Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Richard Stallman: How I do my Computing (stallman.org)
205 points by Ideka on Apr 7, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 276 comments

Stallman's critique of software, hardware, and services as tools of social control has only become more relevant over the years. Can you imagine his search records being rifled through by a government investigator? Or his Facebook profile being examined by an employer? No, because they don't exist. Nor can you imagine his computer being locked by a bootloader that only allows "Genuine Windows".

He's not concerned about looking weird. For certain audiences this is a disadvantage. But he is concerned about tying his computing down to his core philosophy. He did it so well that you can almost hear him when he's not in the room. We should all be such effective weirdos.

At some level we have to trust a substrate of computing to get anything done. Stallman's work to make that substrate as trustworthy as possible was very farsighted.

While I certainly agree with RMS's reasons for being so committed to his philosophy, I just don't know if it would still be possible to practice in today's world.

Almost every system out there, free software or otherwise is monetized one way or another, either you pay for the software, or you are the product being sold.

Not necessarily true. While plenty of free software is funded (I don't think Stallman has particular issue with that). I'm not sure how me using the Linux Kernel, GNU System, Gnome , GIMP , Emacs or any of the other free software tools I use makes me somehow a "product".

I'm not quite sure about that. I suppose I'm being used a testing data for RHEL by using Fedora. But on the other hand, I'm not submitting bug reports or any other form of data to Red Hat. I understand your point, and can think of some examples - but I'm struggling to apply it to the software I use.

This is one of the the consequences of the "free software movement". Nobody wants to pay for software anymore and hosting and development aren't free.

Every time an rms article comes up trolls come out of the woodwork to rally about what a kook he is and all "the horrible things" he's done. "Why the nerve, living a life different than I would choose!? IT MUST BE STOPPED." Snooze. I've been reading this fear-mongering regularly since '97.

Why is he so threatening? It's not like you have to share a studio apartment with the guy. Have any complainers contributed 1/10th as much to the public good? Highly unlikely. The sickest individuals are those who angrily rail against the unconventional in my opinion.

I, for one welcome rms and nonconformists in general. Life is a lot more interesting and fruitful with them around. I appreciate my free operating system thank you, and don't pass judgements on what he does in the privacy of his own home (or blog).

Watch the revolution os doc and you'll see these geeks are quite likeable, sometimes funny, and nothing to be afraid of.

"Why is he so threatening?"

I used to think Stallman was an abrasive fanatic but now I think otherwise. The reason he makes me uncomfortable is because he highlights the compromises I have made. I think this is part of the reason why some people react so negatively and emotionally to him. He vocally refuses to use non-free software and this, in my humble opinion at least, makes him a constant reminder of how many of us sacrifice security and freedom (as he defines it) for usability and ease of use.

I used to think he was an abrasive fanatic. Oh wait, I still do. I'm tired of being told my decisions are compromises, and wrong ones at that. I'm tired of being told I owe everything to someone by people who completely ignore history.

Imagine if someone told you "If it weren't for Abraham Lincoln, half the population would still be living in slavery today." You'd laugh in their face.

Because slaves would have magicked out of slavery due to the passage of time? I'm not sure why you would laugh in their face rather than suggest alternative scenarios where other processes might have eliminated slavery if Lincoln hadn't happened.

I'm not smart enough to understand your comment. Are you saying that free software would have inevitably come to exist with or without Stallman? If you are, I'd say the burden of proof is on you.

Um, free software was the way of the world before Bill Gates popularized the selling of the stuff.

Stallman rose to the occasion as the defender of the "old way". He did not "invent" free software, whatever that means. (He did invent the Copyleft license, but there are many other licenses of free software besides Copyleft.)

Might have been better for me to say "a free ecosystem of legally usable source code comparable to the one a large part of the industry depends on today."

Or maybe I should have just capitalized "free."

Free software in the domain of personal computers, which at the time were still hand assembled and didn't even have a functioning display, was the only way anyone knew how to do it until Bill Gates wanted money for BASIC.

IBM, of course, had been charging money for software for decades prior to that.

Given that someone already wrote something (scratching their own itch, hoped to make money but gave up, altruism), they may decide to jump from low adoption+recognition to potential ubiquity by releasing the software free for others to exploit. On the basis of individual incentive alone, this is inevitable.

I'll just mention that the MIT license is not the GPL and leave it at that. (yes, that's proof enough for me.)

>I used to think he was an abrasive fanatic. Oh wait, I still do. I'm tired of being told my decisions are compromises, and wrong ones at that. I'm tired of being told I owe everything to someone by people who completely ignore history.

Being tired of being told something and that something being untrue, are two completely different things.

>Imagine if someone told you "If it weren't for Abraham Lincoln, half the population would still be living in slavery today." You'd laugh in their face.

Only if I was one of those guys that are ignorant about the importance of the particular human subject in history.

I have a pet theory about why so many[1] people find him "threatening". I believe it's because people do think it's important what he talks about - but feel he talks about it in the Wrong Way[TM].

Anecdotal data points to support my view: The most hateful comments against Stallman usually appear in highly technical forums - I have yet to see that amount of negativism in the comment sections of main-stream media articles about him. Most technical people, I think, know very well what free software is, and how, generally, it helps us getting stuff done. You would be hard pressed to find a programmer nowadays who has never used any free software for his or her programs. Even if they "only" used Eclipse to write proprietary enterprise code.

Yet, some technical people are - it seems - completely against free software, and completely against RMS. But consider:

They wouldn't rally against Stallman if they didn't care about free software at all ("Ah, that freedom guy again, how cares"). They wouldn't rally against him, if they thought that free software was completely stupid ("Ah, that freedom guy again, well that whole free software thing will be going down the drain, anyway"). No, the only real reason to say something against Stallman is if you are supportive of free software as an idea - but think that he spoils it.

If you think about that, then the people writing the most hateful comments (minus the trolls, of course) are the ones that support, and care about, the idea the most. And with that conclusion I can accept these comments, knowing that the idea of free software still has supporters, and still has people caring. Caring so much, in fact, that they even feel they have to insult a human being to get their point across - because it's obviously _that_ important. More important than Stallman.

I also have some anecdotes of why their fear of Stallman "spoiling" the idea is ungrounded: None of my non-technical friends know Stallman. None. Not one. Some do know Linus Torvalds "wrote Linux", some run Ubuntu on their laptops, and some know what open source means - but nobody of them thinks RMS is the sole speaker of the free software movement, as it were. I believe that even if they'd ever read an interview with him they would still be able to separate the idea of free software from the person Richard Stallman.

[1] I mean "many" here more in the sense of loudness, not necessarily of quantity - on the internet, nobody knows you're holding forty-two anti-Stallman accounts.

I think Stallman is also an easy target in that he is the archetype neckbearded geek. He basically represent all the things that non geeks dislike about geeks and people are terrified to be thought of in that way.

“Why is he so threatening?”

In my view, because he has influence based on credibility that he does not deserve any more, and because he exerts that influence in ways that do not benefit free software.

could you estimate for me how much it would cost ycombinator-backed companies if the Free software they used did not feel the need (promoted by zealots like him) to be free? How many of these companies could not exist at all?

Look at your stack. How much of the software in it are you paying for, and how much is RMS's zealotry paying for? Did you contribute anything yourself to that stack? I think you should send RMS a paycheck and some hemp, to keep doing what he's doing.

pedantic point. a lot of open source isn't Free in RMS's terms, but he does promote the whole open source movement as a whole, despite being to the left of some of it.

> a lot of open source isn't Free in RMS's terms, but he does promote the whole open source movement as a whole

You are wrong.

"I do not advocate open source [...]" - Richard Stallman

See: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2002/09/15/rms_why_open_source_...

sorry, reading what I wrote I can see I didn't phrase my pedantic point correctly - I included it for just such a comment as yours!

What I meant to say is that he doesn't endorse non-Free OSS. But he does end up "promoting" it however (not purposefully), DESPITE being stricter/more to the left than it.

I guess rather than promote I should have said help or aid. If he didn't do what he did the open source movement wouldn't be as strong. He's insane and too left, but his being there helps the whole floss movement, even the parts he disagrees with on principle.

I see what you mean. He does promote open source although it might not be his intention.

You're asking a hypothetical that can't be answered, but it's based on the (very faulty, imo) premise that a world without Stallman would not have any free software. Open source was (and would be) alive and well without him.

>Open source was (and would be) alive and well without him.

You're making a assertion with no evidence or argument, and using it as a premise to dismiss a rhetorical question.

> "Why the nerve, living a life different than I would choose!? IT MUST BE STOPPED."

That's what RMS is basically saying.

Everything I've read by him, including this article, has been written in a calm instructive tone, as if he is providing an example to follow. You are of course free to ignore it or disagree. From his writings and the ubiquitous negative comments, it appears RMS isn't nearly as threatened by others as they seem to be of him.

Personally, rms doesn't bother me and he's free to do as he pleases, but what annoys me is the people in rms related threads online who act as if the development of FOSS[0] is entirely dependent upon him. There were a lot of parallel developments in software, which is not a zero sum game.

I find a lot of rms's essays interesting and I regularly use a lot of GNU software, especially emacs. Still, rms is often divisive and counterproductive. We must call it "GNU/Linux"? We must use one of a handful of "totally free distros" instead of even distros like Fedora and Debian? Stallman played a vital early role, but no role was necessary.

If GNU never existed, we wouldn't have emacs/gcc/etc., but there are alternatives and those alternatives would have become more developed over time.[1] Linux would have used the BSD programs instead of the GNU programs or they would have written their own.

(In fact, if Linus never invented Linux, there would still be FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD. These are all, as far as I know, less dependent on GNU applications (if at all) and many people in the BSD communities see the GPL as restrictive.[2])

If the FSF never was founded, we wouldn't have the GPL and we might not have gotten copyleft at all, but we would still have BSD, MIT, Apache, etc., licenses. "Free software" is an ideology that is largely dependent on Stallman, but "open source" software is inevitable because of the benefits it provides society.


While one particular philosophy of freedom and computing were largely driven by rms's writings, the practical benefits of sharing source under a free license are not at all dependent on some broad philosophical goal. It's just more profitable for businesses to not have to pay for software (while at the same time not being "pirates"), to have access to the source code (for patches, even if the upstream refuses them), and so on. I find it hard to imagine a company with lots of servers like Google existing if they had to pay Windows or UNIX license fees (especially if the competitive pressure from Linux and BSD never existed). Software like Apache's httpd would have existed even if rms never wrote anything, in my opinion.

Companies don't care about the freedoms that rms cares about. They care about making money. It just so happens that you make more money in the long run[3] if you don't get forced into overly restrictive terms by a vendor who then locks you into their proprietary technology, continually increasing fees and restrictions over time. Open source software gets major contributions by people who are paid to do this by big corporations who would rather do this than pay for closed source software. It just so happens that the terms allow end users, startups, and so on to benefit from the big businesses who are ultimately acting in their own best interests. If rms had his way, this virtuous circle might not have come about because rms is very much opposed to any sort of compromise at all.[4]

Stallman is the opposite of this sort of pragmatism that is common in the "open source" world. To rms, one ought to act ethically, and anyone who does not do so is essentially evil. At one point, he said that you didn't have to make software for money, you could just be a waiter. (I can't find the source, but it stuck with me.) The implicit assumption behind this statement is that free software is inherently not profitable in the world where Internet distribution makes charging for distribution of free software impractical. In rms's mind, something like GNU would exist even if one could not make money off of it, had to get a day job, and development had to be sponsored by big not-for-profit organizations like the FSF.

It's noble to be this committed to a philosophy, but fortunately the world does not exist as the "worst case scenario" that rms prepared for. The rest of the FOSS world has largely moved beyond this mentality. Companies like IBM and Red Hat sponsor development for, and make money off of, "Linux and open source". They use those terms instead of "GNU/Linux and free software" because the latter are ideologically loaded, and hence have the potential to hurt their businesses by scaring away potential customers.[5] The people who wanted FOSS in the 1990s got creative and found ways[6] to get massive amounts of cash to sponsor their development so that they could get paid to do what they love. Apparently, you can make software without charging directly for copies.[7]

So I can see other reasons why people active in FOSS would want to not be associated with rms: his complete hostility toward "open source", major Linux distributions, the common use of the term "Linux" instead of "GNU/Linux", the complete lack of the ability to compromise, focus on philosophy and politics over code, etc. If people associate all of the open source movement like rms[8], it could scare away some who would otherwise contribute and help make the world a better place. The useful contributions rms made was his source code (such as GNU emacs) and he did make many useful contributions in the past, but if his ideologies scare off someone from making major source code contributions, then now he's being counterproductive. It doesn't matter how notable his name/initials are if he's making a very public mistake. In the end, all that matters in the FOSS world is the source code.


