines they invite into their lives. Especially recently, Apple's devices force you into an (arguably exploitative) dependency.

Apple devices give you freedom to not care about your device.

And your distinction between freedom and empowerment is a false one in the real world. Freedom is generally about empowerment. Apple devices give you the power to exercise your freedom -- except along this narrow axis that you and Stallman seem to care so much about.

So why can't they give you freedom to root your own device or sideload your own apps. The 'safe garden' is still there for those who want it, and those who want more could do that of their own accord as well. Apple are unnecessarily restrictive.

I'm really not sure how any freedoms are won or lost by the existence of Apple devices. Buy an Apple device or don't buy an Apple device... who cares?

Except it is not really a tradeoff situation here. There is no reason why you couldn't have freedom in what you put on your computer and freedom from porn and viri (I think that was Job's argument) at the same time.

"Steve Jobs did embody the lock down of computing"?

Really? To a hacker, perhaps, but to most people he made computing accessible, giving them tools that they'd never have had no matter how "open" otherwise.

Computers, MP3 players, and smartphones would still exist without Steve Jobs. Although probably with a cheaper/uglier case, more complicated SW, and less marketing and design-induced love.

I get the feeling without Steve Jobs, devices that allow Stevie Wonder (see the video in my other comment) or my mother to actually use all those things wouldn't be mainstream. He cared about everyone being able use the technology. It isn't the cases that make Apple products great, it is the carefully thought out uses that generate amazings designs.

Stallman's comments remind me a bit of Malcom X's comments regarding JFK's death. The lesson is the same, you're going to anger and alienate a lot of people unless you keep your tone respectful when criticizing a recently deceased beloved public figure.

"Steve Jobs did embody the lock down of computing"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2Tkj8SIHMU at about 4:30 mark

Stallman, I had this man as a host in my house in Spain as part of a free software convention many years ago and I could tell you that he is one of the worst mannered person I had met in person, and that conclusion was shared with the entire LUG that had to organize it.

I appreciate what he has done with the GPL, but when speaking he could do a disservice for the community.

Something as simple as talking about "Linux" will make him crazy, as he will force you in a rude way to use GNU BEFORE Linux, always despising what Linux Towards made(and this thing called Hurd was going to be way better). As he talked it become obvious that he saw his role as more important than everybody else.

He has "command and control", "you are with me or against me" mentality.

> Linux Towards

One day, someone is going to have to fix autocorrect. It's batting 0 for 2 here.

I have always been surprised as to why people think its offensive to talk ill of someone just because the person is dead. Death does not change character. If a person could be criticized for something when he was alive, he should not be immune to that after death.

I am definitely not saying that Steve Jobs was a jerk. I admire the man. But it seems insensible when the OP says it "offends common decency".

Also, IMHO, Stallman wasn't reckless about choosing his words. He says, he's not glad he's dead (referring to the fact that wishing death upon someone is not good), but he's glad he's gone (referring here to Jobs as a symbol of antithesis of the free software movement).

The OP offers an alternate version of what Stallman could have said. Its says:

"I didn't share Steve Jobs' vision of computing, and I wish he'd chosen to embrace free software. I'm very sorry that he's gone and we've lost the opportunity to have that conversation. My sympathies are with his family at this time."

When a person says something, it embodies his style and personality. Stallman shouldnt have to say something that is not his style. Also "I am very sorry he's gone and we've lost the opportunity to have that conversation" indicates that Stallman wanted to engage Jobs in conversation. Who knows? Maybe Stallman doesnt want to keep engaging in conversation. Maybe he views it as a tough battle and is sincerely relieved that people against the fsf philosophy dont exist anymore. If someone with similar beliefs dies tomorrow, he will count it as one more step towards progress.

There are very few people in the world who do not offer veiled opinions. Stallman seems to be one of them. Let us not tell him what he needs to say - but instead think about why he said it.

I have always been surprised as to why people think its offensive to talk ill of someone just because the person is dead. Death does not change character. If a person could be criticized for something when he was alive, he should not be immune to that after death.

There's a time and place to show restraint.

How would you feel if one of your mom's ex-boyfriends came to her funeral and started cursing at her? Maybe that's what he did the last time he saw her alive, but you know what, there's a time and place for restraint. (Note, not a dig on you and your mom at all -- but recall that Jobs has family too).

