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Richard Matthew Stallman (frequently abbreviated to RMS) is the founder of the free software movement, the GNU Project, and the Free Software Foundation. An acclaimed hacker, his major accomplishments include Emacs (and the later GNU Emacs), the GNU C Compiler, and the GNU Debugger. He is also the author of the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL or GPL), the most widely-used free software license, which pioneered the concept of the copyleft.

Since the mid-1990s, Stallman has spent most of his time as a political campaigner, advocating free software and campaigning against software idea patents and expansions of copyright law. The time that he still devotes to computer programming|programming is spent on GNU Emacs. He supports himself by being paid for around half of the speeches he gives.

Stallman argues that software users should have the freedom to "share with their neighbor" and to be able to study and make changes to the software that they use. He has repeatedly said that attempts by proprietary software vendors to prohibit these acts are "antisocial" and "unethical"[1]. The phrase "software wants to be free" is often incorrectly attributed to him, and Stallman argues that this is a mis-statement of his philosophy[2]. He argues that freedom is vital for the sake of users and society and not merely because it may lead to improved software.

Founding GNU[]

In 1985, Stallman published the GNU Manifesto, which outlined his motivation for creating a free operating system called GNU, which would be compatible with Unix. The name GNU is a recursive acronym for GNU's Not Unix. Soon after, he incorporated the non-profit Free Software Foundation (FSF) to employ free software programmers and provide a legal infrastructure for the free software community.

In 1985, Stallman invented and popularized the concept of copyleft, a legal mechanism to protect the modification and redistribution rights for free software. It was first implemented in the GNU Emacs General Public License, and in 1989 the first program-independent GNU General Public License was released. By then, much of the GNU system had been completed, with the notable exception of a kernel. Members of the GNU project began a kernel called GNU Hurd in 1990, but a risky design decision proved to be a bad gamble, and development of the Hurd was slow.

By producing software tools needed to write software, and publishing a generalised license that could be applied to any software project (the GPL), Stallman helped make it easier for others to write free software independent of the GNU project. In 1991, one such independent project produced the Linux kernel] This could be combined with the GNU system to make a complete operating system. Most people use the name Linux to refer to both the combinations of the Linux kernel itself plus the GNU system, a usage some view as unfairly minoritizing the value of the GNU project, as discussed below.

Stallman has written many essays on software freedom and is a voice of action in the free software movement. In 1999, Stallman called for development of a free on-line encyclopedia through the means of inviting the public to contribute articles. See GNUPedia. [1]


Stallman places great importance on the words people use to talk about the relationship between software and freedom. In particular, he untiringly asks people to say "free software," "GNU/Linux," and to avoid the term "Intellectual Property." His requests that people use certain terms, and his ongoing efforts to convince people of the importance of terminology, are a source of constant friction with some parts of the free and open source software community.

One of his criteria for giving an interview to a journalist is that the journalist agree to use his terminology throughout their article.Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag He has been known to turn down speaking requests over some terminology issues. [3]

Free Software[]

The term "free software", can mean either "unrestricted software" or "zero-cost software" or both. Over the years, people have tried to come up with a more intuitive and less ambiguous term.

Stallman strongly objects to the term "open source" to replace the term "free" since he says it hides the goal of freedom.[4] He declines interviews for stories that would label his work as "open source," claiming that they would misrepresent his views.

Copyright, patents, and trademarks[]

Stallman claims that the term "Intellectual Property" is designed to confuse people, and is used to prevent intelligent discussion on these specific laws by lumping together areas of law that have little or nothing in common. Although not a lawyer, he has argued that by referring to these laws as "property" laws, the term biases the listener when thinking about how to treat these issues.

"These laws originated separately, evolved differently, cover different activities, have different rules, and raise different public policy issues. Copyright law was designed to promote authorship and art, and covers the details of a work of authorship or art. Patent law was intended to encourage publication of ideas, at the price of finite monopolies over these ideas--a price that may be worth paying in some fields and not in others. Trademark law was not intended to promote any business activity, but simply to enable buyers to know what they are buying."[5]



Publications by Richard Stallman[]

  • Stallman, Richard M. & Sussman, Gerald J. (November 1975). Heuristic Techniques in Computer-Aided Circuit Analysis, published in IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems, Vol. CAS-22 (11)
  • Stallman, Richard M. & Sussman, Gerald J. (1977). Forward Reasoning and Dependency-Directed Backtracking In a System for Computer-Aided Circuit analysis, published in Artificial Intelligence 9 pp.135-196
  • Stallman, Richard M. (1981). EMACS: The Extensible, Customizable, Self-Documenting Display Editor. Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT. MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory publication AIM-519A. PDF HTML
  • Stallman, Richard M. (2002). GNU Emacs Manual: Fifteenth edition for GNU Emacs Version 21. Cambridge, Massachusetts: GNU Press. ISBN 188211485X.
  • Stallman, Richard M. (2002). Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman. Cambridge, Massachusetts: GNU Press. ISBN 1882114981. (Also available online in various formats, e.g. PDF [2].)
  • Stallman et al {2004). GNU Make: A Program for Directed Compilation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: GNU Press. ISBN 1882114833.



External links[]