Tuesday, June 09, 2009

My encounter with Richard M. Stallman

Here's some personal notes from the seminar given by Richard M. Stallman that I had the chance to attend with a few colleagues. I stripped from the notes large parts that are work-related.

Executive Summary (parts)

Richard M. Stallman, an internationally influential figure in software development since the early 80's, gave a seminar on free software for Canadian federal workers. M. Stallman presented his views on free and open source software in general, discussing free software ethics, development and use for all components of the society, including at the governmental and educational levels. [...]

What is Free Software?

Please refer to the full Wikipedia article. Basically, the software you have a copy is free if it grants you the following four freedoms:

  1. The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study and modify the program.
  3. The freedom to copy the program so you can help your neighbor.
  4. The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

Views shared by M. Stallman

  • Free software is more than a different business model, is has ethical aspects.
  • You can't know what's in proprietary software, it limits your freedom indefinitely.
  • The fact that free software is gratis should be considered as a bonus, what matters is the freedom that free software procures.
  • M. Stallman doesn't like the term 'open source' because, in contrast to 'free software', it removes the issue of freedom. Additionally, software that has its source code open doesn't mean it is free in regards to licensing.
  • Exclusively Free software should be used by governments, for reasons including:
    • Sovereignty, control and independence instead of being dependent on companies.
    • Return on investment: the government gets its money from the citizens, it's only normal to give back the work done to the citizens.
    • Security: free software allows you to know what the code does to you.
    • Liability: people liable for lines of code can be identified with free software.

  • M. Stallman prefers refering to Linux as GNU/Linux, because it correctly refers to Linux's historical source and philosophy.
  • Anyone can still make money from offering support for free software, training and related activities.
  • The LGPL license is a compromise, allowing free software to be directly connected with proprietary software (such as drivers and libraries), in order to encourage proprietary software developers to provide solutions compatible with free software.
  • In education, schools and universities should use free software in order to allow the understanding of the underlying code. For Stallman, proprietary software is the "enemy of the spirit of education". Proprietary software frequently donate software to educational organizations and should be considered as a first gratis dose of an addictive drug.
  • Free software is also about morale and ethics: it encourages transparency, sharing and communities.
  • Documentation should be free too, thus the Gnu Free Documentation License for 'functional works', i.e documentation required to do a job.
  • Free software enhance innovation by allowing everybody to use the best means to attain a goal, whereas proprietary software stifles innovation and competition by using copyrights to stop and block advances by other organizations.
    • Copyrights should expire after 10 years.
    • Remixing content should not be systematically considered an infringement.

  • M. Stallman don't like the term 'intellectual property', claiming it's an over generalization and confusing. Most of the time, 'legal issues' should be used instead.
  • By default, copyright laws denies rights to citizens, copyright holders must be proactive to free it.
  • "Non-free software don't contribute to humanity"
  • Stallman mentioned the improvements of the GPL v3, including Tivoization, the Creative Commons licenses, DRM and much more.
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