Would it have been too much for RMS to say, "I'll respectfully voice my opinions at a later date" Apparently so.

Apples and oranges. Funerals are for people who actually know the person that died. Everyone wailing here has never even met Jobs.

But even aside from that, RMS did not 'come to the funeral'. 'The funeral' 'came to him and asked him his opinion':

"Stallman made these comments on his personal site, rather than on the FSF site."

In your hypothetical, it's more like the funeral went to your mum's ex-boyfriend, known to be critical of her, while he was sitting at home, asked him for his opinion, then acted all offended when he answered as expected. The ex-boyfriend didn't leave his house to make the mourners unhappy, he just said his own thing in his own space.

I don't think Stallman did anything wrong. Jobs undeniably set back the Free Software community by making really good software that people were willing to trade their freedom for. For most people, it doesn't make a difference whether or not something is free, so these people happily accepted phones that couldn't run Unapproved software and OSes that contain code specifically to prevent you from tracing certain pieces of software that send information about your computer back to Apple.

This is counter to everything that Stallman has spent his life on, so he says, "I'm glad Jobs isn't around anymore, because he was really good at fucking my movement over".

I'm probably the hugest fan of Apple, and Jobs there is. I grew up on Macintoshes, own one of every iPhone and iPad. Five Apple Laptops in 11 years (three on my bed right now.)

But, I also love Open Software, and, from Stallman's perspective, I can see why Steve Jobs and his higher and higher walled gardens was seen as a threat to the Open Source movement.

Now, as for me - I don't really care, because I _love_ my iPhone4, my Macbook Air, and Terminal.App is my constant companion.

All in all I thought Stallman's response was as respectable and restrained as it could be for someone with his unflinching posture.

It's okay to make the choices you have made because at least you were aware of the choice you were making. Many people out there don't have a fucking clue.

Enough. Stallman's not /the/ leader of Free Software. He can't be, because he doesn't lead.

He's a rude jackass that wrote some code and few licenses. He works on finding new ways to be a jackass to get attention.

In ideas and code, sure, he's contributed a lot. But he's no leader. That's something different.


Not debating what you are saying. Just putting this here.

I think it's hard to say that the FSF really "leads" a whole lot these days. I'd call the Apache Foundation the current leading lights, if I had to pick one.

This may be influenced by the fact that their primary spokesman is not a douchebag. Heck, I don't even know who it would be. Probably because whoever it is doesn't try to make himself or herself the story, unlike Mr. Stallman.

His ideas have influenced a lot of people. Isn't that being a leader (of opinion?).

He may not be a very good spokesman, but he has been very influential (I agree his influence has diminished a lot in the last few years).

Nope. You can agree with people, or be convinced by them without following them.

RMS doesn't lead anybody. And with his rhetoric, doesn't seem to want to.

Not going to deny he's a jackass (maybe I'd call it antisocial) but you should give him more credit for the technical work he's provided. People often downplay his technical contributions because he hasn't made many of them more recently but he did a lot more than write a little code and a license(which is a pretty decent document).

He's entitled to his opinion. He's a legend himself, just not as widely appreciated as Mr. Jobs was.

Jobs is a legend. RMS is simply infamous.


Jobs is a legend.

RMS is a pig.

Hey chugger, I think you need to re-read the HN Welcome[1] page. Calling someone "a pig", "a low life pig and a coward" and other ad hominem insults is not what we do on HN. These types of comments you've been leaving all over this story don't add to it, and reflect poorly on yourself mainly. Don't sound like just another angry Jobs fan. If you have something worthwhile to say, say it in a civilized manner that teaches us something or adds to the conversation.

[1] http://ycombinator.com/newswelcome.html

Most people who've made an impact on society at any scale are free to have their legacy examined and criticized when they die. This can hopefully be done without criticizing the person behind the legacy. For instance, Hitchens wrote a scathing piece on the legacy of Reagan right after he passed. But people who make impacts on our world are often so married to their legacies that it is difficult to criticize that legacy without criticizing the person. Steve Jobs is one of those whose legacy is indistinguishable from himself partly because he led an intensely private life. From reading Stallman's comments, I found nothing that specifically mentioned the man, only his methods. I think that's perfectly okay. I can only guess that most people who find fault in his words are probably just caught up in the emotions produced from seeing one of the largest figures in our time move on in front of our eyes. So I've got to call RRW out on this. They posted this as the usual linkbait we're all accustomed to. (i.e. Manufactured outrage for attention.)

