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.
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?
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Aaaand I quote: "I'm not glad he's dead"
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?!?
"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."
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.
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.
FF vs IE for example.
Of course I would 100% agree if you are talking about windows/OS X vs linux in general.
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.
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.
Being inflammatory seems to be the poor man's approach to getting others thinking.
I don't think he enjoys this or does it on purpose; I think he's cognitively trapped.
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.