[0] FOSS means "Free and Open Source Software" and is a compromise term between "free software" fanatics and those who prefer the term "open source". All three terms are largely equivalent in meaning, but have different ideologies attached.

[1] I think one of the appeals of FOSS is that there is no one leader, no one ideology, no one organization or company, and so on. There is not even just one program for any given niche, there tends to be at least two. Often the alternatives to a given program are inferior in some way, but if the major program they are alternative to never existed, they probably would have been made more capable or forked at some point. (Or another program would have been written from scratch to fill the niche.)

[2] Even the so-called "permissive" licenses are restrictive when compared to the WTFPL. :-P

[3] It's not surprising that contemporary big businesses care about profit. It is surprising that some pay attention to their long run interests! :-P

[4] If you don't believe me (and this very article that's being linked to implies the same thing), see the GPLv3 controversy and also note that the Linux kernel is still under the GPLv2.

[5] If you're making money, the term "free software" is misleading. Also, the term is not unambiguous in English: Google it and you'll find a lot of freeware. It would also be confusing for a company like Red Hat to "charge for free software". "Freedom Software" probably would have made more sense than "free software".

[6] One of the compromises they made was dropping "free software" for "open source" and rms never forgave them.

[7] The ease of distribution and copying that broadband Internet provides should encourage other industries to find ways to make money without charging for copies, as well. Music, movies, books, and so on, probably have ways to make money without the traditional "charging for copies" model. Also note that if you do not charge for individual copies of your software, making all or most of your source code available under an open source license is probably a great cost-reducing technique that just about everyone should use. Sites like reddit have source code available on Github, and they benefit from it because the value for reddit is the domain "reddit.com" and the posts located there, not the software that runs it.

[8] Very few people would want to live in as pure of a free software environment as rms does. I personally don't know how he can get any work done on a tiny netbook. I use two 1080p 24 inch monitors.

This general argument pioneered by ESR against RMS is something that you hear a lot: the idea that open source software is just better. (And it is that too!)

#1: it's too hard to say whether the free software movement would have evolved without RMS. We do know that Linux was able to bootstrap from GNU which was founded some 7 years earlier and without that, it probably wouldn't have taken off the way it did. By the time Linus came around, the only thing missing from GNU was its kernel. The Berkeley people got bogged down with the BSDi lawsuit, and you might ask yourself how that happened if their license was so freedom preserving. If it wasn't for that, I imagine that BSD would be in the place linux is now.

#2: People say it's divisive not to have one way of thinking about open source, but why this need to do it one way only? Surely there is a place for the GPL for some projects, and RMS isn't forcing anyone to GPL their software. The FSF counts lots of other licences as GNU-compatible.

RMS just wants people to understand that if they license their software restrictively they're not doing the hacker community any great service, even if they claim otherwise.

#3: "To rms, one ought to act ethically, and anyone who does not do so is essentially evil." That's not just RMS who thinks that. You're going to have a hard time justifying why unethical people who harm others are essentially good. You make it seem like it's radical to stand on the side of ethical behavior. Maybe it is.

> it's too hard to say whether the free software movement would have evolved without RMS.

Hypothetical speculation of how history would have turned out if certain details were changed a little bit are hard to argue because they're hypothetical and thus a realm of opinion. There does not exist an actual alternate universe in which a given event never happened that we can just observe to see how things worked out differently.

I think that where we're heading in software is inevitable. Yes, RMS contributed to it early on and yes, things might have taken off more slowly without the FSF and GNU, but in 100 years, I think we'll have won no matter what. This is an opinion. There's no empirical way to evaluate it. I think the nature of easy copying via the Internet has created a sort of inevitable force, like gravity, and that fighting it is ultimately futile. Am I right? We'll see how things are in 2112.


> Surely there is a place for the GPL for some projects, and RMS isn't forcing anyone to GPL their software.

If you think that proprietary software is evil instead of just bad, then yes, the GPL is good for some things because it is "freedom-preserving". I could easily imagine an alternate reality in which Mac OS X used a BSD-licensed Linux kernel.

It could also be argued, for the sake of argument, that the GPL is ultimately a bad thing. It requires copyleft, sharing with the same license, and about half of FOSS has been "infected".[1] Very few projects do the copyright assignment that the FSF does. If there is a currently unseen issue with the GPL, it would be very hard to get every single contributor who owns copyright to switch every major project from the GPL. If you say "GPL v2 or later" or "GPL v3 or later" in your software's license, you are dependent on one organization for your "upgrade path" of licenses. An advantage that the permissive licenses have is that there isn't one major permissive license: there are lots of them. It's a more diverse ecosystem, without one point of possible future failure and without any dependency on one organization.

> RMS just wants people to understand that if they license their software restrictively they're not doing the hacker community any great service, even if they claim otherwise.

Those companies are not doing themselves a great service, either. The big proprietary software companies will realize this eventually, or like the big media companies who are so resistant to change, they'll go out of business in the long run. Reinventing the wheel is expensive, time consuming, and there's no guarantee you'll get the best programmers on board. You'll also get stuck into other vendors' lock-ins unless you're a very big company like Microsoft, so you'll lose more than you'll gain by going with closed source, non-free software.


> You make it seem like it's radical to stand on the side of ethical behavior. Maybe it is.

It's not radical to focus on doing ethical behavior (or maybe it is, but it's not the radical thing I'm talking about). I do admire him for his courageous ability to take an ethical stand against all odds. I just don't think it's the most productive way to achieve to his goals.

If you want all software to be free, then you need to convince companies making software to make it free. If you can't do that, then you need to make your own company and put those older companies out of business. There's only so many things that an organization or individual not making any money can do. In the world as it is, money matters. Maybe that's not how things should work, and maybe all software should be made by the FSF, but very radical structural changes are probably never going to happen.

People went with "open source" not because they hate freedom or rms, but because they needed to "sell" the concept to companies like IBM.


[1] http://osrc.blackducksoftware.com/data/licenses/

Instead of responding to things that might be factually inaccurate, let me just save time and reframe the debate between ESR and RMS.

ESR thinks that open source makes good business sense since open source is better than closed source. Computing is something that extends our ability to get things done, but isn't an end in itself. We need to be pragmatic about what businesses want, and how the business world works in order to perform our role of helping people do business.

RMS doesn't care so much about what the business world wants or the fact that open-source is indeed better.

He sees hacking and computing as one of the greatest achievments of mankind. Because it's a great achievement of mankind (like writing, or alphabets, or language itself) he thinks that it should be made available to everyone, and never closed off. In other words, for the people who live in it, spending their lives working on it and in it, software is culture. It's not just an application that you use like a word processor. And in the hacker culture, there needs to be a free flow of ideas like there is in the scientific community.

This is reflected in the different licenses. The GPL "restricts" people from trying to close off one of the greatest achievements of human kind for the sake of some people who want to earn some more money off of it. The BSD-style licenses consider themselves more practical in that they allow for better commercial exploitation by eventually imposing restrictions. This is why Apple is so heavily involved in converting FreeBSD away from GPL code Currently I think it's about 50% GPL and OpenBSD is more like 60%. They plan to replace the GPL code with BSD licensed code so they don't have to contribute to the project eventually.

Clearly some code isn't the equivalent of Shakespearean drama, and it won't matter that humanity is deprived of it. Microsoft word comes to mind. But for the really amazing software, the software that involves the cutting edge free flowing of ideas, and I would argue that the linux kernel falls into this category, GPL gives it the ability to serve as a lasting monument to human ingenuity, as well as a way of transmitting culture. It's no coincidence that the linux kernel powers nearly all web servers, smartphones and supercomputers.

"I personally don't know how he can get any work done on a tiny netbook. I use two 1080p 24 inch monitors."

And unix was originally written on a machine with less than 144 kilobytes of RAM using a teletypewriter...

What amazing contributions to the world's software have these enormous screens allowed you to make?

>And unix was originally written on a machine with less than 144 kilobytes of RAM using a teletypewriter...

> What amazing contributions to the world's software have these enormous screens allowed you to make?

A tool is a tool, and is different than a person. When it comes to programming, the person is more important than the tool, but the tool does affect the person. You can theoretically do roughly the same work on any computer with any equivalent application, but certain computers and editors allow you to do such work more quickly.

Just because you can do something using the "wrong tools" doesn't mean that you should. Most of the original Unix was written using ed, too.[1] That doesn't mean that ed ought to be used today unless it is the tool that happens to make you the most productive. A real hacker using ed can program better than a newbie with a modern editor, obviously. That doesn't mean that real hackers should use ed.

ed was used out of necessity. So were teletypes and 144 KB of RAM. Good hackers could still do work with such tools. However, they themselves think that they're more productive with modern tools or else the hackers who used ed back in the day would still be using ed.

I actually do use ed for some quick/light editing because it doesn't get in the way. It's the perfect editor if you never make any mistakes. When you do make mistakes, something like emacs is immensely more useful because of all the ways you can correct your program from within the editor. If I used ed for everything, I would probably have to write dozens of helper scripts (in sh, of course!) to help me edit my source code. In something like emacs, those scripts have already been written and integrated into the editor and this is a good thing. After all, one should not reinvent the wheel unnecessarily.


I hope you understand what I was getting at in my analogy to ed. You can make amazing contributions using any weak tool, and you can make no contribution at all using a strong tool. This doesn't mean that one should willingly use weak tools unless they have a pretty good reason to do so. People did great things on weak tools in the old days because they had no other choice, not because those tools somehow make someone great. Using ed isn't going to allow me to create the next great operating system.

You can have a powerful computer, or lots of screen space and have those tools be wasted, obviously. The specs of your hardware do not make you more capable of a programmer. On the other hand, to willingly suffer weak tools for ideology shows that rms puts his ideology ahead of his hacking. Otherwise, he would have a setup that is designed to optimize hacking productivity, so that he could do more things in less time. Sure, he could hack great things using just about any device with a Unix terminal and a keyboard, but he could hack in a more productive manner using proper tools.

Using roughly equivalent tools is a matter of taste (e.g. vi and emacs), but he's using a rather weak machine simply out of a desire to have a totally 'free' machine. Ironically, he's limiting his own freedom of choice in hardware for what he believes is total software freedom.

rms is a great hacker. In the domain of programming, he's better, smarter, and more experienced than me. That being said, his uncompromising commitment to his ideology is not getting in the way of me, it's getting in the way of him. There are other groups that inconvenience themselves greatly due to their philosophical beliefs. For instance, the Amish. They don't harm me or even affect me, but they do miss out on a lot of cool stuff by shunning technology. I probably can't persuade someone who is already Amish to go get an awesome smartphone, but if the Amish were actively evangelizing, I would try to discourage other people from giving up the conveniences of modern technology.

Perhaps I should ask what amazing contributions to the world's software rms has done in the last decade as opposed to, say, the 1980s?


[1] http://catb.org/~esr/writings/taoup/html/ch13s02.html

I have to grant you a few points. #1: I've heard RMS complain about his lemote netbook, about it being slow and with a small screen, although I supposed he could attach an external monitor. As far as the lemote netbook, I wouldn't buy one because lemote is an arm of the Chinese government and the loongson processor already has design flaws, and is licensed from MIPS. It beats me why he doesn't use an OpenRISC platform if he wants something just for cli editing with emacs.

#2: RMS seems to have stopped hacking software, so his computing requirements seem to be limited to what's necessary to produce his writing. He also seems to be getting support and service from other people's computers/servers and other people. I'm not sure that any average person would want or be able to do things exactly like him. Since he is trying to be a role model, he should model something that everyone could do and would want to do.