People are complaining a lot that Stallman isn't complying with the social norm that one does not speak ill of the dead. (And of course there are people who are personally offended because they identify with Steve Jobs and put Apple stickers on their car, which is just kind of pathetic. We'll leave them to one side.) Some of them go so far as to argue that Stallman would be more effective if he complied with those social norms, and that the FSF would be more effective if it had a spokesperson who complied with social norms.

The point that they're missing is that Stallman is effective at what he does precisely because he violates social norms — much like Steve Jobs. Let me tell a story.

On the 9th of September of this year, I was at the Conferencia Internacional de Software Libre here in Buenos Aires. Partido Justicialista, the ruling party of Argentina, has decided that free software is a good idea, and has been trying to promote it. One of the things that they're doing is a program called Conectar Igualdad ("Connecting Equality"), in which they're distributing one netbook to every public high school student in the country, 1.7 million so far, dual-booting with Linux and Windows, bought with the country's recently-renationalized pension funds.

Another of the things they did was that they organized this conference, last year and this year, which was hosted by the National Library. Last year they had Jon "maddog" Hall give the keynote, and he talked about this thin-client internet-access project that he's been putting together with a bunch of folks in Brazil, which really sounds pretty awesome. This year they had Stallman give the keynote instead, and the auditorium was so crowded that I couldn't get in far enough to see him, so I hung out in the library's café instead. (This is Argentina; cafés are a necessity of civilized life, so there is one in the library.)

So I didn't see the talk, and I didn't even see Stallman on his way out, but boy, did I hear about it afterwards in the café. Stallman apparently spent quite a bit of time ripping up the Conectar Igualdad program, because of the dual-booting, because of the lack of support for kids actually running Linux, because of the lack of source code for the modified Linux kernel that was actually running on the machines, and for other reasons.

A person who obeyed social norms would not have considered doing this. After all, he was the guest of the Argentine government, who had invited him to come speak at this conference in order to reinforce their appearance of commitment to free software. Instead, he accepted the invitation and then spent his time shredding their appearance of commitment to free software. What a socially incompetent loser, eh?

A week later I was at a party, and I happened to talk to a woman who works for Conectar Igualdad. She brought up Stallman's speech and said how she had been so happy about it, because he had said all the things that she had been unhappy about but hadn't been able to bring up. And apparently now there are meetings inside Conectar Igualdad to fix the problems that Stallman so publicly criticized.

Stallman is what is colloquially known as an asshole. He has very little concern for other people's feelings or for social norms. And it's that very unbending nature that makes him an effective change agent. Deferring to social norms would cripple him.

On the other hand, if he were at least aware of the feelings of other people, perhaps he could be leading a much more effective organization, instead of alienating even most of his closest friends over the years.

I was going to say something similar but you've done it much better, with a story to boot. So I'll just chip in with one point I had that you didn't cover directly.

A lot of the posts here are generally of the form "you can't speak ill of the newly dead". (Why? Because that's what regular people do, that's why). But adhering to social norms takes away from freedom. Indifference to what society prescribes is consistent with RMS's beliefs.

Call him what you want, but the man is consistent.

I'm guessing a lot of the angry responders here will have similar "I'm glad he's gone" feelings on RMS's death. Would not publishing those feelings give you the moral high ground over those who do?

How about this: "Speaking ill of the newly dead increases suffering unnecessarily."?

But I think the larger point that both you and the gp are missing is that, sure, sometimes it's effective to violate social norms. Steve Jobs was famously blunt with his criticism in an environment that's excessively polite.

But RMS often violates social norms in a way that does little to advance his cause, the gp's story notwithstanding. Maybe this event was an appropriate time to violate the particular social norm of not criticizing your hosts. But it seems that, increasingly, most of RMS's violations close people's minds to the ideas he champions, instead of persuading them.

