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