#3: Instinctively I want to say you're probably right that hackers should use the best tools available, and most of them do. However, I've known too many Russian/Finnish hackers who grew up with computers like clones of the sinclair zx80 who would surely not have been as awesome had they started off on supercomputers. Something about the easy availability of resources and lack of simplicity seems to spoil some of the fun. This is why I think so many hackers are drawn to simpler devices like ardunio or embedded microcontrollers.

> I supposed he could attach an external monitor.

I'm not sure it's powerful enough to handle one 1080p external screen. It's certainly not powerful enough to handle two. (My desktop can't handle three with its current graphics card and driver.)

I also think that you need X for multi-monitor setups. When I Ctrl+Alt+F2 (C-M-F2 if you are used to emacs) for a console, it just mirrors the screens. Even if you could get it to not mirror, I'm not sure what meaningful advantage you would get over just tiling lots of terminals in a very basic window manager.


> RMS seems to have stopped hacking software, so his computing requirements seem to be limited to what's necessary to produce his writing. He also seems to be getting support and service from other people's computers/servers and other people. I'm not sure that any average person would want or be able to do things exactly like him.

Yes. Maybe I'm subconsciously being overly critical because he chose to stop hacking and start writing philosophy. Different people obviously have different needs, and those needs are best served by different devices.

That being said, he seems to use his netbook because he has no other choice, not because he wants to. Perhaps the Free Software Foundation (FSF) should spin off a Free Hardware Foundation (FHF) if he wants devices that can run GNU/Linux (as he puts it) without needing any sort of proprietary firmware at all. It seems unhackerish (if that's a word) to just accept circumstances rather than to try to build your way out of them. I'd gladly use a FHF motherboard/CPU for the next box I build if they were decent -- and if they existed!


> However, I've known too many Russian/Finnish hackers who grew up with computers like clones of the sinclair zx80 who would surely not have been as awesome had they started off on supercomputers. Something about the easy availability of resources and lack of simplicity seems to spoil some of the fun.

Yes. I hate it when classes "teach" programming with IDEs that think (and code) for you. I took a class that required the use of Eclipse, so I went ahead and coded in emacs anyway. It's very vital to build up things like muscle memory (from basic editors that don't get in your way) and resourcefulness (from poor hardware) if you want to get good at programming. It's easier to learn a good concept out of necessity than just because you've been told that it's good.

That being said, once you've learned how to do something hard, if you don't want to do it again you shouldn't have to. The best environments for learning might not be the same as the best environments for use once you know what you're doing. (Although I would, in my biased opinion, think that something like emacs comes close. It doesn't get in your way or try to think for you like a "modern" IDE, and yet it has lots of depth if you know the right commands or download the right extensions. It seems to encourage learning to obtain more functionality, rather than just having menus upon menus. I'm not opposed in principle to IDEs, but none of them seem to have sane, minimalist defaults. It's a sad state of modern software where an example of bloat in the 1980s is now an example of minimalism today.)


> This is why I think so many hackers are drawn to simpler devices like ardunio or embedded microcontrollers.

It's also just fun to build things. I'm looking forward to the Raspberry Pi. I don't know what I'm going to do with it when I get it, but I'm sure I'll find some use for hardware that inexpensive.


P.S. I hope I'm not giving the impression that I hate rms. I wouldn't be so picky here if I thought that his end goal wasn't worth achieving.

>>It seems unhackerish (if that's a word) to just accept circumstances rather than to try to build your way out of them. I'd gladly use a FHF motherboard/CPU for the next box I build if they were decent -- and if they existed!

As I mentioned above, they do exist: http://orsoc.se/127/langswitch_lang/en/

Even the bus architecture is open and the processor itself can be debugged or modified. As other people have mentioned, there is coreboot (coreboot.org) for a number of other platforms.

"Why the nerve, living a life different than I would choose!? IT MUST BE STOPPED."

Hm, is it just me or doesn't that sound like the agenda RMS is trying to push down everyone else's throat regarding their choices in personal computing?

Instructive blog posts and advocacy talks don't constitute "pushing down my throat." A response to an idea often says more about the responder than it does the idea. (I replied a little more to local-variable below.)

Please explain to everyone how this, http://stallman.org/amazon.html, is just instructive (useful/informational). There's plenty more.

You're right. He forgot to mention that Amazon keeps ambulances parked outside of its fulfillment centers because it's too cheap to aircondition them in the heat of the summer or allow its workers to take water breaks. Note: Employees pay for their hospitalizations from heat stroke.

Was the page forced on you somehow? Do you have some specific criticism or even evidence of it being untrue? I can believe it has some basis in reality, there was an episode just last year where purchased orwell books were stolen off kindles.

Is Skype forced on me? Is Amazon forced on me? Is Facebook forced on me?

Sorry, I don't follow.

Standard response from fundamentalists - they can only see their own reasoning, but fail to get a perspective of everything else around them. (re: gpl license advocates, political extremists, muslims etc.)

It's not just you.

He's a total conformist! It's just that the ideals he wishes everyone would conform to are solely his own.

Why the down vote? it's a simple observation. A negative opinion on a piece of writing doesn't make someone a troll. In addition, many people, such as myself, are not familiar with Richard Stallman's work. So the discussion is not repetitive in the way it is if you have been reading and thinking about it a long time.

Look up the definition of conformism. It's about conforming to social norms, not personal ethics.

I'm not being literal! Their are flavors of personal ethics. You can be a non-conformist and have ideals about behavior that don't extend to other people. Really that's the core of my annoyance with his point of view.

It's just annoyance. Richard Stallman is a person of influence, but only in a narrow community. So I don't think he is dangerous. He's a person of great accomplishment, and has contributed a huge amount to the world. The idea of open source and free software does cut against the grain of the dominant corporate-state power structure in the US and that's great.

I am personally concerned with the abuses of power that happen (by the powerful, all over the world). But it's not black and white. The unlawful surveillance of US citizens by our Gov't is disturbing. It's not as disturbing as launching unfounded wars on the other side of the world, but still disturbing. To the extent that Richard Stallman is fighting against the use of technology to increase the illegal use of Gov't power, then I get it.

Somehow though, and I can't put my finger on it, I don't think it's the technology per se that is at the root of this type of activity. Modern computing technology is certainly being co-opted to this use. But the tensions that underly the behavior are more fundamental to the issues of power and state. At the highest levels of power, it is just damn hard to enforce any kind of law, as their is no enforcement mechanism. The gov't is just not going to let people do whatever they want in regards to technology and how it is used. We have to accept this, and fight to keep that power from being abused. An absolute stance along the lines of a super strong right to privacy obscures what is at stake. The line will never be drawn to that extreme, so I wish for a more nuanced discussion. FWIW:)

He advocates his views loudly, but he's not trying to impose anything to anyone.

He's judgmental towards those who don't share them, though. Maybe that's what you mean when you say he's conformist?

Technology is not all there is to oppression, for sure, but he's doing his part as a programmer to prevent it.

The creation of the GNU movement, and subsequently of the FSF stems from a personal grief: the demise of the MIT AI lab during the Lisp machines wars. You can read more about it here:


Thanks for the link, it does give more context for where Stallman is coming from. It's a poignant story.

It's a tricky question about personal ethics and judgement. Is it possible for someone to have personal ethics that don't implicitly include the concept that everyone should share them? I'm not sure.

Anyhow, yes I am referring to the RMS's judgmentalness in my (what I meant to be ironic) reference to "conformist."

My understanding of the meaning of "conformism" is that it refers to the use of emotional, social, and behavioral methods that a dominant group use to coerce others who think, act differently than they want them to. RMS's ideas of morality are very much addressed towards the behavior of others and how he thinks people "should" act. The irony is that if many people adopted the ethics of RMS, I am positing that this would create a very conformist society (at least in regards to the proper use of technology).

The MIT Labs story is illustrative. The other protagonists in the story did not act how Stallman wanted them to, and hurt him (and others too). If others act in ways that hurt you or others, I can see how you can choose to define their behavior unethical. But you could also say they just behaved in ways that you didn't like, and hurt you.

Everyone has their own idea of ethics, and where various lines are drawn about moral/amoral/immoral.

It's interesting to see the down votes I am getting. I was starting to feel upset, but I guess it's just part of the method of discussion here? A short of shorthand to disagree? It's true I am a newbie to the Hacker News site, so if I am out of bounds on the discussion I apologize.

the 'demise of the MIT AI Lab'? WTF?

Yup, demise is too strong.

Not a native speaker. I thought it was a suitable synonym for "ruin" (Stallman's term).

This would be something that would make sense:

'the demise of the Hacker culture at the MIT AI Lab.'

I didn't downvote you but redefining words isn't an argument. Also newbies and non-serious comments are not treated kindly here as I've learned myself.

I don't find him threatening, but I find him offensive. The concept of freedom for human beings is an incredibly important one that people have fought and died over, and needs to be protected at all costs, even our own lives. His movement has consciously coopted the word and the emotive properties that go with it for the purpose of something that is orders of magnitude less important, the freedom of software. I would love to put him in a room with a real freedom fighter and have them discuss their causes. "So, I fight for the freedom of programmers to play with source code" "Oh really? I fight for freedom from the people who have enslaved my race, raped my wife and daughter, and have my son in slavery"

I also don't agree with him, and think he's a jerk for calling people like me unethical for writing non-free software (even though I often contribute my time to writing and improving free software, and live my life in a very ethical and honorable fashion), but honestly, if that was the only thing I wouldn't care so much. Like you said, there are loads of people that believe all sorts of kooky things out there, and life is too short to get bent out of shape over things like that. But man, using terms like he does to paint himself in the light he does really really rubs me the wrong way, and the fact people in my industry stand for it pisses me right off.

Freedom of the mind (which is what software freedom is) and physical freedom are equally important and you can't really be free without both. What good is being safe from physical harm if you can't express your own points of view and make your own determinations? Restricting what software you can use with a computing machine that you own is a harm and RMS is right to fight against in the way that he sees fit.

It's more than freedom of the mind--it the freedom to use and modify tools to do as you see fit. Software isn't the only industry that necessarily harmed by "closed" tools--Ivan Illich started making this point in the 1970s. If workers completely lose control of their tools, they necessarily lose freedom.

I don't buy it. A designer with Photoshop is no more empowered then a designer with Photoshop and its source code. The only people source code matters to (and helps) is programmers, but then we start leaving the realm of the FSF and start entering the realm of open source, which is rooted in practicality.

Freedom of the mind is something like 1984 thought crime. What the FSF wants is the right to modify any program, which is completely different, and I think FAR less important.

  > His movement has consciously coopted the word [freedom] 
  > for ... something ... less important
I don't think you realize how ubiquitous and critical to everyday life software is becoming. It's not just "freedom to play with source code," it's freedom to travel, read and form relationships as one sees fit and without being tracked.

The ability to "Travel and form relationships" is critical, but these are orthogonal concepts to what the FSF is fighting for. Beyond that, the technology that has enabled that ability is something the FSF is fighting -- facebook and twitter -- because they don't provide source code.

Now, I wouldn't call the ability to use facebook or twitter a "freedom" either, but I think not restricting their usage is also something that is more important then the "freedom" the FSF is fighting for

Your comment doesn't address the "as one sees fit and without being tracked" part. Both twitter and facebook track everything, and facebook is directly and opaquely influencing discourse through its feed filters.

But no one is talking about restricting their usage anyway. Stallman has taken direct action by refusing to use them (modulo using twitter for authentication) and is encouraging others to do the same. There are no restrictive laws on the table.

"I don't think you realize how ubiquitous and critical to everyday life software is becoming."

You can talk to people and drive around in your car. You feel you need to use things that track you, but it's not true. You choose to.

There is a difference.

When those things become essential to civic discourse, the line between need and choose gets blurry. How many people choose to go without cell phones without being branded as RMS-type weirdos? And the recent thread on RMS's rejection of facebook had lots of complaints about the resistance people face for staying off facebook, and the price they pay in terms of disconnection from the discourses of their social circles. Yes, these are choices, but the price paid for rejecting these choices is getting higher and higher.

I think it is really tough for younger people to realize that technology can be seen as a highly dangerous in different forms.

Instead of trashing his principles, perhaps try to see the motivation behind them. I respect anyone who establishes their own code and adheres firmly to it. RMS meets this criteria. He is also very open and honest about his views which I find refreshing.