The point is to be persuasive. If it's effective to be shockingly blunt, great. Expressing relief at the death of Steve Jobs? Anecdotally, it does nothing to persuade me, and everything to dissuade me.

RMS is an extremist, and extremists never get their way - they do, however, pull the center towards them.

If RMS were a nice guy, who would you hear raising these issues? There's no real names springing to mind, not that have the kind of recognisability that RMS has (who's known by his mere initials, no less)

Yes, Stallman often violates social norms in a way that does little to advance his cause. My friend Sofia was volunteering at Wikimania a few years ago, and when he couldn't answer some question he asked her, he yelled at her and called her an idiot. She laughed about it at the time but she also dropped her involvement with Wikimedia.

It probably seems to you like this kind of behavior is increasing, but I think that's some kind of cognitive bias. You'll probably never talk to Sofia unless you come to Buenos Aires, and so you never would have heard about her story if I hadn't told you about it. Similarly you probably didn't know about the conferences Stallman's been uninvited from over the decades, the old friends who don't talk to him any more; you probably didn't even know that the FSF had two founders. Because people forget stuff like that, or they don't talk about it and then new people never learn, and then they use Emacs every day. So when you see him committing some shocking social faux pas, you naturally think that this is some kind of new phenomenon that never could have occurred 15 or 20 years ago.

It's not.

Stallman pointed out that what I said is nonsense; I didn't mean "when he couldn't answer some question he asked her" but rather "when she couldn't answer some question he asked her".

"The point that they're missing is that Stallman is effective at what he does precisely because he violates social norms..."

anecdote about Stallman ripping people up in Argentina

"A person who obeyed social norms would not have considered doing this."

You know, there is a gulf of difference between having the courage to confront people who violate your principles and wishing someone dead. Steve Jobs never put a gun to anyone's head and forced them to buy an Apple computer.

The fact that Stallman is known as an asshole is nothing to be proud of. Steve Jobs had a reputation for being tough, but he also had a reputation for bringing deals together and building products that brought joy to millions of people.

Arguably, Steve Jobs has put FOSS software in the hands of more desktop users than Stallman has. Every Apple computer comes loaded with lots of FOSS software. I'm sure that has every Stallman supporters' head spinning, but it's a fact.

Stallman did not 'wish anyone dead'


This type of response reminds me very much of the type of thing that would come from the Stallman camp. "I didn't wish him dead, I simply hold a dismissive view of his life." Reminds me of, "I didn't lie, I simply omitted the truth." Delivered with the same heaping pile of snark.

I suppose I could understand if Steve Jobs had committed some heinous atrocity, but we're talking about computers here. It's so ridiculous, it borders on sociopathic behavior. It definitely shows a complete lack of perspective.

There are people here who believe that what happens with computers might actually be important — that who controls our communications and computational technology in the 21st century is a significant political issue. Stallman is another such person.

I am not "in" the Stallman camp, but I can recognise character assassination when I see it.

You know, there is a gulf of difference between having the courage to confront people who violate your principles and wishing someone dead.

Aaaand I quote: "I'm not glad he's dead"

By the way, the New York Times is publishing an op-ed violating the same norm, with much the same points as Stallman: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/06/opinion/jobs-looked-to-the...

There's a big difference between bluntly speaking your ideals and just being petty/spiteful.

I think its a pity that Jobs was never able to fully embrace the idea of empowering end-users to be in control of their computers, but RMS's comment makes it sound like Jobs the person was his mortal enemy. Does RMS really think that future leadership of Apple will be more likely to embrace software freedom?!?

No, he hopes that they are able to further their goal of "computer jails" less effectively...as in he hopes Tim Cook runs Apple in to the ground. His quote is as follows:

"Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective."

Apparently, RMS would seem to prefer that technology be exclusively Free and used by an tiny elite group of hackers than by millions of non-programmers and only partly Free.

Dear RMS: when it comes to creating good UIs, FOSS has never succeeded in keeping up with non-FOSS. Were it not for Jobs, there would be far fewer computer users and the free software movement might well be even further behind.

>Apparently, RMS would seem to prefer that technology be exclusively Free and used by an tiny elite group of hackers than by millions of non-programmers and only partly Free.

It doesn't have to be this way. Thats' the point. There is no reason free software has to not be usable by the masses.

