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Re: GPLv3 comedy unfolding -- raya's research on "The Four Freedoms"

From: Alexander Terekhov
Subject: Re: GPLv3 comedy unfolding -- raya's research on "The Four Freedoms"
Date: Fri, 06 Oct 2006 14:34:17 +0200

David Kastrup wrote:
> > From that day on, he set off on a quest to ban proprietary software
> > and encourage the free sharing of source code by all means.
> That was what started his unrest.  It did not set him off immediately,
> and "by all means" is certainly exaggerated.  He did not, for example,
> condone using guns in that respect.

Yeah, only dynamite.

The Lisp Machine software was hacker-built, meaning it was owned by 
MIT but available for anyone to copy as per hacker custom. Such a 
system limited the marketing advantage of any company hoping to license 
the software from MIT and market it as unique. To secure an advantage, 
and to bolster the aspects of the operating system that customers might 
consider attractive, the companies recruited various AI Lab hackers and 
set them working on various components of the Lisp Machine operating 
system  outside the auspices of the AI Lab. 

The most aggressive in this strategy was Symbolics. By the end of 1980, 
the company had hired 14 AI Lab staffers as part-time consultants to 
develop its version of the Lisp Machine. Apart from Stallman, the rest 
signed on to help LMI.7 

At first, Stallman accepted both companies' attempt to commercialize 
the Lisp machine, even though it meant more work for him. Both licensed 
the Lisp Machine OS source code from MIT, and it was Stallman's job to 
update the lab's own Lisp Machine to keep pace with the latest 
innovations. Although Symbolics' license with MIT gave Stallman the 
right to review, but not copy, Symbolics' source code, Stallman says a 
"gentleman's agreement" between Symbolics management and the AI Lab made 
it possible to borrow attractive snippets in traditional hacker fashion. 

On March 16, 1982, a date Stallman remembers well because it was his 
birthday, Symbolics executives decided to end this gentlemen's agreement. 
The move was largely strategic. LMI, the primary competition in the Lisp 
Machine marketplace, was essentially using a copy of the AI Lab Lisp 
Machine. Rather than subsidize the development of a market rival, 
Symbolics executives elected to enforce the letter of the license. If 
the AI Lab wanted its operating system to stay current with the Symbolics
operating system, the lab would have to switch over to a Symbolics machine 
and sever its connection to LMI. 

As the person responsible for keeping up the lab's Lisp Machine, Stallman 
was incensed. Viewing this announcement as an "ultimatum," he retaliated 
by disconnecting Symbolics' microwave communications link to the 
laboratory. He then vowed never to work on a Symbolics machine and 
pledged his immediate allegiance to LMI. "The way I saw it, the AI Lab 
was a neutral country, like Belgium in World War I," Stallman says. "If 
Germany invades Belgium, Belgium declares war on Germany and sides with 
Britain and France." 

The circumstances of the so-called "Symbolics War" of 1982-1983 depend 
heavily on the source doing the telling. When Symbolics executives 
noticed that their latest features were still appearing in the AI Lab 
Lisp Machine and, by extension, the LMI Lisp machine, they installed a 
"spy" program on Stallman's computer terminal. Stallman says he was 
rewriting the features from scratch, taking advantage of the license's 
review clause but also taking pains to make the source code as 
different as possible. Symbolics executives argued otherwise and took 
their case to MIT administration. According to 1994 book, The Brain 
Makers: Genius, Ego, and Greed, and the Quest for Machines That Think, 
written by Harvey Newquist, the administration responded with a 
warning to Stallman to "stay away" from the Lisp Machine project.8 
According to Stallman, MIT administrators backed Stallman up. "I was 
never threatened," he says. "I did make changes in my practices, though. 
Just to be ultra safe, I no longer read their source code. I used only 
the documentation and wrote the code from that." 

Whatever the outcome, the bickering solidified Stallman's resolve. With 
no source code to review, Stallman filled in the software gaps according 
to his own tastes and enlisted members of the AI Lab to provide a 
continuous stream of bug reports. He also made sure LMI programmers had 
direct access to the changes. "I was going to punish Symbolics if it was 
the last thing I did," Stallman says. 

Such statements are revealing. Not only do they shed light on Stallman's 
nonpacifist nature, they also reflect the intense level of emotion 
triggered by the conflict. According to another Newquist-related story, 
Stallman became so irate at one point that he issued an email threatening 
to "wrap myself in dynamite and walk into Symbolics' offices."9 Although 
Stallman would deny any memory of the email and still describes its 
existence as a "vicious rumor," he acknowledges that such thoughts did 
enter his head. "I definitely did have fantasies of killing myself and 
destroying their building in the process," Stallman says. "I thought my 
life was over."...

7. See H. P. Newquist, The Brain Makers: Genius, Ego, and Greed in the 
Quest for Machines that Think (Sams Publishing, 1994): 172. 

8. Ibid.: 196. 

9. Ibid. Newquist, who says this anecdote was confirmed by several 
Symbolics executives, writes, "The message caused a brief flurry of 
excitement and speculation on the part of Symbolics' employees, but 
ultimately, no one took Stallman's outburst that seriously." 


                       Free as in Freedom                       

          Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software

                       ISBN 0-596-00287-4


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