I also think that this type of boycotting/selectively using technology will become far more common with physical hardware as it rapidly develops. Robots will not smoothly integrate with everyone's tastes.

Consider a highly sophisticated sex robot not noticeably different from a normal human. I can imagine there will be a strong division of people for and against this type of human intimacy replacement.

> I respect anyone who establishes their own code and adheres firmly to it.

You shouldn't. I'm sure there are many despicable people who did so on the wrong principles. You need to add that those principles are compatible with yours.

So if "their" principles are compatible with ones equally "wrong" principles, then both of them are somehow right?

No, one way or another you'll have to decide what is good and what is not, with the naughty "freedom" to make a mistake. That is the basis of ethics: it can't be proved.

To be waterproof then: You should admire moral people who stand for their convictions

That's the thing. You said it. Not many will see his motivations unless he spells it out and the man is an awful communicator in that he can't go two words without putting someone off. Unfortunately he's a bit of an extremist. At least that's how he presents himself. So I doubt younger folks will get where he's coming from. I'm 25 and I've read about Stallmam for only the past five years and I can tell you that what he stands for sounds great in theory but unfortunately he's not too good at showing us how to reconcile that theory with reality. I don't think kids younger than me will ever get Stallmam. As far as I see he becomes more irrelevant in the eyes of each passing generation. Not that he's irrelevant, just that he's seen that way as you go younger.

And I'd totally be willing to try out the first sex robot.

He is an extremist and puts many people off with what he says.

That is the point. He doesn't need to change his approach or principles. His actions are still in line with what he says.

Well you're kind of making my argument. There's a misunderstanding. I'm talking about young people. Stallman doesn't need to change his approach or principles but what I'm saying is that I have a feeling that one day all the people like you who "get" it will die and very few if any of today's young people will be on board with his views. They'll probably think Stallman was the father of Open Source and not be able to tell the difference between Free Software and Open Source software. If only there was a more moderate, more palatable version of Stallman then maybe the message would reach more people.

And I'm not saying Stallman's views are right or wrong. They just are.

I think your points about young people are right on the money. To be more specific, there is a history to his views. They have evolved over time in reaction to specific events, just like everybody's ideas. People who have not experienced the same events will not understand how his views are shaped without this background being explained. In order to understand how the building is made you need to see the scaffolding. Many times Stallman's(and others) views are presented without the proper narrative in place.

It seems likely to me that many of the possible more moderate versions of Stallman would end up advocating "Open Source where it makes sense".

He sounds like a religious fundamentalist, or an Amish farmer. What a limiting worldview.

"... He sounds like a religious fundamentalist, or an 'Amish farmer'..."

I quite like the Amish Farmer [0] analogy to technology. Select the good bits of technology, ignore the ones that are "better left alone".

[0] Jamie Sharp, "The Amish: Technology Practice and Technological Change" ~ http://www.shawcreekgeneralstore.com/amish_article1.htm

"Lessons of Amish Hackers" a chapter in What Technology Wants by David Kelly.

excellent, 'What Technology Wants' KK ~ http://www.kk.org/books/what-technology-wants

I think that's totally fine. He doesn't have to influence everybody. He just has to influence enough moderate people to in turn influence the rest of us. I argue this happened with the "Open Source" movement he hates so much. I think he's got to hold the goal post, to define the ideal, so we know what to aim for at least.

> Unfortunately he's a bit of an extremist.

That's my personal problem with him. The world, to him, seems black-and-white. There is good and evil, and if you don't agree with him, you're evil. He believes his views are perfect.

I also find him inconsistent. He goes so far as to view web pages by fetching them through an email account, but then uses ATMs and kiosks with non-Free software on them. He also isn't as anti-Google as he is anti-Facebook despite Google being arguably worse in terms of privacy violations.

Hopefully that's not coming off as a tone argument.

I just started idly wondering from your comment what sort of restrictions Stallman would place on a sex robot.

Please don't inspire me to think of such things again.

The one thing I get kind of annoyed with Stallman at is that he keeps mentioning this Leemote machine he has, which runs free software even in the BIOS. He might as well say that he runs Linux on a magical unicorn.

I have tried and never been able to get my hands on one of these things. I'd really like to see Stallman jump off his insistence on free for one second and maybe suggest something realistic for users who care about free software but aren't willing to work on an obscure, unavailable 7" netbook.

Freedom Included is a company that got set up in Cambridge specifically to sell the Lemote. They ship internationally apparently through a partner (can't vouch for it). The folks who run the site seemed like decent enough people, so I think it's on the up-and-up. (I haven't bought one though)

If you actually want one of these things, it looks like about $450:


Ironically you have to buy it through Amazon which Stallman detests: http://stallman.org/amazon.html.

Ironic that this ships via Amazon!

Oh, it's a 10.1 inch, that actually makes it quite a bit more usable. Thanks for the link.

> If you actually want one of these things, it looks like about $450:

Why can't I get it for free?

I've wanted to purchase a Leemote laptop/computer for a while now, and each time I go searching for them I come back empty handed.

That being said, a quick Google search did return valid results this time around, particularly that it is for sale on Amazon:


It is a $499 dollar 10.1" netbook that runs at 1 Ghz with 1 GB of ram and a 160 GB hard disk. With a display at 1024 x 600, which is slightly smaller than an iPad 1/2 screen.

If you are into freedom it might be worth it, but i'd have a hard time getting development work done on a screen that small, let alone on something running at 1 Ghz with a single core.

Actually I hope that developers start using less powerful machines with less screen estate, less memory, less CPU power and less battery. That should make them care about things like focused UX, memory consumption and power-aware programming.

I used a slow PowerPC machine with Linux for a while. After that I really realised how important is to use non-proprietary packages (do you want to scan? here is a 20KB x86-only binary needed for some strange DRM thing) or how important it is to decouple applications from libraries (so that you have to compile less things and spend less time watching your compiler run).

I work on building distributed fault tolerant high performance server systems. Compiling all of the code for the project on a Core 2 Duo with 4 GB of ram takes about 2 minutes and uses about 2.5 Gb of ram while linking.

I don't care about power consumption or UX with what I am currently working on, it is going to be running on 64 core beasts with 128 GB's of ram...

That being said, as a developer I still want a generous amount of screen real estate to get more work done faster, the more code I can display on my screen the better I can and faster I can develop without having to get my tasks back on track, without having to context switch.

I understand where you are coming from, and I understand the idea behind it, but at the end of the day I want to spend less time waiting for my compiler.

"a quick Google search did return valid results this time around, particularly that it is for sale on Amazon."

It's kinda amusing that in your quest for more RMS-inspired freedom you came in contact with two of his companies-non-gratae.

I didn't really want it for RMS-inspired freedom, as a hardware hacker/tinkerer I think it would be interesting to own a machine where I could change the way the BIOS worked, where I can get full access to the datasheets.

Some of RMS's policies and ideas and thoughts seem completely foreign to me... for example, I absolutely love my iPhone and enjoy working on OS X as my day to day machine, but every so often I really just want to tinker and that is when I enjoy hardware/electronics (such as the MSP430, Atmel AVR, and others)...

Yeah, this is the same reason I would like it. I'd actually like to hack on the BIOS and learn more about the full stack of technology in general. I think if you only worked in terminal it would be quite enough beef to run with. I think X would even work alright if you ran with a low end WM or none at all. You're probably not going to get LibreOffice going but I bet Abiword runs great. I was running X on Pentium II with no WM recently so I think it would be good on this machine.

I have an (old) aspire one with about the same characteristics, but for the processor which is an Atom and the RAM which is 512MB. Limited memory is the only seriously annoying factor for web browsing, but I have no problem running vim or emacs on this machine... And you can connect it to a bigger screen. And it's really lightweight.

The biggest thing for me is the processor speed, and the ram. When I am linking our proprietary code base it can use up to 2.5 Gb of ram ...

YMMV. Anything running X-Window, a browser and vim is OK for me. I could develop on a 300 Mhz Ultra-5 (I have one :)

Get a laptop capable of running Coreboot. Then you can install Coreboot and Linux (I won't say GNU/Linux, sorry, the GNU tools are the worst part of Linux) and have free software all the way down.

The new Chromebooks from Google should be running Coreboot, Linux, and Chromium, all of which are free software. I guess that's also an option.

Edit: also, I think this netbook, coupled with Stallman's 40 years of EMACS use, is at least partially responsible for RMS's severe RSI :)

The dirty little secret of the Chromebooks is that they won't be "free enough" for RMS.

However with manageable effort AMD notebooks should be coreboot-capable (and in fact, one developer aims at coreboot support for one of the HP 635 models)

I did however find this comment quite interesting. He recommends Lisp to beginner programmers. Honestly this makes me want to play with Lisp (I do just about every other popular language but I've never done Lisp):

"The most powerful programming language is Lisp. If you don't know Lisp (or its variant, Scheme), you don't appreciate what a powerful language is. Once you learn Lisp you will see what is missing in most other languages.

When you start a Lisp system, it enters a read-eval-print loop. Most other languages have nothing comparable to read, nothing comparable to eval, and nothing comparable to print. What gaping deficiencies!

Lisp is no harder to understand than other languages. So if you have never learned to program, and you want to start, start with Lisp. If you learn to edit with Emacs, you can learn Lisp by writing editing commands for Emacs. You can use the Introduction to Programming in Emacs Lisp to learn with: it is free as in freedom, and you can order printed copies from the FSF."

Since you know how to program, I'd recommend picking up Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programming (aka SICP aka the wizard book), and reading/working through that. It does a great job of showing why lisp is awesome. Paul Graham wrote another awesome lisp book called 'on lisp', but i'd recommend SICP as a first read.

I've learned Scheme, I've used Scheme for projects, but I don't think I would praise it like it is the one single language like he is doing.

Several Lisp dialects like Scheme and Clojure are still going strong. It's a very useful language to learn even in 2012.

specially in 2012.

I skimmed documentation of Python after people told me it was fundametally similar to Lisp. My conclusion is that that is not so. When you start Lisp, it does `read', `eval', and `print', all of which are missing in Python.

Could someone explain what he means? (Did Python not have a repl when he wrote that?)

Python's read doesn't return a s-expression, nor does its print take one; they just use strings. It's eval likewise takes a string. The part missing that lisp has is the inspectable data structure containing an arbitrary parse tree and function result.

I am curious, would Ruby be a good fit in this case? With its irb and all.

No, Ruby's implementation of it's interactive mode is similar to Python's - not via data structures, but via strings.

I've only read a few writings by Richard Stallman. It seems plain to me that he is an egomaniac with some kind of rigid obsessional thinking patterns. People like this are very annoying, and ironically undermine their own case if they intend to persuade others of their views.

The willingness with which he labels the practices of large swaths of the population (of the US) "unethical" would be very disturbing if he was a political leader with significant power.

Oddly, the patterns I see evidenced in his writings (that I have read) remind me of the thinking used to justify totalitarian states!

I think his views on his core issue of the badness of copyrighted software are not well thought out and absurd on their face. He makes a point of pointing out that the copyright laws are arbitrary, they are not some kind of natural right. One of his main arguments is that making a copy of a digital good does not destroy the usefulness of the original, or harm the person who has it in his "possession."

What he is apparently oblivious to is that a system of laws is entirely a social construct. It contains huge amounts of arbitrariness. The whole concept of property is extremely abstract, unless you consider it in some kind of caveman scenario. "It is wrong to take this food that a person has in their hands because then they will be deprived of the ability to eat it." As far as I can tell that's how he thinks about property.

I think a lot of his confusion is because he is an absolutist. He thinks laws should be "ethical." There is certainly an overlap between law and morality. But there are major areas of disunion.

IMO, the ability to accept ambiguity in the areas of law, ethics, and personal conduct is needed to keep society humane.

Just writing this to think through my thoughts. I usually try to not be judgmental of others being a fallible human, but I make exception in cases of people who have chosen a career as self appointed judges of their fellows.

This argument could be made against anyone who stands by any conviction.

The diagnosis of some psychological problem solely based on the fact that he won't agree to follow the arbitrary established order which is against his convictions is a common feature of authoritarian regimes.