I wouldn't saay never.

FF vs IE for example.

Of course I would 100% agree if you are talking about windows/OS X vs linux in general.

I guess I could have answered my own question and made a direct point of what I was trying to say - RMS's comment is wrong because it's coming from a position of weakness and a desire for a closed software market where users have to choose inferior free software. Free software will never triumph with that attitude.

"The point that they're missing is that Stallman is effective at what he does precisely because he violates social norms — much like Steve Jobs."

The big different being that Steve Jobs would have made a comment like this. I'm not canonizing Jobs, but this was the worst thing I've heard Stallman say, ever.

Kragen, I agree with most of what you’ve said about RMS. Specifically, I believe that pointless adherence to social norms can often make it difficult to fight for an important cause. However, your assumption about RMS and his relationships with his closest friends is something that I’m quite sure you don’t have enough information to make any conclusion about.

I am, actually, one of RMS’ closest friends and can publicly confirm that he hasn’t alienated me, yet I have had other friends (who are oft-compared to RMS) who have, in fact, alienated me. Spending lots of time in geeky Free Software world often leads me to form relationships with people who are difficult to be friends with. Yet, RMS isn’t even in the top ten list of people I know in the Free Software community who tend to alienate people.


For Christ's sake.

Stallman aside, can one bring up those sensitive issues without needing to be inflammatory? They could, perhaps, use carefully crafted questions to get them thinking or other positive argumentative/teaching methods.

Being inflammatory seems to be the poor man's approach to getting others thinking.

He could communicate even more effectively if he wanted to. It’s not necessary to violate norms all the time. That’s all I’m saying.

I think RMS is stuck in the classic Aspie hell of having strong, logically consistent beliefs that he can't communicate in a way that is emotionally sensitive enough to persuade Normals.

I don't think he enjoys this or does it on purpose; I think he's cognitively trapped.

Stallman's response:

Your article states a long list of criticisms against me, and I doubt that they are valid.

In particular, I am sure the story about Sofia must be garbled. I would not even _think_ that someone was an idiot because she asked me a question I could not answer. So I don't believe I said that.

I can only guess what did happen. Perhaps she asked a question that made no sense, and I said so. Perhaps when she heard "That question makes no sense", she understood it as a personal attack, although it wasn't one. This is a kind of misinterpretation that people often make. With this kind of misinterpretation, she might have believed incorrectly that I had called her an idiot.

I can't say this is what happened, but it is at least plausible. Various other kinds of misunderstanding are plausible too. However, it is unlikely it happened as she told you. I sometimes utter harsh rebukes, but they are generally about something important.

That might seem like a surprising claim. After all, isn't it well known that I have zero social skills, and insult people for no reason? That is the impression your article gives.

Many people tell stories where I do that; if you collect them and present their side as undisputed fact, I sound like a real jerk. Thus, anyone who gets into a dispute with me finds it easy to say, "Stallman was gratuitously nasty again," and a segment of the public will nod in sympathy. Therefore, such stories tend to accumulate.

One point in the collection is that I have been "uninvited" from conferences. I think I can guess one conference I won't be invited back to: CISL in Argentina. After what I said there about the Condenar a Maldad program, which distributes dual-boot computers in which GNU+Linux (see http://www.gnu.org/gnu/gnu-linux-faq.html) is present but many classes require students to run Windows, they probably won't invite me again.

My criticism at CISL was necessary, given how much of the organized free software movement in Argentina had drifted into praising and supporting that program. I stand by what I said. But if you want to criticize me a few years from now, you could accurately say I was "uninvited from a conference" with CISL in mind. Without giving details, included in a list of many other such criticisms, it will sure make me sound bad.

What about the rest of the list? I'm not perfect, so maybe some of them were my mistakes. However, you shouldn't suppose I'm at fault just because someone criticizes me.

Apple products are not forced on anyone. Anyone interested in free software can buy whatever they like and run whatever they want; those interested in the advantages (both actual and perceived) of Apple products can get Macs, iPads, and iPhones. This is called freedom of choice; for someone so dedicated to freedom of software, it's surprising that RMS doesn't respect it.

there is a difference between 'choice' and 'informed choice'

> Richard Stallman is putting his feet firmly in his mouth

Is that a veiled reference to him eating the toe jam?

Quite possibly. Would people rather we talked about the year or so that Mr. Jobs made unusual hygiene choices of his own? Both topics seem irrelevant to what the men in question have or haven’t accomplished.

Irrational as it might be, appearance matters when someone becomes the public face for a group.

This topic inevitably comes up when RMS is the subject of a thread. It's easy to dismiss that as maliciousness or trolling, but I think it's at least partially a reflection of the image RMS is projecting for the FSF.

It’s not irrational to accept that appearance matters to many if not most people or almost every person. And when choosing someone to be a spokesperson for FSF, that’s a valid consideration.

That being said, my observation is that if Mr. Stallman says X or Y or Z and we are discussing what he said, we are not choosing a spokesperson, nor are we any of “those” people. We are free to choose to evaluate what he said in a vacuum, just as if it were posted by an AnonymousCoward. We are perfectly free to debate X or Y or Z on their own terms.

If you or that person over there or this person over here would rather segue into repeating the exact same conversation we had last week and the week before that, and the month before that about how off-putting the man’s behaviour can be at times, well, that is your privilege. It’s not irrational to discuss it, just as it’s not irrational to discuss the fact that Apple’s first president reportedly didn’t like Steve’s body odour stinking up his office.

I remember when Steve’s star wasn’t quite so high in the public perception, and people did call out his eccentricities. When his products and ideas weren’t home runs, people complained about his autocratic ways and accused him of being a fanatic, explaining how his lack of appreciation for the “real world” and for “compromise” were costing Apple and NeXT. They harangued him for his abrasive manners and habit of screaming at employees.

In the end, I see the two men as having some great similarities.

hopefully stallman will be able to go out on as high a note

I'm slightly disappointed that RMS said this, but I'm not altogether surprised. RMS is, as others on this and the other thread have mentioned, someone who is not big on comprise. He has done a lot for computing (GNU, Emacs, GPL) but Jobs also did a lot for computing and was certainly more well known then RMS; to RMS, that good Jobs did is negated by whatever 'bad' he did (proprietary software, etc.)

Whatever non-free/non-open source Jobs did is up for debate on whether that's 'bad' or not, but that would still not wipe out any good. Of course, RMS is perfectly entitled to his opinion, but as he is the spokesperson for the FSF he could be a bit more diplomatic without going as far as saying 'Apple software is fine with us.' Something like 'Although Apple restricted user rights with proprietary software and DRM in its products, Mr. Jobs was one of the first to popularize personal computing and certainly had an impact on the tech world. My condolences to his family.' or similar would have looked a helluva lot better than what he wrote. Appearances to some degree do matter for the FSF right now

Even if you disagree that Jobs had any profound or otherwise impact on technology, he did just die. Have a bit more respect for his friends and family.

I despise it if people try to use somebodies death to exert power over other people. This author just wants to control RMS and uses Steve Jobs to have a go at him.

"He manages to offend common decency (...) and insult millions of Apple users simultaneously."

I highly doubt that common decency as an abstract concept feels much offended. And even if it did, I am sure it would be able to sleep at night. As to Apple users, if they feel offended by the insult, I would advise them to watch this little clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cycXuYzmzNg

Or read this essay by Paul Graham: http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html

Great article ... follow the HN conversation here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3083349

That was actually surprisingly tactful for RMS. It barely came across as offensive.

Richard Stallman and Steve Jobs is the same personality. Stallman's belief is around intellectual expression as free software and Jobs' was design for culture. In the pursuit of their ideals, both have demonstrated similar zeal and reputation for offending people. We overlook Steve Jobs' quirks because we cherish the beautiful products from Cupertino and we seek to absorb that into our own process. As a culture, very few actually care for emacs or gcc. In an alternate universe, Stallman's Lisp-ness would be worshipped and aesthetics would be relegated to vanity.

Jobs had a well-known positive and beneficial side to him. Bad Steve did certainly exist, but Bad Steve doesn't give that commencement address at Stanford.

Stallman is at his core inhumane. It is not contemptible, but merely sad.