The accusation that if he disagrees with a system of laws because he wants them to be more ethical and less ambiguous he is undermining a social construct that is needed to keep society "humane" is worse.

It's not helpful, when someone disagrees with a law or set of laws, to argue against the entire concept of disagreement with law - unless you want to either paint them as an absolutist or an anarchist. Psychological problems are usually diagnosed based on the amount of suffering of the individual, and RMS doesn't seem to be suffering at all. He has specific concerns that can be replied to specifically.

You might be right about all of this. RMS clearly does not have the same sort of thinking as a "normal" person and his bio Free as in Freedom even suggests he probably has some sort of mild spectrum disorder. Maybe he is less egomaniacal and more oblivious.

That puts him in good company with thousands of other geniuses and philosophers. We need absolutists so someone will stand up for these important arguments down to the bitter end.

Even though RMS is still disgusted with the state of software, there's no question that software and freedom have been massively advanced by his life's work.

I understand what you're saying...and yet the internet as we know it wouldn't exist without this influence.

It's an odd paradox.

I find it odd that he choses to dump platforms that also support Windows. Manufacturers adding Windows support (realistically the other way around with Linux being supported after the fact) is about giving consumers choice in how their product runs.

I feel this is somewhat core to the FSF movement, a choice for how your computer runs. Why should Stallman criticise a company for allowing someone to pick the OS that best meets their needs? If a person picks Windows over a FOSS aligned OS then there is clearly something wrong in the feature-set or user interface of that FOSS OS.

For better or for worse, the Free Software movement has a strange notion of "choice". They believe that the user is entitled to complete control over their computer, which precludes Windows. To someone like me, that would mean that the user should be free to waive those rights and use Windows anyway, but to the FSF that somehow is an infraction. Who the victim is and who the oppressor in that case, is unclear to me.

> I feel this is somewhat core to the FSF movement, a choice for how your computer runs.

You are mistaken. RMS thinks its immoral to use or develop proprietary software regardless of anything else.

I don't understand his point. I'd be very sad if set myself so strict rules. Terminal is powerful, but this doesn't mean not to user X11. I like *nix and open source, but why souldn't I use Windows (which i find very nice system since Windows 7). He says Lisp is powerful, I agree. I prefer Scheme, but it's the same strengh. However it doesn't mean I use only C and scheme. I rather use a rule - match programming language to task you do. Somethimes it's C, sometimes scheme, sometimes perl, sometimes even C#. And so on...

> but why souldn't I use Windows

And I thought you were going to say something that made sense...

There is no way Windows could be useful? Oh c'mon, don't be fanboy. xD

Over the years Stallman has passed to be an iconic figure that contributed a lot to a fanatic out of touch with the current world.

Comments like saying he was glad Steve Jobs was dead, are what in my opinion makes him a fanatic, yes Steve Jobs was a greedy asshole but being glad that he is dead doesn't portrait Stallman any better.

Stallman is a smart man, a genius - that's exactly why his way of computing will never be used by most other people.

I do my computing in a terribly inefficient way - Windows and GUI as much as possible to avoid text/code and throw as many apps and resources at a task as possible to make it easier/faster - I've managed to outgrow a T9600 Core 2 Duo in daily use (it's 100% loaded all the time), and now I'm on the way to doing so with a Core 2 Quad.

If RMS saw me, he'd probably shoot me on the spot :-D, but still, things get done....

>If RMS saw me, he'd probably shoot me on the spot

You must be thinking of ESR: http://www.catb.org/~esr/guns/

That is very distasteful. Just because someone is advocating firearms rights doesn't mean he will shoot you if you don't share his opinions.

Am I missing something? I don't even know who the guy is, and I was joking in my comment above. I am a gun nut myself, member of IPSC...

It was just a joke.

Even Stallman would find the time to get a gun, for the sake of effectiveness, cleanliness and productivity on computers :D...

I don't understand the hostility to RMS here in hackrerland. RMS is trying to recreate the best hacker environment that ever existed bar none: MIT's AI lab in the 1970's. I was alive then and knew some people there and it was all true--it was hacker nirvana. It got blown apart by his friends going off and founding some lisp machine companies that killed off lisp as a commerical language when those companies died from infighting.

What does RMS want? Four freedoms that businesses want to take away from you: the ability to read, modify, share, and run the programs that you or hackers like you write. There's nothing purist about wanting control over your own program, or for it not to be closed off from you against your will. That's what happened in the 1980's, and what continues to happen with proprietary software.

Obviously, as the leader of this movement RMS has to stay especially pure or no one would follow him. RMS may have his idiosyncracies, but you have to give him credit for not being hypocritical, which is more than you can say about virtually any other leader out there.

I'm a really proud supporter of RMS and what he stands for because I've spent half my life being burned by proprietary software, and I'd love to go back to the garden of eden that was MIT's AI lab in the 70's and early 80's.

"What does RMS want? Four freedoms that businesses want to take away from you: the ability to read, modify, share, and run the programs that you or hackers like you write."

He wants these at the expense of the freedoms of the people that wrote the software. If you want these freedoms, write the software yourself and distribute it.

"and I'd love to go back to the garden of eden that was MIT's AI lab in the 70's and early 80's."

Right. With none of the technological advances we have today. No thanks.

"He wants these at the expense of the freedoms of the people that wrote the software."

Huh? These are the freedoms that the people who wrote the software should enjoy.

And, I never said "with none of the technological advances", I meant the hacker culture. I think that was pretty clear. If you want to understand the culture read the book "Hackers."

I understand that it's hard for some people to understand that software can be more than something to commercialize. I suspect that even though this site is called hacker news, most of the people here are not hackers and don't really respect the culture.

Can someone help me understand what the purpose of this is:

I have several free web browsers on my laptop, but I generally do not look at web sites from my own machine, aside from a few sites operated for or by the GNU Project, FSF or me. I fetch web pages from other sites by sending mail to a program that fetches them, much like wget, and then mails them back to me.

I think its because he always has higher priorities than browsing the net. Or may be he needs some information to take a decision or for something he needs to do later.

So he just puts it on a email queue. Later he can access that information from his mail box and take a look at that information.

Most important people, have better things to do than browsing site all day. Infact some people even ask me to mail them some stuff I tell them is interesting and then they go back to that at their convenience.

I guess it has more to it than time management. For time management, I think its way easier to use emacs org-mode to make a queue of websites to browse and get to them later.

Does anyone have any idea what program he's using for this?

I would suspect that it's because he feels browsing web pages doesn't need to be instant, in a lot of cases, and he can just fetch pages via email and read them later at his leisure, and also have a convenient archive of them.

Assuming nothing changed in last 3 years, there's a simple script on gnu server that does the trick: you send an email with subject "wget http://websi.te, and get response like this:


He does not want to be tracked.

Browsing the web using a one of a kind user agent is not a good way to avoid tracking.

A more convenient approach might be to remote desktop at random to a pool of machines that aren't his and that other people also use, the way he uses Google search.

By the way, isn't this what TOR is for?

I skimmed documentation of Python after people told me it was fundametally similar to Lisp. My conclusion is that that is not so. When you start Lisp, it does `read', `eval', and `print', all of which are missing in Python.

Lisp experts, what does this mean? As far as I can tell, Python has pretty good REPL facilities.

Python has a good REPL and it even has 'eval' and 'print', so RMS is wrong stating that all of them are missing in Python. But in principle he is right - Python does not have separate 'read' and 'eval' which is a manifestation of deeper differences.

The type of REPL he's referring to has very specific features. Read returns a parsed structure, eval evaluates a parsed structure and print writes a parsed structure. Python's REPL just deals with strings, I believe.

Yes, this is the case - Python's REPL (and eval) deals with strings and does not go through an explicit representation of the parsed code, mainly because there is no such representation in Python. There is an ast module that parses Python code but it is an add-on, not at the core of the implementation. That is what I meant by manifestation of deeper differences between Python and Lisp.

This makes me think. I know the ast module is an add-on and not at the core of the interpreter implementation. Has there been any attempts at building a interpreter that does the same(Read, eval,print, loop over data structures and not strings)?? It would be hard i guess, but interesting right?

All interpreters do it on some level, they just don't expose this functionality to user.

As soon as you want to expose it to user in a non cumbersome way, you realize that the thing that stands in your way is the syntax of your language -- converting from textual and structural representation back and forth does not look like the way to go. You need to get rid of one of them for it to make sense. But if you get rid of textual representation, you'll just get another Lisp.

I guess understanding the full implications of this is what Lisp Enlightenment is. http://xkcd.com/224/

The attitude in this difficult to understand.

RMS is different, and it takes guys like him to do something different. Its like Steve Jobs. His attitude is different. Its difficult to understand that unless you are somebody like RMS himself.

Sometimes this level of eccentricity and madness is needed if you are out on a lofty mission. You can question why Gandhi had to wear clothes and live the lifestyle of peasant. Or why Linus Torvalds has a bloated ego, Or why Steve Jobs behaved the way he did. These are all eccentric personalities in their own and they won't part with what they are.

You will never see their energy wear off, or they running out of passion doing something. In their own eccentric style, they are what they are because they are unique.

That is what sets them apart from most of us. There is very little difference between genius and insanity.

> However, since around 1992 I have worked mainly on free software activism, which means I am too busy to do much programming. As a result, I have not had time or occasion to learn newer languages such as Perl, Python, PHP or Ruby.

I'm sorry. What does this mean? What does he spend his time doing?

He tours the world giving talks and speeches.

I cannot even believe that there are people who agree with this moron. First of all, he's chasing an ideal that's not even THAT valid: not all of the crappy-written software is knowledge, not all source code is worth reading. Plus, proprietary software improves industry. Industry feeds people.

Not to mention, in today's world, it is impossible to live without depending on corporations. The only way to live without someone knowing a lot about you is to live in a cave, miles away from civilization.

The way he is using computers: he is just putting restrictions on himself, thinking he actually removes them.

The only thing I agree with here is his opinion about Lisp.

Let me just paraphrase your words the same way you've paraphrased Stallman: "If something is hard, don't try it! And if you try it: You're a moron!"

You may note that this doesn't accurately reflect your words. That's the risk of paraphrasing without context and argumentation.

> Not to mention, in today's world, it is impossible to live without depending on corporations.

His purpose is exactly to change the status quo. You can blame him for being a mediocre communicator, but he believes he can change the world and that deserves respect.

rms is way ahead of the times. somewhere in the future,the bearded dude will point at us and go 'hah! told you so!'

RMS should be proud because open source has already won. His focus should not be on software freedom, it should be on data freedom.

So, where is the "Free Data Foundation"?

It took me 20mins to force read my way through that entire page, and the whole time all I could think was "can this guy be any more boring?"

I'd like to know his view on the rise of the app stores on smart phones (Android and iOS for example). Although companies like Apple have undoubtedly gotten rich on the backs of developers by taking their 30% cut, I would argue that the app store model is the best market for selling software from independent software developers that has ever existed.

Applying his principles, he wouldn't have a problem with the app store model, but he happens to have a problem with Apple's app store since they also restrict the freedoms of users: http://stallman.org/archives/2011-jul-oct.html#25_October_20...

Restricting the freedom of users is not necessarily part of an app store though.

thanks for the link - although restricting the user to a choice of half a million apps is hardly restricting their freedom ... but I guess he probably means the restrictive review process that apple uses before letting an app onto the app store. But I wonder what the alternatives are though... Android marketplace is a fair bit more open in terms of letting apps on there, and they have had significantly more security issues as a result.

wow So many Trolls. its like troll zoo.

"I do not post on 4chan." -- RMS

It's actually really interesting he feels the need to point that out. Possibly because the /g/ and /prog/ boards have such a fascination with him (perhaps deservedly). Stallman has famously called /g/ full of "inane comments" [1] - and I remember someone venturing far enough outside of /prog/ to mail another idol, Gerald Sussman, who said that such fandoms were "unscientific and ultimately destructive", which was very funny at the time.

4chan is a simple enough website that (a) it would perform well on his Leemote, and (b) he probably wouldn't be threatened by e.g. non-free javascript, since there basically isn't any. I think it highlights the way 4chan is "heard and not seen" that RMS refers to "accounts", of which of course there are none, and curious again he uses the gender-inspecific "it" as if the account itself has an identity as a person, let alone any identity at all.