This is a late response, however, to Stallman's credit he acted on his convictions of free software, invented GPL, gave away gcc, bash, emacs, libc, binutils, hurd and hundreds other pieces that enabled a kid in Finland to cook Linux. Stallman's core is exposed which cannot be said about the man who estranged his own daughter (and he did rectify it after two years of denial) and maintained secrecy around all aspects of his life and work.

I love how these threads are always full of people saying "Oh, well I agree with the guy in general, but look at that ridiculous beard he has!".

And then we talk about the beard for 500 words.

Your comment has the first mention of beard that I saw in this thread. Let's not derail this discussion.

I believe "beard" is a metaphor for "particular trait (lack of tact) about a person (Stallman) that I find objectonable".

See "bikeshedding".


Well, the beard, and other quirks, sort of symbolize how socially off and out-of-touch with normal people Stallman and others like him actually are. It doesn't automatically refute arguments he makes, but it does paint a picture.

I might argue that Mac OS X has been a gateway "drug" to Free Software/Open Source for many who would otherwise be on Windows (which isn't a slight against Windows, but much of the most popular OSS software is at home on *NIX).

I think RMS forgets what is important about freedom. As an iOS developer, the widespread adoption of iOS devices has allowed me to follow my own path, work on what I love, and have the chance to see my dreams become reality. If that isn't freedom, I don't know what is. Apple's success implies the market wants a controlled user experience. If that means I have to use 'jailed' software to buy my own freedom, it is a small price to pay.

From the famous 2005 Commencement Address: And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Seems to be what Stallman is doing.

I don't pay attention to people like RMS who eat stuff off their feet. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v...

I rather agreed, but only because I think Stallman's achievements trump Jobs' in the long run - http://matthewblo.ch/34/keep-it-classy-richard-stallman/

We have been passing a douchey-looking book called "How to Make it in Software" around work as a joke for the last few days. On page 79 there is a picture of RMS sitting in a chair, mouth agape, in bare feet, with both hands on his dick.

He is a radical, he thinks in absolutes. We need these people to get something started because their motivation comes from seeing something black and white. The sad thing is just, that these people often die unhappy.

How many people support(ed) the freedom of artists to draw Allah? It is just non-sense that you'll be offended by someone unless you allow yourself to be offended. You don't like the comment, you ignore.

Don't feed the trolls.

> We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.

I read this as a thinly veiled tribute.

> I'm very sorry that he's gone followed by > There's no need to pretend that Stallman liked Jobs

He said what he meant.

"But I see no argument whatsoever here to persuade Jobs' fans that they should be considering free software. Just a petty expression of relief that a rival is no longer available to compete with Stallman's cause."

To me this hit the nail on the head. As far as I can tell, Stallman was just trying to be as inflammatory as possible. There was certainly a more tactful way for Richard to express his opinion on the matter, and he's done nothing but hinder his own cause with his vitriol.

Day by day, statement after statement, he sounds more and more like a religious fundamentalist nut. Sigh...

Is there a distribution of Linux that has removed all of the Gnu stuff and anything connected to Stallman? I think there would be quite a lot of value in that personally.

OpenBSD has attempted this throughout the years, but mostly to align with Theo's idea of secure C and architecture. Last I checked, though, this was not entirely successful; they're still using gcc.

Honestly, the first thing I do on a new BSD system is to install the GNU userspace. It's more code, but it does more, and that makes me more productive.

But there are plenty of projects attempting to rewrite the UNIX userspace, so join one of those and make it happen if you see "quite a lot of value in that personally". But by writing high-quality Free software, you'd still be advancing Stallman's agenda to let all computer users use the computer the way they want to.

> Last I checked, though, this was not entirely successful; they're still using gcc.

I'm not sure how far they've gotten, but they're supposed to have pcc to solve that:


"...you'd still be advancing Stallman's agenda to let all computer users use the computer the way they want to."

Optionally under a license that is free for real.

This really depends on how literally you take "freedom". If you think freedom is the ability to take away other people's freedom, then you won't like the GPL. The idea behind the GPL is to increase the amount of freedom in the world, not to increase each individual's amount of freedom.

The article doesn't make a case for Stallman being wrong, but merely for being "offensive".

when you create the worlds de facto compiler, debugger and maybe the world's most powerful text editor, you can say whatever you want.

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