Of course, things like this [2] (possibly NSFW) probably have a very strong influence on his opinion of 4chan.


1. http://i.imgur.com/fhEQX.png

2. http://i.imgur.com/WXvva.png

Thanks for those wonderful screenies. I just intended to request further infos on the Stallman/4chan "relationship" but your posting cleared some things up. 4chan is still after all these years one of the most fascinating places around.

I only wish he had expanded on this with similar negative statements, like "I did not invent the trollface character." and "I do not like gore images." I think there are a lot of things which he does not do, and all of these might be interesting!

I really respect everything he's done and his opinions, but to me he's much like a devout religious figure. His dedication to free software is akin to a Buddhist monk. I appreciate his devotion (like I do non-atheists) but respectfully disagree with his strong feelings.

I'm not sure I quite understand his criticism of Python; it most certainly acts like it has a REPL, and it actually does have a builtin functions for eval() and print() (the equivalent of read needs to do additional parsing).

So what's RMS's beef with Python?

"...I fetch web pages from other sites by sending mail to a program that fetches them, much like wget, and then mails them back to me."

that's one tough pill to swallow, sir.

I thought that at first too, but then I started reading blogs that were scraped and fed to my kindle. Now I find that it is much easier to read and take the time to comprehend content when the cost of following links (through the kindles ersatz browser)is so high. Since most of what I'm interested in reading centers on computers or general science, plain text formatting and lack of images isn't a problem.

Well, as another poster pointed out, he also has a variety of web browsers installed that he uses when he really wants to.

He seemed to cover everything but what phone he uses. Is the closed hardware of android acceptable? Or does he just stick with nonsmart phones?

He doesn't own a cell phone at all. "Stanlin's dream" he calls them. http://www.geekosystem.com/richard-stallman-cell-phones-stal...

I listened to a talk he gave a few years ago and he started by going "Please turn off your global tracking devices." or something of that sort. People laughed but come to think of it, I don't think he was only joking.

because its 100% true

He just borrows one when needed. How convenient.

Does he use his own toilet paper, or also borrows one for the occasion?

Why, toilet paper must be Free too.

Like my friend who lives in Europe--he comes to the US all the time but doesn't have a driver's license, so he just bums rides from all of us all the time and acts superior for doing so.

>This site is maitained in a very simple way. //

Emacs does have spellcheckng though, doesn't it.

spellchecking ? ;-)

How does RMS earn a living?

I often find it odd that people even talk about free software or software having to be free. There is, of course, no such thing. There's subsidized software, but no free software exists.

Linux, as an example, is probably the most expensive piece of software ever developed. Think of all the people employed at universities and businesses who devoted time paid by their employer to develop Linux. Even if they did the work at home "on their own time". The only reason this was even remotely possible is because they had gainful employment that kept a roof over their heads and paid the bills. The same is true of students who contributed to Linux. Their parents, or the government (through a loan) provided the financial support to work on Linux.

Not one of these people would have been able to work on Linux had their financial needs, need for shelter and generally "having a life" needs had not been met through either employment, parental support, loans or grants.

Free software is, at best, subsidized, and at worst, not free at all. I'll be that Linux probably cost more to develop than Windows or OSX.

Now, there's free to the end user. OK. That's fine. People will take free food, free beer, free ice-cream and free software. That's human nature.

I don't find reveling against commercial software a particularly intelligent stance. No offense intended. Those writing software for sale are simply choosing to earn a living writing software that they sell rather than doing something else to subsidize software to be given away.

If I am good at writing software, why should I be a gardener to pay for food and shelter and give away software?

Furthermore, all of the software that RMS used as the model for GNU was the result of years of expensive development and none of it was free. It's a lot easier to, say, study and learn Unix and then go off and develop a "free" Unix clone than to have to invest years upon years developing and optimizing Unix in the first place.

One of my favorite saying goes something like this: The second person who saw the wheel thought it was obvious.

I don't find waging war against non-free software a particularly honorable stance when you are standing on the shoulders of giants who devoted years and billions of dollars to evolve an industry and, yes, make money with it.

I wonder if he refuses medical attention when he goes to the hospital because the software on all of the systems at the hospital do not use free software. There's a word that describes a type of person who thinks and behaves this way and it isn't a flattering one.

#1. You're confusing free as in beer and free as in freedom. Stallman cares about free as in freedom. You really want to go back and review this because you are clearly unfamiliar with the philosophy behind the free software movement. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html The freedom the FSF talks about is not related to cost, it's related to the freedom to modify and share software.

#2. Software in the days you speak of WAS more like free software today. Hackers did share software and patches and such. If you had a problem with a piece of Unix code, whoever the commercial vendor was would often just send you the source. If it stayed like this, there would never be a need for the FSF.

#3. Developers can work on whatever they want in their spare time. If a developer feels that it's valuable to donate his or her labor to improve a piece of software that can improve everyone's lives then that's their business. They have the FREEDOM to do what they want with their time and intellectual capacity and if that's in creating software that supports user freedom, then obviously they see a benefit in it.

#4. It's shortsighted and wrong to say that free software is anti-commercial. Red Hat is a billion dollar company now. Microsoft was one of the largest contributors of code to the Linux kernel last year. Every internet company we ever talk about on HN mostly owes their business to free software like Apache, Linux, BSD, Nginx, PHP, Ruby, etc etc etc etc etc

#5. No, RMS would not refuse medical treatment at a non-free facility. This is a specious argument that has been brought up time and time again and shot down repeatedly. Read this very thread, that point is addressed.

No, I get the free == freedom part. And it is still nonsensical at many levels.

I developed hardware for many years. A lot of this hardware was based on FPGAs. FPGAs, while hardware, are made into a functional solution through code. You write your hardware description in Verilog of VHDL and you get a working product in return. Some of this code took years to develop, evolve and optimize. It was very, very costly. And, there was no imaginable way that it made sense to release it as free (freedom) code. Doing that meant going out of business or seriously damaging a revenue stream that funded the development in the first place.

The same applies to my hospital example. Not free to own and not free to modify. In fact, it is both expensive and very much closed. And there is nothing wrong with that.

My basic premise remains true regardless of which flavor of "free" you choose to focus on: None of this would be possible without the financials to support and promote the release of gratis/freedom software. Impossible.

You mentioned MS as the greatest contributor to the Linux kernel last year. That cost MS millions to support. Those millions had to come from non-gratis/non-freedom software that MS charges for and keeps as closed source in order to earn money and employ their people. That's their model and there's nothing wrong with it.

RMS --or anyone else-- rejecting non-freedom software offerings in isolation of the realities that connect the two is nonsense. You would not have one without the other. It's a symbiotic relationship.

To further use your example: Support Microsoft non-gratis/non-freedom software offerings if you want to support the worlds largest contributor to the Linux kernel last year. I don't know, it could be a nice gesture by RMS and other proponents of his philosophies to support, rather than reject, MS in order to voice approval for their --per your assertion-- unmatched support of Linux (and probably other gratis/freedom software).

The healthier approach, in my opinion, is to recognize that both models have their place and that both have their evolutionary reasons to be perfectly valid and exist. I do and I try to support both.

The problem with the word "free" in English is that it has two meanings. In other languages there are distinct words for these two meanings. In Spanish they are "gratis" and "libre". So, gratis/libre software cannot exist outside the realities of the exact opposite type of software, non-free in every sense of the word. And that's OK.

My problem is with extremists who insist in not recognizing this and see the world through one and only one lens.

I use gratis/libre software. However, more often than not, I will look for paid software for a lot of applications where I need to ensure that proper support exists and, sometimes more importantly, that the software continues to be developed and evolves. All too often gratis/libre software falls short as developers loose interest in a field, leave school and need to earn a living or completely falls through the cracks and remains stagnant for years. Stories about this kind of thing abound.

In my own case, I have many examples of using gratis/libre software and then actively seeking paid alternatives in order to have a better solution with a single point of support.

The other issue with the freedom to modify part of the argument is that this is only good for us geeks. The average folk out there derives no direct value whatsoever from this. And, in a lot of cases, neither do we even though a lot of us could.

Here's the non-computing example for this: Do you fix your own car? Perhaps you do. I don't. Any more. When I was 19 I spent most of my weekends under the car or in the engine compartment. I can take an engine or transmission apart and rebuild it like the best mechanics. Yet, I have not done this for years. Why? That's just not what I do any more. I have other interests. And, more importantly, I need to focus my time, money and efforts elsewhere.

When faced with gratis/libre software that comes with source and a license to hack, frankly, in most cases, I have zero interest in doing so. I've done some, but that's not what I am in front of the computer to do every day. No, I need to get my work done and my job isn't defined as fixing problems with OpenOffice or some other piece of software. OpenOffice, as an example, has never worked for me or any business where I tried my best to introduce it. It is unreasonable to expect any business to continue to use a solution that does not work. So, in all cases, we moved on, paid for MS Office and got back to real work.

So, geeks want the ability to hack but I'd bet you that most just want to get on with building their products rather than fixing a problem with PHP or whatever. Sure, some do hack, a lot of them do hack, but that does not justify a position AGAINST closed source software.

I think that, in the end, we probably agree on a lot. I just don't like extremes in anything, from politics to religion and, yes, software. In most cases one population needs the other. It's OK to want to support gratis/libre software. I am just contending that this should not happen at the exclusion and vilification of paid/closed software because one would not exist without the other. Your MS example is the best proof I need: Support non-free software and you get huge benefits in the free software community. And that's OK. RMS and other should actively promote and support this.

This ain't a hobby.

Sorry, but I don't think you get it.

To use your car analogy. The analogy would be correct if the only way to legally service your car would be to use the dealership's mechanic. Any attempt by you to rebuild your engine or use after-market parts would be illegal. Forget about improving your car in any way. That's illegal too. No new car stereo for you unless you upgrade to a whole new car.

Most people are fine with this because they know nothing about cars, and only care if they work. You hear them saying "as long as I get to drive it, I don't care. I have better things to do than service my own car."

But the restrictions go deeper. You aren't allowed to operate the cars the way you want. It's a huge revenue stream for the car companies to place restrictions on how you use your car. Want to drive somewhere new? Apply to the company and wait for them to hear back. You're not a big customer so you speak to someone in India and the wait is 6 months. Most applications are bungled and you have to resubmit it repeatedly. Still people don't complain saying "most of the places I need to drive are allowed by the car company. Only very strange and extremist people want to drive to some place new."

Now suppose you want to lend your car to a friend. You can't, unless they pay a hefty sum to the car company for an "additional driver license." The standard license allows two adults as drivers and up to two passengers, but if you want to carry more passengers, there's a fee for that too. Some people grumble, but they've been taught since an early age that sharing your car or giving unauthorized people rides is immoral.

Lots of people don't obey these laws, and there is a huge media campaign to call them "car Pirates" and an illegal movement called "hackers" who want to fix their own cars when they break, and add new features or drive to new places. They are often sued and the media goes nuts deriding them, calling them wackos and extremists.

When the car company goes bust and most of them do, you can continue to use the car for as long as it will run, but when anything breaks, you need to scrap the car and buy a new one with a different but equally incompetent company.

This is the situation of proprietary software extended to cars.

The analogy was not intended to be strict. That is impossible.

What you want, really, might be akin to the car company releasing the full design files of the car to you when you buy the car. What's the difference between source code for software and source code (the design) for making a car or a refrigerator these days. I fire-up Solidworks and can design a car. I fire-up various compilers and write the embedded code that runs the engine control systems, etc.

To create Linux, PHP or any piece of software you have teams of programmers in front of computers typing away. The case is the same for designing a car or a microwave oven.

Are you suggesting that Samsung should grant you the ability to download all the design files for that $69 microwave you bought at Walmart? Probably not. Why not? It's the same thing. I have spent years designing products that combine hardware and software. I've done it all in front of a computer. Exactly as I do when I code a website or an iPhone app. No difference. So, then, why treat them any different? Why aren't the proponents of free/freedom also not buying cars or supporting microwave oven makers than don't release their design files.

Ridiculous you say? So be it. It may very well be that it is not I who isn't getting it. My world is complete and equitable because I understand, like, support and promote that BOTH points of view are part of a symbiotic relationship. You cannot have free/freedom without paid/closed. Period.

I noticed that you neglected to mention my observations about you bringing up that MS was the largest contributor to the Linux kernel last year. You, with that, made my point with absolute precision: The largest contributor to Linux last year could afford to do so because they earn a revenue stream from another paid activity. And, in this case, it happens to be paid/closed software.

Again, I propose that the extremist view that ALL software ought to be free or free+freedom is simply not realistic and actually counterproductive.

What do you think would happen if someone like RMS came out and said something like: "I've decided to start supporting MS products because they enable MS to make significant and valuable contributions to the FOSS software community"

I'd bet you a good cup of coffee that you'd see a huge boost in the amount of FOSS work coming out of MS and others.

If you look at what RMS represents you can't help but cringe. He's actually proud of working with a piece of crap computer that is probably a decade behind the times. In his world the millions of people that have gained and continue to enjoy employment due to the evolution and improvements of paid/closed platforms and software would not have jobs. It's a joke.

I come from the vantage point of having designed and built my own computers down to the chip level. Having literally wire-wrapped my own boards. Designed my own disk controller cards and written my own OS and applications. So, I'll say that I have some skin in the game. And, yes, I know that a 1GHz machine with very lean software can do quite a bit. I was running AutoCAD on a CP/M system with 64K of RAM and a two-card math co-processor and RAM disk with 640K of memory. And I did a lot of good work with that. But, you know, today, I gladly pay thousands of dollars a year for licenses to programs such as SolidWorks and Altium Designer to get my work done. They are amazing and do a great job. They represent a tremendous amount of R&D and expertise in the field. And, no, I don't care to have the source code and don't really give a shit if they don't want to release it. It's their product and they should be entitled to do with it as they please. My annual license fees get me continued and consistent improvement and support.

We might want to agree to disagree at this point.

I have no problem with agreeing to disagree, but it's clear you just aren't understanding the word "freedom." So you think you disagree, while I understand what you are saying and can see clearly you just don't understand. I don't think I can disagree with you under these circumstances.

To get you to think more carefully, as a computer engineer can you tell me the difference between a computer and a microwave oven or a car as finite state machines? Which regular languages does a computer accept that a car does not?

Also, can you tell me the the difference between software and the licensing of the software?

I think getting clear on those two questions will go along way towards clearing up your confusion.

You might also think about how RedHat recently made a billion dollars.

Oh and RMS makes a living mostly off speaking fees and academic stipends. He has talked in the past that he chooses to live like a grad student so he has the freedom to basically do whatever he wants. If you haven't guessed, Stallman is kind of big on freedom.

RMS doesn't require that software be "free as in beer". It's okay to sell and purchase software -- so long as person making payment actually ends up owning what they get.


I view Richard Stallman's attitude to this as though he has set himself up as some kind of social/technological guinea-pig for the general public good.

Yes, he is fanatical in several senses, especially nasal and botanical, by all accounts ( read Stallman does Dallas: http://stallman.org/articles/texas.html ).

But the day that Stallman cannot get on the internet, without compromising his own set of restrictions, is the day when it is literally impossible to have dominion over any computational objects that you think you own.

[edit] for clarity, I thought about this, added the qualifier computational, and am not including abacuses ;)

But this idea of having dominion over any computational object (or really any object) is a fantasy. Are you going generate your own electricity riding your generator bike (powered by veggies from your garden) as you code?

That's where I think his ideals go off the rails, their totality beyond common sense. FOSS of various flavors is cool. Of course it's not really free though. It's created by people in the context of an advanced technological society which has numerous components, many necessary, for it's existence.

Electricity is a service, and you're free to use electricity however you want. Nobody can (physically) stop you from using electricity in a way that is not "approved" by the provider of your electricity.

Granted, there are other issues with the generation of electricity, such as the issues with nuclear power, and the environmental effects of coal etc. However, electricity itself is Free (as in speech).

Also, you can't interact with electricity on a higher level. You can't really change its behavior, and the way it works is "open source" (physics). Software and, to a lesser degree, hardware, are things which we can deeply interact with, and are a fundamental part of today's society. This is why they need to be completely Free.

Just like electricity is completely free. Right? I think I get it.

It means free as in speech not beer.

Mind fart. The analogy is so bad I don't even know where to begin. It's comparing an intellectually intensive, almost craft-like, infinitely complex piece of work to a physical resource that can be routed around.

[snip paragraph about capitalism/FOSS]

I also think open hardware and standards are much more important than software. They mean you can build anything you'd like yourself, while allowing developers to live off their work.

Also: Nobody can (physically) stop you from using electricity in a way that is not "approved" by the provider of your electricity. Of course they can. You can't rig a 330v outlet in your house without permission from your provider. Can't build a tesla coil in your garage either. Draw too much power and they will cut you off unless you switch to a commercial contract, if you're allowed. If I were into bad analogies I'd say here that it's like having a data cap. There is an intricate fabric of things related to economy, work, engineering, politics and society in general, the combination of those what makes electricity available in our homes. Same goes for software - you can't take how society works out of the equation.

>"Can't build a tesla coil in your garage either."

What the hell? You are joking, right?

You can, if you want to, but it could run you into a lot of trouble. That's not the point.

No, it would not... Give me a break.

I pray that Poe's Law is in out in full force here.

We're probably not picturing the same thing here. How about a nuclear reactor? A 100kw transmitter? Does that help? Want me to draw it?

Nice way to stray from the argument while being an ass. We're not even discussing anything related to free software anymore.

Exactly how much power to you think a tesla coil uses...? O.o

Also, the primary reasons you cannot run (most kinds) of nuclear reactors in your garage have nothing to do with your power company (this said, if you do want to run your own powerplant and sell power back to the grid, you are more than free to do so... If you don't care about plugging yourself into the grid then you are even more free to do so). Similarly, FCC regulations on transmitter power are also questionably related.

"We're not even discussing the issue of free software anymore"

Thanks to your confused analogies, and what I'm not perceiving as some pretty fundamental misconceptions about basic electronics, yes... If you are going to attempt to argue your point with an analogy, and your analogy is broken, expect to be called out. That is just common sense.

10kv is not something I'd consider safe in a household.

That's throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I don't think this attitude is healthy around here - I'm not a native english speaker, and I know shit about electronics - the argument was completely ignored while I was hung out to dry because of a bad analogy.

The flyback transformers in large CRT televisions generate several times more than 10kV.

Do yourself a favour and learn about electronics then before starting to debate what is possible in electronics with people who design and build electronics.

'getting started in electronics' by forrest mims is not a bad starting point.

10kv can be perfectly safe and is in the same ballpark as the static charges you get from nylon sweaters.

Also, funny you should mention nuclear reactors, there was a teenager on TED who built a fusion reactor in his garage who may be going to work at CERN.

Sorry, I didn't realize this thread was about electronics.

I think this explains a lot really...

It doesn't appear so, although it could be an extremely advanced form of satire.

A 330v outlet just requires a transformer and says nothing about the power drawn.

As for making tesla coils in the garage, I suspect you might be surprised if you bothered to search this at all.

Also, there are such things as generators and if you want to, you can build them from scrap.

If you ignore service contracts, fire and safety regulations, and every other aspect of reality, that is. I think I'm seeing a pattern here.

No, not at all.

There is no regulation to say you can't build yourself a tesla coil in your garage, and there is no law saying what voltages you are allowed to make from your supply.

You could...use solar power.

Your idea of 'beyond common sense' seems pretty limited in scope. And the F in FOSS isn't about price, it's about liberty. This is the very first thing anyone involving themselves in a discussion on FOSS should be aware of, and I feel sure that you knew that.

What was the point of this comment?

I was refering to the concept of "total dominion" over our computing devices, and trying to illustrate that this a hopeless goal.

Yes, you could generate your own power, live in total isolation off the grid, attempt to make everything in your life yourself. You would fail, but you could try. But even in this, you are not free from being subject to the laws that govern where you live.

This is an old debate: where should peoples freedom of behavior be controlled to the extent that it impinges on others' "freedom."

This is where RMS loses me. His concept of freedom does not seem to include the concept that people should be free to conduct business in accordance with the laws of the land.

In the US we are currently free to create and distribute FOSS if we want. Isn't that enough freedom? It's not totally free (in the liberty sense) but there is still a lot of freedom to do as one please with anything that you create (if its "original").

I happen to think that there are real problems with copyright now. The concepts behind the laws were derived before digital technology, and were always intended to address the commercial exploitation of original works. Not what individuals did.

We have a situation now where the copyright laws are being enforced against individuals making copies of works for personal, non-commercial reasons, which feels unjust to me.

I think part of the intensity behind the MPAA's legal attacks is the perception that if they give an inch, people will take a mile. And the legal foundation of copyright would be undermined by "facts on the ground."

Changing the copyright laws to reflect current technology seems like a good idea.

a lot more people live off-grid, generating all their own power, than do computering like RMS.

Are you going generate your own electricity riding your generator bike (powered by veggies from your garden) as you code?

You should meet some of my mates who live in caravans. They have a solar cinema.

Last time I checked iOS (the router OS) is not free, he probably does violate his own principles connecting to the Internet.

Rms is like a vegan always preaching some moral high ground and always violating it whenever it becomes inconvenient.

As michael_michael and I replied to your other comment, you have obviously failed to actually read the article in question, and are drawing conclusions without basis, when you claim that using internet routers violates his own stated principles.

RMS is precisely NOT like that type of vegan (not that I think that this is at all typical of vegans, either). If indeed you think that kind of consistency is the highest good, you should hold RMS in very high regard indeed.

"I don't need to worry about what software is in a kiosk, pay phone, or ATM that I am using. I hope their owners migrate them to free software, for their sake, but there's no need for me to refuse to touch them until then."

If you're referring to Cisco, it's IOS. You're right though that the odds of him not touching something like IOS or JUNOS or IronWare border on close to impossible.

He meant to say "IOS", it's just that iOS autocorrects those characters.

The joys of Original Operating System Names. Cisco IOS, IBM i, Apple iOS.

Not to mention: iRMX, IRIX, IOS-XR.

How rude. Sometimes idealism isn't practical. Idealism is a goal, not an absolute.

oh noes! we are doomed! Run for the hills, we might get a better view.

(yes, you are no doubt correct. I do still view him as an unusual type of rare bearded canary that has decided to take up residence in the coal mine through some form of altruistic bloody-mindedness)

[edit] Plus, whatever you may think of him, he is bloody smart.

He may have a high IQ but I wouldn't call him smart. If he was that smart people would be using his system instead of Gates and Jobs system. Gates and Jobs are smart, he's a loud mouth with a PhD. Listening to RMS talk about Windows and iOS is like listening to Tenenbaum lecture Torvalds on how monolithic kernels are a thing of the past.

His system fails to fundamentally solve problems people actually have. I'm sure RMS's systems perfectly solve RMSs problems, and that's great if you're a self-centered pretentious asshole focused solely on your own needs. Unfortunately, if you're a regular joe with average needs his system doesn't solve very many of your problems. Gates and Jobs wisely recognized that catering to the needs of others is actually better for society than focusing solely on one's own needs.

Software freedom for the vast majority of people is having their spreadsheet save them hours of manual calculations so they can catch their kids ballet recital.

Freedom is a tradeoff, that's why we don't live in a society ruled by natural law.

    >His system fails to fundamentally solve problems people actually have.
RMS has spent most of his life trying to solve problems which I have, fundamentally. Problems which most all of us have.

There is of course something to be said for usability and the "regular joe," as you say, but Stallman's intentions have always been entirely moral. He really does believe he is acting in your best interest. (Which most people aren't. I'm certainly not.)

Why bother hating?

I don't know, GNU is fantastic, and one of my main issues with Linux is that it has so many binary blobs and non-free software that are required for it to run on most machines.

And as far as what "most people need", "most people" would do fine with a copy of LibreOffice and Firefox running on Ubuntu or whatnot.

Yeah thats most of my issues with Linux mostly binary blobs and not the fact that my laptop won't wake up from sleep, I have to screw around everytime I plug in a projector. LibreOffice works great as long as I don't have to open any Word docs that use change tracking, or spreadsheets that involve calculations, or god forbid a powerpoint with anything but rudimentary graphics.

It's a panacea I don't know why anyone would waste 2 billable hours on paying money to avoid the embarrassment of having to fuck around with your operating system for 15 minutes while you attempt to make a presentation. It's not 1994 anymore, people expect computers to work and it reflects poorly when they don't. And what am I saving this $300 for? For the privilege of being able add the code that should have been there in the first place.

Stallman's GNU quest began in response to a binary blob printer driver that he had no option but to suffer under, because it was closed source.

The issues you describe are attributable to what's between the keyboard and the chair. Try getting a standard mac to work with the majority of projectors, without any adapters. The LibreOffice issues you are having are due to an arms race where Microsoft break compatibility with their previous formats each release. You have to learn to use the computer you have properly or you will embarrass yourself with it. This is true for all operating systems. Not everything is going to work exactly as you suspect, at least you're in a position to do something about it on your own linux machine. That's never going to be the case with the competition.

Give it another 100 years, whose software is still going to be around, Stallman's, Jobs' or Gates'? It's not as feature complete, but it has greater longevity.

On the other hand I have experienced that the blobs are actually the problem.

For example fglrx fails very often to wake up the graphics card in my notebook. The open source radeon driver never had that problem.

People implementing power saving seem to often complain about buggy ACPI implementations. Is this email legit? Did any action come from it? I don't know. But I wouldn't be surprised. http://antitrust.slated.org/www.iowaconsumercase.org/011607/...

fglrx's xrandr support kind of works, but is shaky with the virtual size set to a minimum and if not set high manually needs to restart X every time one wants to set a higher resolution on a secondary screen. The open source radeon driver on the other hand has beautifully working xrandr support. Nvidia's blob... Well, the proprietary twinview doesn't support rotating single screens and when I watch videos of presentations I see mostly people trying to get nvidia-settings to set the correct resolution on the projector.

The microsoft documents you speak of, are these in the proprietary, undocumented, closed formats or the new, questionably standardized, overly complex, formats? I personally think that it is microsoft's intention that you need to buy their product to be fully "compatible" with their document format and that's what they get. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standardization_of_Office_Open_...

I don't know about you but the presentations I see around here in the university are mostly with open source intel drivers (which I have not seen failing in that regard yet) and a PDF viewer showing the presentation made with the latex beamer class. I fortunately don't have to give many presentations but for some I do have used LibreOffice Impress and I was quite satisfied. Sure, it was quite buggy some time ago but it has improved much.

I fail to imagine how I would spend 15 minutes "fucking around with my operating system". I simply "ctrl+r" the relevant xrandr command from my shell history (something like "xrandr --output LVDS --preferred --output HDMI-0 --preferred --right-of LVDS --rotate normal") - if you don't like the command line, just use a simple gui like arandr - and start the presentation. That takes a few seconds... Maybe you can elaborate?

What are you saving $300 for? Try listening to a presentation from Richard Stallman. You may have heard of him... He speaks about that topic.

I do not understand your need to call him an self-centered pretentious asshole. I think these kind of needless qualifications only reflect back on you and add nothing whatsoever to the discussion. If the very mentioning of RMS put you so much in rage that you cannot even spell Tanenbaum correctly, what exactly do you want to communicate? fleitz is lecturing RMS exactly on what?

Without the efforts of the GNU people the world would be a place of much less choice and freedom in computing. That the majority of people is served better by a spreadsheet is a non-sequitur. The world is probably even served better by something else than software.

As this guy, Momus, wrote:

Perhaps the problem is actually with the idea of hypocrisy itself -- the idea that consistency is a greater virtue than whatever virtue an inconsistent man might be talking about, and that personal life and public policy must always be girded up and gridded up to resemble each other.

Let me put an alternative point of view. Someone living in a castle, and owning a castle, could very usefully speak about post-materialism. Someone paying five figure utility bills would be in a very good position to talk about -- and act on -- the theme of energy wastage; they would be an expert on it, and have a vested interest in change, and actually have the possibility to make changes on a scale a pauper huddled over a candle could only dream of.

Ad hominem: There are many reasons a charge of hypocrisy might be reactionary and counter-productive. First of all, the hypocrisy mindset pays too much attention to people's personal lives and too little to their programmatic or ideological outlook. If someone is a visionary, or is trying to solve a widespread problem, it's likely that his personal life will reflect the problem whereas his policies will reflect the solution. It would then be pretty stupid to accuse him of saying one thing and doing another -- especially if everyone were pretty much in the same boat, at least until an alternative infrastructure is set up. A charge of hypocrisy might well be a pre-emptive strike designed to stymie future solutions to universal problems.

Consistency above correctness: Consistency is the hobgoblin of petty minds.

Wanting things to be less complex, and wanting people and societies to be without internal contradictions is understandable, but small-minded.

It ignores the fact that it is often only by sinning ourselves that we can learn exactly why sinning is bad. At a certain point we are all saying one thing and doing another. This is, apart from anything else, a sure sign of our complexity, and of our capacity to rise above our current way of living and search for alternatives, no matter how deeply we're mired. Allow it, brothers!

Give me moral perfection or give me corruption: We often strike down people with a spotted reputation only to replace them with people who are unapologetically evil. We hate to be preached at so much that we ignore the sermons we need to hear and prefer unalloyed corruption. At least it's consistent, right? At least there's no hypocrisy there! At least change is taken off the agenda! Thank Christ "hypocrisy" has absolved us of the need to feel wrong, and to make a painful change!

100 people in a room: There are 100 people in a room, all doing A Bad Thing. They know it's a bad thing, a thing that will damage the room and everyone in it, but they can't stop. Suddenly a Visionary makes a powerful and moving speech. "We must stop doing The Bad Thing!" he says. His speech is effective: everyone stops. Except the Visionary himself, who keeps doing it. This, however, is a minor detail: the room is a better, safer place. Instead of 100 people doing The Bad Thing, only one is doing it.

Suddenly a Commentator gets up. "Suckers!" he shouts. "You've stopped doing The Bad Thing, but the man who made you stop still does it! You've been had... by a hypocrite!" Soon everyone in the room is doing The Bad Thing again. But tell me, please, who has damaged the room more, the Visionary or the Commentator? Who has the best chance of helping the room?

Oh boy. RMS wrote yet another opinion that we just have to read. I'll be hated for this but I must state the obvious. This is a list of really boring opinions. Interesting for rms fanatics but many are barely explained and most aren't realistic to actually try out unless you want to be a software philosopher for a living. Did people just see Stallman in the title and up vote? Come on.

I get it, you don't like RMS, but just because it's on the front page doesn't mean you have to read this story. The way HN works is people vote up stories they find interesting. Since different people find different things interesting very often there will be stories on the front page that you don't find interesting. Every time that happens you shouldn't write a comment complaining that the story is boring and the people who voted for it are dumb. Instead you should just ignore it and move on.

If you do not find it interesting, do not up-vote it. I find your opinion really boring. Interesting maybe for Bill Patriankos fanatics, but barely explained. Did people just see Patriankos and up vote? Come on.

I was surprised to see that there were no rules whatsoever on the consumption/conservation of energy (nutritional or electrical) - such as avoidance of corn flakes encumbered by Montasano patents.

i.e. "I only drink rain water and pure grain alcohol"

Well this page is specific to how he does his computing.

Commercial software licenses are trying to take our precious bodily fluids!

Ditto. Stallman is an enormously interesting figure in the history of software development. But who really cares how he reads his email or books his speaking engagements? (And the less one knows about his personal life is probably for the better.)

I count three of you now who cared enough to post here mocking him.

Not mocking. Definitely being a little sarcastic. But why do we have to get into a holy war over Stallman. You know as well as I do that what I said is true but unfortunately Stallman's cult following absolutely must punish anyone who points out the obvious. So I said what I needed to. I was actually being sincere, not trying to outright mock him for the sake of mocking him.

Like most people, I find Stallman strange. His methods are quirky, and his language grating. He alienates his allies more often than his enemies. He picks fights at the wrong times. He stands behind principle in circumstances where it clearly hurts his cause.

But... he's right. Almost always, he's right. He's made a 40 year career now of being right: often decades before the rest of us figure it out. That's enough for me to cut him as much slack as he wants.

Nattering detractors like you have been around for almost as long as he has. I used to be one 15 years ago (when, damn it, I was sure he was going to tank the coming open source revolution; except he didn't, and he was right). He just draws that kind of attention.

Serious question. What exactly is he right about?

I don't know what the grand-parent was talking about, but if you want to read something that he foresaw before everybody (AFAIK) check the Right to Read essay (http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.html)

So, what is he right about?

That DRM would eventually lead to unusable computer systems. That a completely free software OS was possible. That software patents were bad things. That chasing profit in the LISP machine market would destroy the MIT hacker community. That "look and feel" lawsuits would hurt free software. That a copyleft license would not hurt software adoption by commercial vendors.

You want me to go on? He was on all this stuff (some of it critically important, some of it less so) before, in many cases years before the rest of us caught up.

Let me turn it around then: find something he was verifiably wrong about. There aren't that many cases, and what there are are mostly tactical things (e.g. picking the fight about GNU/Linux was, I believe, counterproductive), not factual ones.

About the increasing restrictions on the tools needed to program generated by the attempt to restrict what you can do with an electronic device. He foresaw the kind of restrictions that appeared both in the iPhone and the german legislation.

Having control over the software that runs on the devices you use to interact with the society of which you are a part is extremely important and the more that computation and networks are used as mechanisms of the state and statelike entities, the more important it gets.

He is right to fight for Free software because it empowers the weak, the poor, the oppressed, and also hobbyists, even though there is certainly non-Free software that does so as well (routers for example may carry speech freely but may not be Free themselves). He takes this philosophy to extremes to make his point.

Hand waiving, hand waiving. Last I heard oppressed were quite empovered by twitter, facebook and mobile phones—those parasitic and evil tools, according to rms. I am talking about Arab Spring. That's the best example that he is talking bullshit. I see no point of admiring man just be cause he is too stubborn not to ignore reality. Would I admire young earth creationist sticking to his believs despite all the science? No way. rms has zero understanding of all things social, about what makes "normal" people tick. His fantasies have little to do with the reality and the future. In the world where everyone is a programmer his vision might hold some water, but the days when all computer users were programmers and sysadmins are long gone and will never return.

And I'm sure rms would do more good if he fought for food and water for poor in Africa.

The point is, he did not resolved to do it, just like his resolve is not fighting dictators. If not helping folks oppressed by tyranny government, then we all are talking bulshit, although it's less true with regard to Stallman, since free software helped Twitter and Facebook happen.

Twitter and Facebook at least benefit from Free software, and people benefit vicariously. You don't have to be a programmer to benefit.

I'm not at all clear on how I mocked Stallman.

But since you brought it up, the man has some very well documented personal eccentricities, beyond his choice in laptops. I'm sure anyone who would be interested in his email-reading procedures are equally interested in those other things too.

Down-voted. There's no need for comments like this:

  I'm sure anyone who would be interested in his
  email-reading procedures are equally interested
  in those other things too.
Your attempt to passive-aggressively insult people that like content that you obviously don't want to see on HN is not welcome here.

Many people enjoy reading about the computing experience of 'tech famous' people, or else this site wouldn't exist: http://usesthis.com/

Well that was my initial thought but to be fair those things certainly can be interesting if you're a fan of his.

That said, this is really nothing new. I've read this same list many times and it's actually been linked here several times. The difference is just that in its other incarnations it was in plain text form or some other variation of the same HTML list.

Then there's the fact that it really is just a self-righteous sounding list. Like if I said "I'm browsing HN on my iPad because I find it convenient for reading and I can smoke cigarettes in my garage while I carry it around". Those ridiculous details are the kind of thing you find in his lists. And of course no one is going to go all plain-text when using a computer but the way Stallman makes it sound seems like he's saying he's superior to us because he's cool enough to not need all those fancy GUI dealies. So what?

>Stallman makes it sound seems like he's saying he's superior to us because he's cool enough to not need all those fancy GUI dealies

I think you are completely missing his point. He is not claiming to be superior because he uses those tools, he thinks his freedoms are not restricted by them.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact