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[GNU/FSF Press] Transcript of Stallman's NYU speech
Bradley M. Kuhn
[GNU/FSF Press] Transcript of Stallman's NYU speech
Thu, 31 May 2001 19:03:16 -0400
Many of you in the press have asked for this. It's a transcription of
Stallman's speech at NYU this past Tuesday.
It's now on our website, linked from:
I have also included it below.
We will likely make some more edits; the transcription was done by a
service, and some computer concepts are spelled in odd ways. We will be
correcting them, and updating the website. But, it's good enough now that
I wanted to get it out to you.
Richard M. Stallman's speech,
"Free Software: Freedom and Cooperation"
New York University in New York, New York
on 29 May 2001
URETSKY: I'm Mike Uretsky. I'm over at the Stern School of Business. I'm
also one of the Co-Directors of the Center for Advanced Technology. And,
on behalf of all of us in the Computer Science Department, I want to
welcome you here. I want to say a few comments, before I turn it over to
-- Ed, who is going to introduce the speaker.
The role of a University, is a place to foster debate, and to have
interesting discussions. And the role of a major university is to have
particularly interesting discussions. And this particular presentation,
this seminar falls right into that mold. I find the discussion of open
source particularly interesting. In a sense, [Laughter]
STALLMAN: I do "free software". Open source is a different movement.
URETSKY: When I first started in the field in the '60's, basically
software was free. And we went in cycles. It became free, and then
software [[or "some of the"]] manufacturers, in the need to expand their
markets, pushed it in other directions. A lot of the developments that
took place with the entry of PC moved in exactly the same kind of a cycle.
There's a very interesting French philosopher -- Pierre Levy -- who talks
about movement to this direction, and who talks about the move into
cyberspace as not only relating to technology, but also relating to social
restructuring, to political restructuring, through a change in the kinds
of relationships that will improve the well-being of mankind. And we're
hoping that this debate is a movement in that direction; that this debate
is something that cuts across a lot of the disciplines that normally act
as solace within the University. We're looking forward to some very
interesting discussions. Ed?
SCHONBERG: I'm Ed Schonberg from the Computer Science Department at the
Courant Institute. Let me welcome you all to this event. Introducers are
usually, and particularly, a useless aspect of public presentations, but,
in this case, actually, they serve a useful purpose as Mike easily
demonstrated. Because an introducer for instance, told him, by making
inaccurate comments, can allow him to straighten out and correct and
[Laughter] sharpen considerably the parameters of the debate.
So, let me make the briefest, possible introduction to somebody, who
doesn't need one. Richard is the perfect example of somebody who, by
acting locally, started thinking globally from problems concerning the
unavailability of source code for printer drivers at the AI-Lab many
years ago. He has developed a coherent philosophy that has forced all
of us to re-examine our ideas of how software is produced, of what
intellectual property means, and what the software community actually
represents. Let me welcome, Richard Stallman. __: [Applause]
STALLMAN: Can someone lend me a watch? [Laughter] Thank you. So, I'd
like to thank Microsoft for providing me the opportunity to [Laughter] be
on this platform. For the past few weeks, I have felt like an author
whose book was fortuitously banned somewhere. [Laughter] Except that all
the articles about it are giving the wrong author's name, because
Microsoft describes the GNU GPL as an open source license, and most of
the press coverage followed suit. Most people, of course just
innocently don't realize that our work has nothing to do with open
source; that, in fact, we did most of it before people even coined the
term "open source".
We are in the free software movement, and I'm going to speak about
what the free software movement is about, what it means, what we have
done, and because this is partly sponsored by a School of Business, I'll
say some things more than I usually do about how free software relates
to business, and some other areas of social life.
Now, some of you may not ever write computer programs, but perhaps you
cook. And if you cook, unless you're really great, you probably use
recipes. And, if you use recipes, you've probably had the experience of
getting a copy of a recipe from a friend who's sharing it. And you've
probably also had the experience -- unless you're a total neophyte -- of
changing a recipe. You know, it says certain things, but you don't have
to do exactly that. You can leave out some ingredients. Add some
mushrooms, 'cause you like mushrooms. Put in less salt because your
doctor said you should cut down on salt -- whatever. You can even
make bigger changes according to your skill. And if you've made
changes in a recipe, and you cook it for your friends and they like it,
one of your friends might say "hey, could I have the recipe?" And then,
what do you do? You could write down your modified version of the
recipe, and make a copy for your friend. These are the natural things to
do with functionally useful recipes of any kind.
Now a recipe is a lot like a computer program. A computer program's a lot
like a recipe. A series of steps to be carried out to get some result
that you want. So it's just as natural to do those same things with
computer programs. Hand a copy to your friend. Make changes in it
because the job it was written to do isn't exactly what you want.
It did a great job for somebody else, but your job is a different
job. And, after you've changed it, that's likely to be useful for other
people. Maybe they have a job to do that's like the job you do. So, they
ask, hey can I have a copy? Of course, if you're a nice person, you're
going to give a copy. That's the way to be a decent person.
So imagine what it would be like if recipes were packaged inside black
boxes -- You couldn't see what ingredients they're using, let alone
change them -- And imagine, if you made a copy for a friend, they would call
you a pirate, and try to put you in prison for years. That world would
create tremendous outrage from all the people who are used to sharing
recipes. But that is exactly what the world of proprietary software is
like. A world in which common decency towards other people is prohibited
Now, why did I notice this? I noticed this because I had -- because of my
good fortune, in the 1970's, to be part of a community of programmers
who shared software. Now, this community could trace its ancestry,
essentially back to the beginning of computing. In the 1970's though, it
was a bit rare for there to be a community where people shared software.
And, in fact, this was sort of an extreme case, because in the lab where I
worked, the entire operating system was software developed by the people
in our community, and we'd share any of it with anybody. Anybody was
welcome to come and take a look and take away a copy, and do whatever he
wanted to do. There were no copyright notices on these programs.
Cooperation was our way of life. And we were secure in that way of life.
We didn't fight for it. We didn't have to fight for it. We just lived
that way. And, as far as we knew, we would just keep on living that way.
So there was free software, but there was no free software movement.
But then, our community was destroyed by a series of calamities that
happened to it. Ultimately it was wiped out. Ultimately, the PDP-10
computer which we used for all our work was discontinued. And you know,
our system -- the Incompatible Timesharing System -- was written starting
in the '60's, so it was written in assembler language. That's what you
used to write an operating system in the '60's. So, of course, assembler
language is for one particular computer architecture; if that gets
discontinued, all your work turns into dust -- it's useless. And that's
what happened to us. The 20 years or so of work of our community turned
But before this happened, I had an experience that prepared me, helped
me see what to do, helped prepare me to see what to do when this
happened, because at certain point, Xerox gave the artificial
intelligence lab, where I worked, a laser printer, and this was a really
handsome gift, because it was the first time anybody outside Xerox had
a laser printer. It was very fast, printed a page a second, very fine
in many respects, but it was unreliable, because it was really a
high-speed office copier that had been modified into a printer.
And you know, copiers jam, but there's somebody there to fix them. The
printer jammed and nobody saw. So it stayed jammed for a long time.
Well, we had an idea for how to deal with this problem. Change it so that
whenever the printer gets a jam, the machine that runs the printer can tell
our timesharing machine, and tell the users who are waiting for
printouts, or something like that, you know, tell them, go fix the
printer. Because if they only knew it was jammed, of course, if you're
waiting for a printout, and you know that the printer is jammed, you
don't want to sit and wait forever, you're going to go fix it.
But, at that point, we were completely stymied, because the software
that ran that printer was not free software -- it had come with the
printer, and it was just a binary. We couldn't have the source code --
Xerox wouldn't let us have the source code. So, despite our skill as
programmers -- after all, we had written our own timesharing system
-- we were completely helpless to add this feature to the printer
And we just had to suffer with waiting -- it would take an hour or two to
get your printout because the machine would be jammed most of the time.
And only once in a while -- you'd wait an hour figuring "I know it's
going to be jammed, I'll wait an hour and go collect my print-out," and
then you'd see that it had been jammed the whole time, and in fact,
nobody else had fixed it. So you'd fix it and you'd go wait another
half hour. Then, you'd come back, and you'd see it jammed again -- before
it got to your output. It would print three minutes and be jammed
thirty minutes. Frustration up the whazzoo...
But the thing that made it worse was knowing that we could have fixed it,
but somebody else, for his own selfishness, was blocking us, obstructing
us from improving the software. So, of course, we felt some resentment.
And then I heard that somebody at Carnegie Mellon University had a copy
of that software. So I was visiting there later, so I went to his
office and I said, "Hi, I'm from MIT, could I have a copy of the printer
source code?" And he said "No, I promised not to give you a
copy." [Laughter] I was stunned. I was so -- I was angry, and I had no
idea how I could do justice to it. All I could think of was to turn
around on my heel, and walk out of his room. Maybe I slammed the door.
[Laughter] And I thought about it later on, because I realized that I was
seeing not just an isolated jerk, but a social phenomenon that was
important and affected a lot of people.
This was -- for me -- I was lucky, I only got a taste of it, but other
people had to live in this all the time. So I thought about it at length.
See, he had promised to refuse to cooperate with us -- his colleagues at
MIT. He had betrayed us. But he didn't just do it to us. Chances are he
did it to you too. And I think, mostly likely, he did it to you
too. [Laughter] And he probably did it to you as well. He probably did it
to most of the people here in this room -- except a few maybe who weren't born
yet in 1980. Because he had promised to refuse to cooperate with just
about the entire population of the Planet Earth. He had signed a
Now, this was my first, direct encounter with a non-disclosure agreement,
and it taught me an important lesson -- A lesson that's important because
most programmers never learn it. You see, this was my first encounter
with a non-disclosure agreement, and I was the victim. I, and my whole
lab, were the victims. And the lesson it taught me was that
non-disclosure agreements have victims. They're not innocent. They're
not harmless. Most programmers first encounter a non-disclosure agreement
when they're invited to sign one. And there's always some temptation --
some goody they're going to get if they sign. So, they make up excuses.
They say, "well, he's never going to get a copy no matter what, so why
shouldn't I join the conspiracy to deprive him?" They say "this is the
way it's always done. Who am I to go against it?" They say," if I don't
sign this, someone else will." Various excuses to gag their consciences.
But, when somebody invited me to sign a non-disclosure agreement, my
conscience was already sensitized. It remembered how angry I had been,
when somebody promised not to help me and my whole lab solve our problem.
And I couldn't turn around and do the exact same thing to somebody else
who had never done me any harm. You know, if somebody asked me to promise
not to share some useful information with a hated enemy, I would have said
yes. You know? If somebody's done something bad, he deserves it. But,
strangers -- they haven't done me any harm. How could they deserve that
kind of mistreatment? You can't let yourself start treating just anybody
and everybody badly. Then you become a predator on society. So I said,
thank you very much for offering me this nice software package. But I
can't accept it in good conscience, on the conditions you are demanding,
so I will do without it. Thank you so much. And so, I have never
knowingly signed a non-disclosure agreement for generally useful technical
information, such as software.
Now, there are other kinds of information which raise different ethical
issues. For instance, there's personal information. You know, if you
wanted to talk with me about what was happening between you and your
boyfriend, and you asked me not to tell anybody -- you know, I could keep
-- I could agree to keep that a secret for you, because that's not
generally useful technical information.
At least, it's probably not generally useful. [Laughter] There is a
small chance -- and it's a possibility though -- that you might
reveal to me some marvelous new sex technique, [Laughter] and I would
then feel a moral duty [Laughter] to pass it onto the rest of
humanity, so that everyone could get the benefit of it. So, I'd have
to put a proviso in that promise -- you know. If it's just details
about who wants this, and who's angry at whom, and things like that --
soap opera -- that I can keep private for you, but something that
humanity could tremendously benefit from knowing, I mustn't
withhold. You see, the purpose of science and technology is to
develop useful information for humanity to help people live their
lives better. If we promise to withhold that information -- if we
keep it secret -- then we are betraying the mission of our field. And
this, I decided I shouldn't do.
But, meanwhile my community had collapsed, and that was collapsing, and
that left me in a bad situation. You see, the whole Incompatible
Timesharing System was obsolete, because the PDP-10 was obsolete, and
so, there was no way that I could continue working as an operating system
developer the way that I had been doing it. That depended on being part
of the community using the community software, and improving it. That
no longer was a possibility, and that gave me a moral dilemma. What was I
going to do? Because the most obvious possibility meant to go against
that decision I had made. The most obvious possibility was to adapt
myself to the change in the world. To accept that things were different,
and that I'd just have to give up those principles, and start signing
non-disclosure agreements for proprietary operating systems, and most
likely writing proprietary software as well. But I realized that that
way I could have fun coding, and I could make money -- especially if I did
it, other than at MIT -- but, at the end, I'd have to look back at my
career and say "I've spent my life building walls to divide people,"
and I would have been ashamed of my life.
So I looked for another alternative, and there was an obvious one. I
could leave the software field, and do something else. Now I had no other
special noteworthy skills, but I'm sure I could have become a
waiter. [Laughter] Not at a fancy restaurant, they wouldn't hire
me, [Laughter] but I could be a waiter somewhere. And many programmers,
they say to me "the people who hire programmers demand this, this and
this -- If I don't do those things, I'll starve." It's literally the word
they use. Well, you know, as a waiter, you're not going to
starve. [Laughter] So, really their in no danger. But -- and this is
important, you see -- because sometimes you can justify doing something
that hurts other people by saying "otherwise something worse is going to
happen to me." You know, if you were really going to starve, you'd be
justified in writing proprietary software. [Laughter] If somebody's
pointing a gun at you, then I would say it's forgivable. [Laughter] But,
I had found a way that I could survive without doing something unethical,
so that excuse was not available. So, I realized though that being a
waiter would be no fun for me, and it would be wasting my skills as an
operating system developer. It would avoid misusing my skills.
Developing proprietary software would be misusing my skills.
Encouraging other people to live in the world of proprietary software
would be misusing my skills. So it's better to waste them than
misuse them, but it's still not really good.
So for those reasons, I decided to look for some other alternative. What
can an operating system developer do that would actually improve the
situation, make the world a better place? And I realized that an
operating system developer was exactly what was needed. The problem, the
dilemma, existed for me and for everyone else because all of the
available operating systems for modern computers were proprietary. The
free operating systems were for old, obsolete computers, right? So for
the modern computers -- if you wanted to get a modern computer and use it,
you were forced into a proprietary operating system. So if an operating
system developer wrote another operating system -- and then said,
everybody come and share this, you're welcome to this -- that would give
everybody a way out of the dilemma, another alternative. So I realized
that there was something I could do that would solve the problem. I have
just the right skills to be able to do it. And it was the most useful
thing I could possibly imagine that I'd be able to do with my life.
And it was a problem that no one else was trying to solve. It was just
sort of sitting there, getting worse, and nobody was there but me. So I
felt "I'm elected. I have to work on this. If not me, who?" So, I
decided I would develop a free operating system -- or die trying. Of
old age of course. [Laughter]
So, of course I had to decide what kind of operating system it should be
-- there are some technical design decisions to be made. I decided to
make the system compatible with UNIX for a number of reasons.
First of all, I had just seen one operating system that I really loved,
become obsolete because it was written for one particular kind of
computer. I didn't want that to happen again. We needed to have a
portable system. Well, UNIX was a portable system. So if I followed
the design of UNIX, I had a pretty good chance that I could make a system
that would also be portable and workable. And furthermore, why[[24:44?]] be
compatible with it in the details. The reason is, users hate
incompatible changes. If I had just designed the system in my favorite
way -- which I would have loved doing, I'm sure -- I would have produced
something that was incompatible. You know, the details would be
different. So, if I wrote the system -- then the users would have said to
me "well, this is very nice, but it's incompatible. It will be too
much work to switch. We can't afford that much trouble just to use
your system instead of UNIX, so we'll stay with UNIX" they would have
Now, if I wanted to actually create a community where there would be
people in it -- people using this free system, and enjoying the benefits
of liberty and cooperation -- I had to make a system people would
use, a system that they would find easy to switch to, that would not
have an obstacle making it fail at the very beginning. Now, making the
system upward compatible with UNIX actually made all the immediate
design decisions, because UNIX consists of many pieces, and they
communicate through interfaces that are more or less documented. So if
you want to be compatible with UNIX, you have to replace each piece, one
by one, with a compatible piece. So, the remaining design decisions are
inside one piece, and they could be made later by whoever decides to
write that piece; they didn't have to be made at the outset.
So, all we had to do to start work was find a name for the system.
Now, we hackers always look for a funny or naughty name for a program,
because thinking of people being amused by the name is half the fun of
writing the program. [Laughter] And we had a tradition of recursive
acronyms to say that the program that you're writing is similar to
some existing program. You can give it a recursive acronym name which
says -- this one's not the other. So, for instance, there were many Tico
text editors in the '60's and '70's, and they were generally called
something or other Tico. Then one clever hacker called his Tint,
for Tint Is Not Tico -- the first recursive acronym. In 1975, I developed
the first Emacs text editor, and there were many imitations of Emacs,
and a lot of them were called something or other Emacs, but one was
called Fine -- for Fine Is Not Emacs, and there was Sine -- for Sine Is
Not Emacs, and IINA for Ina Is Not Emacs, and MINCE for Mince Is Not
Complete Emacs. [Laughter] That was a stripped down imitation. And,
then, IINA was almost completely rewritten, and the new version was called
ZWII[[27:42?]]. For, ZWII Was IINA Initially. [Laughter]
So I looked for a recursive acronym for Something is not UNIX. And I
tried all 26 letters, and discovered that none of them was a word.
[Laughter] Hmm, try another way. I made a contraction. That way I
could have a three-letter acronym, for Something's not UNIX. And I
tried letters, and I came across the word "GNU" -- the word "GNU" is
the funniest word in the English language. [Laughter] That was it. Of
course, the reason it's funny is that according to the dictionary,
it's pronounced "new". You see? And so that's why people use it for
a lot of word play. Let me tell you, this is the name of an animal
that lives in Africa. And the African pronunciation had a click sound
in it. [Laughter] Maybe still does. And so, the European colonists,
when they got there, they didn't bother learning to say this click
sound. So they just left it out, and they wrote a "G" which meant
"there's another sound that's supposed to be here which we are not
pronouncing." [Laughter] So, tonight I'm leaving for South Africa,
and I have begged them. I hope they're going to find somebody who can
teach me to pronounce click sounds. [Laughter] So that I'll know how to
pronounce GNU the correct way, when it's the animal.
But, when it's the name of our system, the correct pronunciation is
"guh-NEW" -- pronounce the hard "G". If you talk about the "new"
operating system, you'll get people very confused, because
we've been working on it for 17 years now, so it is not new any
more. [Laughter] But it still is, and always will be GNU -- no matter
how many people call it Linux by mistake. [Laughter]
So, in January 1984, I quit my job at MIT to start writing pieces of
GNU. They were nice enough to let me keep using their facilities
though. And, at the time, I thought we would write all these pieces,
and make an entire GNU system, and then we'd say "come and get it" and
people would start to use it. That's not what happened. The first
pieces I wrote were just equally good replacements, with fewer bugs
for some pieces of UNIX, but they weren't tremendously exciting.
Nobody particularly wanted to get them and install them. But, then,
in September 1984, I started writing GNU Emacs -- which was my second
implementation of Emacs -- and by early 1985, it was working. I could
use it for all my editing, which was a big relief, because I had no
intention of learning to use VI, the UNIX editor. [Laughter] So, until
that time, I did my editing on some other machine, and saved the
files through the network, so that I could test them. But when GNU
Emacs was running well enough for me to use it, it was also -- other
people wanted to use it too.
So I had to work out the details of distribution. Of course, I put a copy
in the anonymous FTP directory, and that was fine for people who were on
the net; they could then just pull over a tar file, but a lot of
programmers then even were not on the Net in 1985. They were sending me
emails saying "How can I get a copy?" I had to decide what I would
answer them. Well, I could have said, I want to spend my time writing
more GNU software, not writing tapes, so please find a friend who's on
the Internet, and who is willing to download it and put it on a tape for
you. And I'm sure people would have found some friends, sooner or later,
you know. They would have got copies. But I had no job. In fact, I've
never had a job since quitting MIT in January 1984. So, I was looking
for some way I could make money through my work on free software,
and therefore I started a free software business. I announced "send me
$150 dollars, and I'll mail you a tape of Emacs." And the orders began
dribbling in. By the middle of the year they were trickling in.
I was getting 8 to 10 orders a month. And, if necessary, I could have
lived on just that, because I've always lived cheaply; I live like a
student, basically. And I like that, because it means that money is not
telling me what to do. I can do what I think is important for me to do.
It freed me to do what seemed worth doing. So, make a real effort to
avoid getting sucked into all the expensive lifestyle habits of typical
Americans. Because if you do that, then people with the money will
dictate what you do with your life. You won't be able to do what's really
important to you.
So, that was fine, but people used to ask me "What do you mean it's
free software if it costs $150 dollars?" [Laughter] Well, the reason
they asked this was that they were confused by the multiple
meanings of the English word "free". One meaning refers to price,
and another meaning refers to freedom. When I speak of free software,
I'm referring to freedom, not price. So think of free speech, not
free beer. [Laughter] Now, I wouldn't have dedicated so many years of
my life to making sure programmers got less money. That's not my
goal. I'm a programmer and I don't mind getting money myself. I
won't dedicate my whole life to getting it, but I don't mind
getting it. And I'm not -- and therefore, ethics is the same for
everyone. I'm not against some other programmer getting money either.
I don't want prices to be low. That's not the issue at all. The
issue is freedom. Freedom for everyone who's using software, whether
that person be a programmer or not.
So at this point I should give you the definition of free software. I
better get to some real details, you see, because just saying "I
believe in freedom" is vacuous. There's so many different freedoms
you could believe in, and they conflict with each other, so the real
political question is "Which are the important freedoms, the freedoms
that we must make sure everybody has?" And now, I will give my answer
to that question for the particular area of using software.
A program is free software for you, a particular user, if you have the
following freedoms: First, Freedom Zero is the freedom to run the
program for any purpose, any way you like. Freedom One is the Freedom
to help yourself by changing the program to suit your needs. Freedom
Two is the freedom to help your neighbor by distributing copies of the
program. And Freedom Three is the freedom to help build your
community by publishing an improved version so others can get the
benefit of your work. If you have all of these freedoms, the program
is free software, for you -- and that's crucial, that's why I phrase
it that way. I'll explain why later, when I talk about the GNU
General Public License, but right now I'm explaining what free
software means, which is a more basic question.
So, Freedom Zero's pretty obvious. If you're not even allowed to run the
program anyway you like, it is a pretty damn restrictive program. But, as
it happens, most programs will give you Freedom Zero. And Freedom Zero
follows, legally, as a consequence of Freedoms One, Two, and Three.
That's the way that Copyright Law works. So, the Freedoms that
distinguish free software from typical software are Freedoms One, Two,
and Three. So I'll say more about them and why they are important.
Freedom One is the freedom to help yourself by changing the software to
suit your needs. This could mean fixing bugs. It could mean adding new
features. It could mean porting it to a different computer system. It
could mean porting all -- translating all the error messages into Navajo.
Any change you want to make, you should be free to make.
Now, it's obvious that professional programmers can make use of this
freedom very effectively. But not just them. Anybody of reasonable
intelligence can learn a little programming. You know, there are hard
jobs, and there are easy jobs. And most people are not going to learn
enough to do hard jobs. But lots of people can learn enough to do easy
jobs -- just the way,you know -- 50 years ago -- lots and lots of American
men learned to repair cars. Which is -- what enabled the U.S. to have a
motorized Army in World War II and win. So, very important -- having lots
of people tinker. So -- and if you are a people person, and you really
don't want to learn technology at all - -that probably means that you have
a lot of friends, and you are good at getting them to owe you
favors. [Laughter] Some of them are probably programmers. So, you can ask
one of your programmer friends -- would you please change this for me?
Add this feature? So, lots of people can benefit from it.
Now, if you don't have this freedom, it causes practical, material harm to
society. It makes you a prisoner of your software. I explained what that
was like with respect to the laser printer, you know? It worked badly for
us -- and we couldn't fix it-- because we were prisoners of our software.
But it also affects peoples' morale. You know the computer is constantly
frustrating to use. And people are using it -- their lives are going to
be frustrating. And if they're using it in their jobs - -their jobs are
going to be frustrating. They're going to hate their jobs. And you
know,people protect themselves from frustration by deciding not to care.
So, you end up with people whose attitude is -- well, I showed up for work
today. That's all I have to do. I can't make progress -- that's not my
problem. That's the boss's problem. And when this happens, it's bad for
those people, and it's bad for society as a whole. That's Freedom One --
the Freedom to help yourself.
Freedom Two is the Freedom to help your neighbor -- by distributing copies
of the program. Now, for beings that can think and learn -- sharing
useful knowledge is a fundamental act of friendship. When these beings
use computers, this act of friendship takes the form of sharing software.
Friends share with each other. Friends help each other. This is the
nature of friendship. And, in fact, this spirit of good will -- the
spirit of helping your neighbor, voluntarily - is society's most important
resource. It makes the difference between a livable society and a
dog-eat-dog jungle. It's importance has been recognized by the world's
major religions for thousands of years. And they explicitly try to
encourage this attitude.
When I was going to kindergarten, the teachers were trying to teach us
this attitude - -the spirit of sharing by having us do it. They figured
if we did it, we'd learn. So they said, if you bring candy to school, you
can't keep it all for yourself, you have to share some with the other
kids. Teaching us -- the society was set up to teach this spirit of
cooperation. And why do you have to do that? Because people are not
totally cooperative. That's one part of human nature. And there are
other parts of human nature. There are lots of parts of human nature.
So, if you want a better society, you've got to work to encourage the
spirit of sharing. You know, it'll never get to be 100%. That's
understandable. People have to take care of themselves too. But, if we
make it somewhat bigger -- we're all better off.
Nowadays, according to the U.S. Government, teachers are supposed to do
the exact opposite. Oh, Johnny, you brought software to school. Well,
don't share it. Oh no. Sharing is wrong. Sharing means you're a pirate.
What do they mean when they say "pirate"? They're saying that helping
your neighbor is the moral equivalent of attacking a ship. [Laughter] What
would Buddha or Jesus say about that? Now, take your favorite religious
leader. I don't know -- maybe Manson would have said something different.
[Laughter] And who knows what L. Ron Hubbard would say. But, ...
STALLMAN: Of course, he's dead. But they don't admit that. What?
QUESTION: So are the others, also dead. [Laughter] [Inaudible] Charles
Manson's also dead. [Laughter] They're dead, Jesus's dead, Buddha's
STALLMAN: Yes, that's true. [Laughter] So I guess, in that regard, L. Ron
Hubbard is no worse than the others. [Laughter] Anyway -- [Inaudible]
QUESTION: L. Ron always used free software -- it freed him from Zanu.
STALLMAN: Anyway -- so, I think this is actually the most important reason
why software should be free. We can't afford to pollute society's most
important resource. It's true that it's not a physical resource like
clean air, and clean water. It's a psycho-social resource. But it's just
as real for all that. And it makes a tremendous difference to our lives.
You see, the actions we take influence the thoughts of other people. When
we go around telling people -- don't share with each other -- if they
listen to us -- we've had an effect on society, and it's not a good one.
That's freedom too. And freedom to help your neighbor.
Oh, and by the way, if you don't have that freedom -- it doesn't just
cause this harm to society's psycho-social resource -- it also causes
waste -- practical, material harm. If the program has an owner, and the
owner arranges a state of affairs, where each user has to pay in order to
be able to use it -- some people are going to say -- never-mind, I'll do
without it. And that's waste - -deliberately inflicted waste. And, the
interesting thing about software, of course, is that fewer users doesn't
mean you have to make less stuff. You know, if fewer people buy cars, you
can make fewer cars. There's a saving there. There are resources to be
allocated, or not allocated into making cars. So that you can say that
having a price on a car is a good thing. It prevents people from
diverting lots of wasted resources into making cars that aren't really
needed. But, if each additional car used no resources, it wouldn't be
doing any good saving the making of these cars. Well, for physical
objects, of course, like cars, it is always going to take resources to
make an additional one of them. Each additional Exemplar.
But for software that's not true. Anybody can make another copy. And
it's almost trivial to do it. It takes no resources, except a tiny bit of
electricity. So, there's nothing we can save. No resource we're going to
allocate better by putting this financial dis-incentive on the use of the
software. You often find people taking economic -- the consequences of
economic reasoning, based on premises that don't apply to software, and
try to transplant them from other areas of life where they --- where the
premises may apply, and the conclusions may be valid. They just take the
conclusions and assume that they're valid for software too -- when the
argument is based on nothing in the case of software. The premises don't
work in that case. It is very important to examine how you reach the
conclusion, and what premises it depends on to see where it might be
valid. So, thats Freedom Two, the freedom to help your neighbor.
Freedom Three is the freedom to help build your community by publishing an
improved version of the software. People used to say to me, if the
software's free, then nobody will get paid to work on it, so why should
anybody work on it? Well, of course, they were confusing the two meanings
of free, so their reasoning was based on misunderstanding. But, in any
case, that was their theory. Today, we can compare that theory with
empirical fact. And, we find that hundreds of people are being paid to
write free software. And, over 100,000 are doing it as volunteers. We
get lots of people working on free software -- for various different
When I first released the GNU-Emacs, the first piece of the GNU system that
people actually wanted to use - and when it started having users -- after
a while, I got a message saying -- I think I saw a bug in the source code,
and here's a fix. And I got another message -- here's code to add a new
feature. And another bug fix. And another new feature. And another, and
another, and another -- until they were pouring in on me so fast that just
making use of all this help I was getting was a big job. Microsoft
doesn't have this problem. [Laughter]
Eventually, people noted this phenomenon. You see, in the 1980's a lot of
us thought that maybe free software wouldn't be as good as the non-free
software, because we wouldn't have as much money to pay people. And, of
course, people like me who value freedom and community said -- well, we'll
use the free software anyway. It's worth making a little sacrifice and
some mere technical convenience to have freedom. But, what people began
to note, around 1990 was -- that our software was actually better. It was
more powerful, and more reliable than the proprietary alternatives.
In the early '90's, somebody found a way to do a scientific measurement of
reliability of software. Here's what he did. He took several sets of
comparable programs that did the same jobs -- the exact same jobs -- in
different systems. Because there was certain basic UNIX-like utilities.
And the jobs that they did, we know, was all, more or less, imitating the
same thing. Or they were following the Pause-Expect. They were all the
same in terms of what jobs they did -- but they were maintained by
different people, written separately. The code was different. So they
said, OK, we'll take these programs and run them with random data -- and
measure how often they crash. Or hang. So they measured it. And the
most reliable set of programs was the GNU programs. All the commercial
alternatives which were proprietary software were less reliable. So he
published this and he told all the developers. And a few years later, he
did the same experiment with the newest versions - and he got the same
result. The GNU versions were the most reliable. People -- you know
there are cancer clinics in 911 operations that use the GNU system,
because it is so reliable. And reliability is very important to them.
Anyway -- there's even a group of people who focus on this particular
benefit as the reason they give -- the main reason they give -- why users
should be permitted to do these various things, and to have these
freedoms. If you've been listening to me, you've noticed -- you've seen
that I -- speaking for the free software movement -- I talk about issues
of ethics, and what kind of a society we want to live in. What makes for
a good society -- as well as practical material benefits. They're both
important. That's the free software movement.
That other group of people -- which is called the "open source" movement
-- they only set up the practical benefits. They deny that this is an
issue of principle. They deny that people are entitled to the freedom to
share with their neighbor, and to see what the program's doing, and change
it if they don't like it. They say, however, that it is a useful thing to
let people do that. So they go to companies and say to them -- you know,
you might make more money if you let people do this. So, what you can see
is that to some extent, they lead people in a similar direction -- but for
totally different -- for fundamentally different, philosophical reasons.
Because on the deepest issue of all, you know -- what is -- on the ethical
question, the two movements disagree. Now, in the free software
movement we say -- you're entitled to these freedoms. People shouldn't
stop you from doing these things. And in the "open source" movement they
say, yes, they can stop you if you want, but we'll try to convince them to
deign to let you to do these things. Well, they have contributed -- they
have convinced a certain number of businesses to release substantial
pieces of software as free software in our community. So they -- the
open source movement has contributed substantially to our community. And
so, we work together on practical projects. But, philosophically, there's
a tremendous disagreement.
Unfortunately, the open source movement is the one that gets the support
of business the most. And so, most articles about our work describe it as
open source. And a lot of people just innocently think that we're all
part of the open source movement. So that's why I'm mentioning this
distinction. I want you to be aware that the free software movement,
which brought our community into existence and developed the free
operating system, is still here -- and that we still stand for this
ethical philosophy. I want you to know about this, so that you won't
mislead someone else unknowingly.
But also, so that you can think about where you stand. You know, which
movement you support is up to you. You might agree with the "free
software" movements and my views. You might agree with the open source
movement. You might disagree with them both. You decide where you stand
on these political issues. But, if you agree with the free software
movement -- if you see that there's an issue here that the people whose
lives are controlled and directed by this decision -- deserve a say in it
-- then I hope you'll say that you agree with the free software
movement. And the one way you can do that is by using the term "free
software" -- and just helping people know we exist.
So, Freedom Three is very important - both practically and
psycho-socially. If you don't have this freedom, it causes practical
material harm, because this community development doesn't happen. We
don't make powerful, reliable software. But it also causes psycho-social
harm which affects the spirit of scientific cooperation. The idea that
we're working together to advance human knowledge. You see, progress in
science, crucially depends on people being able to work together. And
nowadays though, you often find each little group of scientists acting
like it's a war with each other gang of scientists and engineers. And if
they don't share with each other, they're all held back.
So, those are the three freedoms that distinguish free software from
typical software. Freedom One is the freedom to help yourself -- making
changes to suit your own need. Freedom Two is the freedom to help your
neighbor by distributing copies. And Freedom Three is the freedom to help
build your community -- by making changes and publishing them for other
people to use. If you have all of these freedoms, the program is "free
software" for you. Now, why do I define it that way -- in terms of a
particular user. Is it free software for you? Is it free software
for you? Is it free software for you? Yes?
QUESTION: Can you explain a bit about the difference between Freedom Two
and Three? What are their basic needs?
STALLMAN: Well, they certainly relate -- because if you don't have Freedom
Two -- redistributed at all -- you certainly don't have freedom to
distribute a modified version. But they're different activities.
STALLMAN: Freedom Two is, you know, read it -- you make an exact copy and
hand it to your friends. So now your friend can use it. Or maybe you make
exact copies and you sell them to a bunch of people, and then they can use
it. Freedom Three is where you make improvements -- or at least you think
they're improvements. And some other people may agree with you. So
that's the difference. Oh, and by the way, one crucial point. Freedoms
One and Three depend on your having access to the source code. Because
changing a binary-only program is extremely hard. [Laughter] Even trivial
changes like using four-digits for the date. [Laughter]... if you don't
have source. So, for compelling, practical reasons -- access to the
source code is a pre-condition, a requirement for free software.
So, why do I say -- define it in terms of whether it's free software for
you? The reason is that sometimes the same program can be free software
for some people, and not free for others. Now, that might seem like a
paradoxical situation. So, let me give you an example to show you how it
happens. A very big example -- maybe the biggest ever of this problem was
the X-Window system which was developed at MIT and released under a
license that made it free software. If you got the MIT-version with the
MIT license, you had Freedoms One, Two, and Three. It was free software
for you. But among those who got copies, were various computer
manufacturers that used UNIX -- distributed UNIX systems. And they made
the necessary changes in X to run on their systems. Now, probably just a
few thousand lines out of the hundreds of thousands of lines of X. And,
then they compiled it, and they put the binaries into their UNIX system
and distributed it under the same non-disclosure agreement as the rest of
the UNIX systems. And then, millions of people got these copies. They
had the X-Window system, but they had none of these freedoms. It was not
free software for them.
So, the paradox was that whether X was free software depending on where
you made the measurement. If you made the measurement coming out of the
developer's group, you'd say - -I observe all these freedoms. It's "free
software". If you made the measurements among the users you'd say -- Hmm,
most users don't have these freedoms. It's not free software. Well,
the people who developed X, didn't consider this a problem. Because their
goal was just popularity. Ego, essentially. They wanted a big
professional success. They wanted to feel ah, lots of people are using
our software. And that was true. Lots of people were using their
software, but didn't have freedom.
Well, in the GNU project, if that same thing had happened to GNU software,
it would have been a failure. Because our goal wasn't just to be popular.
Our goal was to give people liberty. And to encourage cooperation -- to
permit people to cooperate. And remember never force anyone to cooperate
with any other person. But make sure that everybody's allowed to
cooperate. Everyone has the freedom to do so -- if he or she wishes. If
millions of people were running non-free versions of GNU, that wouldn't be
success at all. If the whole thing would have been perverted into nothing
like the goal.
So, I looked for a way to stop that from happening. And the method I came
up with is called "copyleft". It's called "copyleft" -- because it's
sort of like taking copyright, and flipping it over. [Laughter] Legally,
"copyleft" works, based on copyright. We use the existing copyright law,
but we use it to achieve a very different goal. Here's what we do. We
say, this program is copyrighted. And, of course, by default, that means
it's prohibited to copy it, or distribute it, or modify it. But then we
say, you're authorized to distribute copies of this. You're authorized to
modify it. You're authorized to distribute modified versions, and
extended versions. Change it anyway you like.
But there is a condition. And the condition, of course -- is the reason
why we go to all this trouble -- so that we could put the condition in.
The condition says-- whenever you distribute anything that contains any
piece of this program, that whole program must be distributed under these
same terms -- no more and no less. So, you can change the program and
distribute a modified version. But when you do, the people who get that
from you must get the same freedom that you got from us. And not just for
the parts of it -- the excerpts that you copied from our program -- but
also for the other parts of that program that they got from you. The
whole of that program has to be free software for them.
The freedoms to change and re-distribute this program become inalienable
rights---a concept from the Declaration of Independence. Rights that we
make sure can't be taken away from you. And, of course, the specific
license that embodies the idea of copyleft is the GNU General Public
License. A controversial license -- because it actually has the strength
to say no to people who would be parasites on our community.
There are lots of people who don't appreciate the ideals of freedom. And
we'd be very glad to take the work that we have done, and use it to get a
head start in distributing a non-free program and tempting people to give
up their freedom. And the result would be -- you know, if we let people
do that -- that we would be developing these free programs, and we'd
constantly have to compete with improved versions of our own programs.
That's no fun. And, a lot of people also feel -- you know, I'm willing to
volunteer my time to contribute to the community, but why should I
volunteer my time to contribute to that company's -- to improving that
company's proprietary program? You know, some people might not even think
that that's evil - but they want to get paid if they're going to do that.
I, personally, would rather not do it at all. But, both of these groups
of people -- both the ones like me who say -- I don't want to help that
non-free program to get a foothold in our community -- and the ones that
say, sure, I'd work for them, but then they better pay me -- both of us
have a good reason to use the GNU General Public License. Because that
says to that company -- you can't just take my work, and distribute it
without the freedom. Whereas, the non-copyleft licenses -- like the
X Windows license, do permit that.
So that is the big division between the two categories of free software --
license-wise. There are the programs that are copylefted -- so that the
license defends the freedom of the software for every user. And there are
the non-copylefted programs for which non-free versions are allowed.
Somebody *can* take those programs and strip off the freedom. You may get
that program in a non-free version. And that problem exists today. There
are still non-free versions of X Windows being used on our free operating
systems. There is even hardware --- which is not really supported ---
except by a non-free version of X Windows. And that's a major problem in
our community. Nonetheless, I wouldn't say that X Windows is a bad thing
-- you know, I'd say that the developers did not do the best possible
thing that they could have done. But they *did* release a lot of software
that we could all use.
You know, there's a big difference between less than perfect, and evil.
There are many gradations of good and bad. We have to resist the
temptation to say --- if you didn't do the absolute best possible thing
then you're no good. You know, the people that developed X Windows made a
big contribution to our community. But, there's something better that
they could have done. They could have copylefted parts of the program,
and prevented those freedom-denying versions from being distributed by
others. Now, the fact that the GNU General Public License defends your
freedom --- uses copyright law to defend your freedom --- is, of course,
why Microsoft is attacking it today. See, Microsoft would really like to
be able to take all the code that we wrote and put it into proprietary
programs. Have somebody make some improvements, or even just incompatible
changes is all they need. [Laughter]
You know, with Microsoft's marketing clout, they don't need to make it
better to have their version supplant ours. They just have to make it
different and incompatible. And then, put it on everybody's desktop. So
they really don't like the GNU GPL. Because the GNU GPL won't let them do
that. It doesn't allow embrace and extend. It says, if you want to share
our code in your programs, you can. But, you've got to share and share
alike. The changes that you make we have to be allowed to share. So,
it's a two-way cooperation, which is real cooperation.
Many companies --- even big companies like IBM and HP are willing to use
our software on this basis. IBM and HP contribute substantial
improvements to GNU software. And they develop other free software. But,
Microsoft doesn't want to do that, so they give it out that businesses
just can't deal with the GPL. Well, if businesses don't include IBM, and
HP and SUN then maybe they're right. [Laughter]
More about that later. I should finish the historical story. You see, we
set out in 1984 --- not just to write some free software --- but to do
something much more coherent: to develop an operating system that was
entirely free software. So that meant we had to write piece after piece
after piece. Of course, we were always looking for shortcuts. The job
was so big that people said we'd never be able to finish. And, I thought
that there was at least a chance that we'd finish it but, obviously, it's
worth looking for shortcuts. So we kept looking around --- is there any
program that somebody else has written that we could manage to adapt, to
plug into here, and that way we won't have to write it from scratch? For
instance, the X-Window system --- it's true it wasn't copylefted, but it
was free software --- so we could use it.
Now, I had wanted to put a Window system into GNU from Day One. I wrote a
couple of Window systems at MIT before I started GNU. And so, even though
Unix had no window system in 1984, I decided that GNU would have one.
But, we never ended up writing a GNU Window System, because X came along.
And I said, goody! One big job we don't have to do. We'll use X. So I
basically said, let's take X, and put it into the GNU system. And we'll
make the other parts of GNU, you know, work with X, when appropriate. And
we found other pieces of software that had been written by other people,
like the Text Formatter TeX. Some library code from Berkeley. At that
time there was Berkeley Unix --- but it was not free software. This
library code, initially, was from a different group at Berkeley, that did
research on floating point. And, so, we kept --- we fit in these pieces.
In October 1985, we founded the Free Software Foundation. So please note,
the GNU project came first. The Free Software Foundation came after.
About almost two years after the announcement of the project. And the
Free Software Foundation is a tax-exempt charity, that raises funds to
promote the freedom to share and change software. And in the 1980's, one
of the main things we did with our funds was to hire people to write parts
of GNU. And, essential programs, such as the Shell and the C-Library were
written this way, as well as parts of other programs. The tar program,
which is absolutely essential -- although not exciting at all [Laughter]
was written this way. I believe GNU grep was written this way. And so,
we're approaching our goal.
By 1991, there was just one major piece missing, and that was the kernel.
Now, why did I put off the kernel? Probably because it doesn't really
matter what order you do the things in, at least, technically, it doesn't.
You've got to do them all anyway. And, partly, because I'd hoped we'd be
able to find a start at a kernel somewhere else. And we did. We found
Mach, which had been developed at Carnegie Mellon. And, it wasn't the
whole kernel, it was the bottom half of the kernel. So we had to write
the top half, but I figured you know, things like the file system, the
network code, and so on. But running on top of Mach they're running
essentially as user programs, which ought to make them easier to debug.
You can debug with a real source-level debugger running at the same time.
And so, I thought, that way, we'd be able to get these, the higher level
parts of the kernel, done in a short time. It didn't work out that way.
These asynchronous, multi-threaded processes, sending messages to each
other, turned out to be very hard to de-bug. And the Mach-based system
that we were using to bootstrap with, had a terrible debugging
environment, and it was unreliable, and various problems. It took us
years and years to get the GNU kernel to work.
But, fortunately, our community did not have to wait for the GNU kernel.
Because in 1991, Linus Torvalds developed another free kernel called
Linux. And he used the old-fashioned monolithic design and it turns out
that he got his working much faster than we got ours working. So maybe
that's one of the mistakes that I made: that design decision. Anyway, at
first, we didn't know about Linux, because he never contacted us to talk
about it. Although he did know about the GNU project. But he announced
it to other people, and other places on the Net. And so, other people
then, did the work of combining Linux with the rest of the GNU system to
make a complete free operating system. Essentially, to make the GNU plus
But, they didn't realize that's what they were doing. You see, they said,
we have a kernel --- let's look around and see what other pieces we can
find to put together with the kernel. So, they looked around -- and low,
and behold -- everything they needed was already available. What good
fortune, they said. [Laughter] It's all here. We can find everything we
need. Let's just take all these different things and put it together, and
have a system. They didn't know that most of what they found was pieces
of the GNU system. So they didn't realize that they were fitting Linux
into the gap and the GNU system. They thought they were taking Linux and
making a system out of Linux. So they called it a Linux system.
STALLMAN: Can't hear you -- what?
STALLMAN: Well, it's just not -- you know, it's provincial.
QUESTION: But it's more good fortune then finding X and Mach?
STALLMAN: Right. The difference is that the people who developed X and
Mach didn't have the goal of making a complete free operating system.
We're the only ones who had that. And, it was our tremendous work that
made the system exist. We actually did a larger part of the system than
any other project. No coincidence, because those people----they wrote
useful parts of the system. But they didn't do it because they wanted the
system to be finished. They had other reasons.
Now the people who developed X --- they thought that designing across the
network window system would be a good project, and it was. And it turned
out to help us make a good, free operating system. But that's not what
they hoped for. They didn't even think about that. It was an accident.
An accidental benefit. Now, I'm not saying that what they did was bad.
They did a large, free software project. That's a good thing to do. But
they didn't have that ultimate vision. The GNU Project is where that
And, so, we were the ones whose --- every title piece didn't get done by
somebody else, we did it. Because we knew that we wouldn't have a
complete system without it. And even if it was totally boring, and
unromantic like tar or mv. [Laughter] We did it. Or ld, you know there's
nothing very exciting in ld -- but I wrote one. [Laughter] And I did make
efforts to have it do a minimal amount of disk I/O so that it would be
faster and handle bigger programs. But, you know, I like to do a good
job. I like to improve various things about the program while I'm doing
it. But the reason that I did it, wasn't that I had brilliant ideas for a
better ld. The reason I did it is that we needed one that was free. And
we couldn't expect anyone else to do it. So, we had to do it, or find
someone to do it.
So, although at this point, thousands of people in projects have
contributed to this system, there is one project which is the reason that
this system exists, and that's the GNU Project. It *is* basically the GNU
System, with other things added since then.
So, however, the practice of calling the system Linux has been a great
blow to the GNU Project, because we don't normally get credit for what
we've done. I think Linux, the kernel, is a very useful piece of free
software, and I have only good things to say about it. But, well,
actually, I can find a few bad things to say about it. [Laughter] But,
basically, I have good things to say about it. However, the practice of
calling the GNU system, Linux, is just a mistake. I'd like to ask you
please to make the small effort necessary to call the system GNU/Linux,
and that way, to help us get a share of the credit.
QUESTION: You need a mascot! Get yourself a stuffed animal!
STALLMAN: We have one.
QUESTION: You do?
STALLMAN: We have an animal -- a GNU. [Laughter] Anyway. So, yes, when
you draw a penguin --draw a GNU next to it. [Laughter]
But, let's save the questions for the end. I have more to go through.
So, why am I so concerned about this? You know, why do I think it is
worth bothering you, and perhaps giving you a -- perhaps lowering your
opinion of me [Laughter] to raise this issue of credit? Because, you
know, some people when I do this, some people think that it's because I
want my ego to be fed, right? Of course, I'm not saying -- calling -- I'm
not asking you to call it "Stallmanix" --- right? [Laughter and Applause]
I'm asking you to call it GNU, because I want the GNU Project to get
credit. And there's a very specific reason for that, which is a lot more
important than anybody getting credit, in and of itself. You see, these
days, if you look around in our community, most of the people talking
about it, and writing about it don't ever mention GNU, and they don't ever
mention these goals of freedom ---- these political and social ideals,
either. Because the place they come from is GNU. The ideas associated
with Linux --- the philosophy is very different. It is basically the
a-political philosophy of Linus Torvalds. So, when people think that the
whole system is Linux, they tend to think: "Oh, it must have been all
started by Linux Torvalds. His philosophy must be the one that we should
look at carefully". And when they hear about the GNU philosophy, they
say: "Boy, this is so idealistic, this must be awfully impractical. I'm
a Linux-user, not a GNU-user." [Laughter]
What irony! If they only knew! If they knew that the system they liked
-- or, in some cases, love and go wild over --- is our idealistic,
political philosophy made real. They still wouldn't have to agree with
us. But at least they'd see a reason to take it seriously----to think
about it carefully---to give it a chance. They would see how it relates
to their lives. You know, if they realized: "I'm using the GNU system.
Here's the GNU philosophy. This philosophy is why this system that I like
very much exists." They'd at least consider it with a much more open
mind. It doesn't mean that everybody will agree. People think different
things. That's OK. You know, people should make up their own minds. But
I want this philosophy to get the benefit of the credit for the results it
If you look around in our community, you'll find that almost everywhere,
the institutions are calling the system Linux. You know, reporters mostly
call it Linux. It's not right, but they do. The companies mostly say --
that package the system. Oh, and most of these reporters, when they write
articles, they usually don't look at it as a political issue, or social
issue. They're usually looking at it purely as a business question or
what companies are going to succeed more or less, which is really a fairly
minor question for society. And, if you look at the companies that
package the GNU/Linux system for people to use. Well, most of them call
it Linux. And they *all* add non-free software to it.
See the GNU GPL says that if you take code, and some code out of a
GPL-covered program, and add some more code to make a bigger program, that
whole program has to be released under the GPL. But you could put other
separate programs on the same disk (of either kind, hard disk, or CD), and
they can have other licenses. That's considered mere aggregation. And,
essentially, just distributing two programs to somebody at the same time
is not something we have any say over. So, in fact, it is not true.
Sometimes, I wish it were true that if a company uses a GPL-covered
program in a product, that the whole product has to be free software.
It's not --- it doesn't go to that range --- that stoke. It's the whole
program. If there are two separate programs that communicate with each
other at arm's length --- like by sending messages to each other --- then,
they're legally separate, in general. So, these companies, by adding a
non-free software to the system, are giving the users, philosophically and
politically, a very bad idea. They're telling the users: "it is OK to use
non-free software. We're even putting it on this as a bonus."
If you look at the magazines, about the use of the GNU/Linux system, most
of them have a title like "Linux-something or other". So they're calling
the system, Linux, most of the time. And they're filled with ads for
non-free software, that you could run on top of the GNU/Linux system. Now
those ads have a common message. If they say: "non-free software is good
for you. It's so good that you might even *pay* to get it." [Laughter]
And they call these things "value-added packages", which makes a statement
about their values. They're saying: "Value practical convenience, not
freedom." And, I don't agree with those values, so I call them
"freedom-subtracted packages". [Laughter] Because if you have installed a
free operating system, then you now are living in the free world. You
enjoy the benefits of liberty that we worked for so many years to give
you. Those packages give you an opportunity to buckle on a chain.
And, then if you look at the trade shows---about the use of the---
dedicated to the use of the GNU/Linux system. They all call themselves
"Linux shows". And they're filled with booths exhibiting non-free
software, essentially putting the seal of approval on the non-free
software. So, almost everywhere you look in our community ---- the
institutions are endorsing the non-free software --- totalling negating
the idea of freedom that GNU was developed for. And the only place that
people are likely to come across the idea of freedom is in connection with
GNU, and in connection with free software: the term "free software". So
this is why I ask you: please call the system "GNU/Linux". Please make
people aware where the system came from, and why.
Of course, just by using that name, you won't be making an explanation of
the history. You can type four extra characters and write "GNU/Linux";
you can say two extra syllables. But, GNU/Linux is fewer syllables than
Windows 2000. [Laughter] But, you're not telling them a lot, but you're
preparing them, so that when they hear about GNU, and what it's all about,
they'll see how that connects to them, and their lives. And that,
indirectly, makes a tremendous difference. So, please help us.
You'll note that Microsoft called the GPL an "open source license". They
don't want people to be thinking in terms of freedom as the issue. You'll
find that they invite people to think in a narrow way, as consumers.
(And, of course, not even think very rationally as consumers, if they're
going to choose Microsoft products.) But they don't want people to think
as citizens or statesmen. That's inimical to them. At least it's
inimical to their current business model.
Now, how does free software...well, I can tell you about how "free
software" relates to our society. A secondary topic that might be of
interest to some of you is how free software relates to business. Now, in
fact, free software is *tremendously* useful for business. After all,
most businesses in the advanced countries use software. Only a tiny
fraction of them develop software. And free software is tremendously
advantageous for any company that uses software, because it means that
you're in control. Basically, free software means the users are in
control of what the program does. Either individually, if they care
enough to be, or, collectively, when they care enough to be. Whoever
cares enough can exert some influence. If you don't care, you don't buy.
Then you use what other people prefer. But, if you do care, then you have
With proprietary software, you have essentially no say. With free
software, you can change what you want to change. And it doesn't matter
that there are no programmers in your company; that's fine. You know, if
you wanted to move the walls in your building, you don't have to be a
carpentry company, you just have to be able to go find a carpenter and
say, what will you charge to do this job? And, if you want to change
around the software you use, you don't have to be a programming company.
You just have to go to a programming company and say: "What will you
charge to implement these features? And when will you have it done?" And
if they don't do the job, you can go find somebody else.
There's a free market for support. So, any business that cares about
support, will find a tremendous advantage in free software. With
proprietary software, support is a monopoly. Because, one company has the
source code, or maybe a small number of companies that paid a gigantic
amount of money have the source code, if it's Microsoft's shared source
program. But, it's very few. And so, there aren't very many possible
sources of support for you. And that means, that unless you're a real
giant, they don't care about you. Your company is not important enough
for them to care if they lose your business, or what happens. Once you're
using the program, they figure you're locked in to getting the support
from them, because to switch to a different program is a gigantic job.
So, you end up with things like paying for the privilege of reporting a
bug. [Laughter] And once you've paid, they tell you: "Well, OK, we've
noted your bug report. And in a few months, you can buy an upgrade, and
you can see if we've fixed it." [Laughter]
Support providers for free software can't get away with that. They have
to please the customers. Of course, you can get a lot of good support
gratis. You post your problem on the Internet. You may get an answer the
next day. But that's not guaranteed, of course. If you want to be
confident, you better make an arrangement with a company and pay them.
And this is, of course, one of the ways that free software business works.
Another advantage of free software for businesses that use software is
security, and privacy. (And this applies to individuals as well. But I
brought it up in the context of businesses.) You see, when a program is
proprietary, you can't even tell what it really does. It could have
features, deliberately put in, that you wouldn't like if you knew about
them. Like it might have a back door, to let the developer get into your
machine. It might snoop on what you do, and send information back. This
is not unusual. Some Microsoft software did this. But it's not only
Microsoft. There are other proprietary programs that snoop on the user.
And, you can't even tell if it does this. And, of course, even assuming
that the developer's totally honest, every programmer makes mistakes.
There could be bugs that affect your security, which are nobody's fault.
But, the point is: if it's not free software, you can't find them, and you
can't fix them.
Nobody has the time to check the source of every program he runs. You're
not going to do that. But with free software there's a large community,
and there are people in that community who are checking things. And you
get the benefit of their checking. Because, if there's an accidental bug,
(there surely are, from time to time, in any program), they might find it
and fix it. And people are much less likely to put in a deliberate Trojan
horse, or a snooping feature, if they think they might get caught. The
proprietary software developers figure they won't get caught. They'll get
away with it, undetected. But a free software developer has to figure
that people will look at that, and see it's there. So, in our community,
we don't feel we can get away with ramming a feature down the users'
throats that the users wouldn't like. So, we know that if the users don't
like it, they'll make a modified version which doesn't have it. And then,
they'll all start using that version.
In fact, we can all reason enough; we can all figure this out enough steps
ahead that we probably won't put in that feature. After all, you're
writing a free program, you want people to like your version. You don't
want to put in a thing that you know a lot of people are going to hate,
and have another modified version catch on, instead of yours. So, you
just realize that the user is king, in the world of free software. In the
world of proprietary software, the customer is *not* king. Because you
are only a customer, you have no say in the software you use.
In this respect, free software is a new mechanism for democracy to
operate. Professor Lessig, now at Stanford, noted that code functions as
a kind of law. Whoever gets to write the code that just about everybody
uses, for all intents and purposes, is writing the laws that run people's
lives. With free software, these laws get written in a democratic way.
Not the classical form of democracy; we don't have a big election and say:
"everybody vote which way should this feature be done?". [Laughter]
Instead we say, basically, those of you who want to work on implementing
the feature this way, do it. And, if you want to work on implementing the
feature that way, do it. And, it gets done one way or the other, you
know? And so, if a lot of people want it this way, it'll get done this
way. So, in this way, everybody contributes to the social decision by
simply taking steps in the direction that he wants to go.
And, you're free to take as many steps, personally, as you want to take.
A business is free to commission as many steps as they find useful to
take. And, after you add all these things up, that says which direction
the software goes.
And it's often very useful to be able to take pieces out of some existing
program, presumably, usually large pieces of course. And then, write a
certain amount of code of your own. And, make a program that does exactly
what you need, which would have cost you an arm and a leg to develop if
you had to write it all from scratch---if you couldn't cannibalize large
pieces from some existing "free software" package.
Another thing that results from the fact that the user is king, is that we
tend to be very good about compatibility and standardization. Why?
Because users like that! Users are likely to reject a program that has
gratuitous incompatibilities in it. Now, sometimes there's a certain
group of users which actually have a need for a certain kind of
incompatibility. And then, they'll have it; that's OK. But, when users
want is to follow a standard, we developers have to follow it. And, we
know that. And we do it. By contrast, if you look at proprietary
software developers, they often find it advantageous to deliberately *not*
follow a standard. And, not because they think that they're giving the
user an advantage that way, but rather, because they're imposing on the
user---locking the user in. And you'll even find them making changes in
their file formats from time to time, just to force people to get the
Archivists are finding a problem now, that files written on computers ten
years ago, often can't be accessed. They were written with proprietary
software, that's essentially lost now. If it were written with free
software, then it could be brought up-to-date and run. And those things
would not---those records would not be lost, would not be inaccessible.
They were even complaining about this on NPR recently in citing free
software as a solution. And so, in effect, by using a non-free program to
store your own data, you are putting your head in a noose.
So, I've talked about how free software affects most business. But, how
does it affect that particular narrow area which is software business?
Well, the answer is mostly not at all. And the reason is that 90% of the
software industry, (from what I'm told), is development of custom
software. Software that's not meant to be released at all. For custom
software, this issue, or the ethical issue of free or proprietary, doesn't
arise. You see, the issue is: "Are you users free to change, and
redistribute the software?" If there's only one user, and that user owns
the rights, there's no problem. That user *is* free to do all these
things. So, in effect, any *custom* program that was developed by one
company for use in-house is free software, as long as they have the sense
to insisting on getting the source code, and all the rights.
And the issue doesn't really arise for software that goes in a watch or a
microwave oven, or an automobile ignition system. Because those are
places where you don't download software to install. It's not a real
computer, as far as the user is concerned. And so, it doesn't raise these
issues enough for them to be ethically important. So, for the most part,
the software industry will go along, just as it's been going. And the
interesting thing is that, since such a large fraction of the jobs are in
that part of the industry, even if there were no possibilities for free
software business, the developers of "free software could all get day jobs
writing custom software. [Laughter] There's so many; the ratio is so
But, as it happens, there is free software business. There are free
software companies. And, at the press conference that I'm going to have,
people from a couple of them will join us. And, of course, there are also
companies which are *not* free software businesses, but do develop useful
pieces of free software to release. And, the free software that they
produce is substantial.
Now, how do free software businesses work? Well, some of them sell
copies. You know, you're free to copy it, but they can still sell
thousands of copies a month. And, others sell support and various kinds
of services. I, personally, for the second half of the '80's, I sold free
software support services. Basically I said, for $200 an hour, I'll
change whatever you want me to change in GNU software that I'd written.
And, yes, it was a stiff rate, but if it was a program that I was the
author of, people would figure that I might get the job done in a lot
fewer hours. [Laughter] And I made a living that way. In fact, I'd made
more than I'd ever made before. I also taught classes. And I kept doing
that until 1990, when I got a big prize, and I didn't have to do it any
But, 1990 was when the first corporation free software business was
formed, which was Cygnus Support. And their business was to do,
essentially, the same kind of thing that I'd been doing. I certainly
could have worked for them, if I had needed to do that. Since I didn't
need to, I felt it was good for the Movement if I remained independent of
any one company. That way, I could say good and bad things about the
various free software and non-free software companies, without a conflict
of interest. I felt that I could serve the Movement more. But, if I had
needed that to make a living, sure, I would have worked for them. It's an
ethical business to be in. No reason I would have felt ashamed to take a
job with them. And, that company was profitable in its first year. It
was formed with very little capital, just the money its three founders
had. And it kept growing every year, and being profitable every year,
until they got greedy, and looked for outside investors, and then they
messed things up. But it was several years of success, before they got
So, this illustrates one of the exciting things about free software. Free
software demonstrates that you don't need to raise capital to develop free
software. I mean, it's useful; it *can* help. You know, if you do raise
some capital, you can hire people and have them write a bunch of software.
But you can get a lot done with a small number of people. And, in fact,
the tremendous efficiency of the process of developing free software is
one of the reasons it's important for the world to switch to free
software. And it also belies what Microsoft says, when they say: "the GNU
GPL is bad, because it makes it harder for them to raise capital to
develop non-free software", and take our free software, and put our code
into their programs that they won't share with us. Basically, we don't
need to have them raising capital that way. We'll get the job done
anyway. We *are* getting the job done.
People used to say, we could never do a complete free operating system.
Now we've done that and a tremendous amount more. And I would say that
we're about an order of magnitude away from developing all the general
purpose published software needs of the world. And this is in a world
where more than 90% of the users don't use our free software yet! This is
in a world where... Although in certain areas of business, you know, more
than half of all the web servers in the world are running on GNU/Linux
with Apache as the web server.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] ... What did you say before Linux?
STALLMAN: I said GNU/Linux.
QUESTION: You did?
STALLMAN: Yes, if I'm talking about the kernel, I call it Linux. You
know, that's its name. The kernel was written by Linus Torvalds, and we
should only call it by the name that he chose, out of respect for the
Anyway, but in general in business, most users are not using it. Most
home users are not using our system yet. So, when they are, we should
automatically get 10 times as many volunteers, and 10 times as many
customers for the free software businesses that there will be. And so,
that will take us that order of magnitude. So, at this point, I am pretty
confident that we *can* do the job.
And, this is important, because Microsoft asks us to feel desperate. The
"the only way you can have software to run; the only way you can have
innovation, is if you give us power! Let us dominate you. Let us
control what you can do with the software you're running, so that we
can squeeze a lot of money out of you, and use a certain fraction of
that to develop software, and take the rest as profit."
Well, you shouldn't ever feel that desperate. You shouldn't ever feel so
desperate that you give up your freedom. That's very dangerous.
Another thing that Microsoft (well, not just Microsoft) --- people who
don't support free software generally adopt a value system in which the
only thing that matters is short-term practical benefits. "How much money
am I going to make this year? What job can I get done today?" Short-term
thinking and narrow thinking. Their assumption is that it is ridiculous
to imagine that anybody ever might make a sacrifice for the sake of
Yesterday, a lot of people were making speeches about Americans who made
sacrifices for the freedom of their compatriots. Some of them made great
sacrifices. They even sacrificed their lives for the kinds of freedom
that everyone in our country has heard about, at least. (At least, in
some of the cases; I guess we have to ignore the war in Vietnam.)
[Editor's note: The day before was "Memorial Day" in the USA. Memorial
Day is a day where war heros are commemorated.]
But, fortunately, to maintain our freedom in using software, doesn't call
for big sacrifices; just tiny, little sacrifices are enough. Like
learning a command-line interface, if we don't have a GUI interface
program yet. Like doing the job in this way, because we don't have a free
software package to do it that way, yet. Like, paying some money to a
company that's going to develop a certain free software package, so that
you can have it in a few years. Various little sacrifices that we can all
make. And, in the long run, even *we* will have benefitted from it. You
know, it is really an investment more than a sacrifice! We just have to
have enough long-term view to realize it's good for us to invest in
improving our society, without counting the nickels and dimes of who gets
how much of the benefit from that investment.
So, at this point, I'm essentially done.
I'd like to mention that there's a new approach to free software business
being proposed by Tony Stanco, which he calls "Free Developers". Which
involves a certain business structure which hopes eventually to pay out a
certain share of the profits to every --- to all the authors of the free
software who've joined the organization. And they're looking at the
prospects of getting me some rather large government software development
contracts in India now. Because they're going to be using free software
as the basis -- having tremendous cost savings that way.
And so, now I guess that I should ask for questions.
STALLMAN: Could you speak up a bit louder please? I can't really hear
QUESTION: How could a company like Microsoft include a free software
STALLMAN: Well, actually, Microsoft is planning to shift a lot of its
activity into services. And, what they're planning to do is something
dirty and dangerous, which is tie the services to the programs, one to the
next, in a sort of zig-zag, you know? So that to use this service, you've
got to be using this Microsoft program, which is going to mean you need to
use this service, to this Microsoft program, -so it's all tied together.
That's their plan.
Now, the interesting thing is that selling those services doesn't raise
the ethical issue of free software or non-free software! It might be
perfectly fine for them to have the business for those businesses selling
those services over the Net to exist. However, what Microsoft is planning
to do is to use them to achieve an even greater lock --- An even greater
monopoly --- on the software and the services. And, this was described in
an article, I believe, in Business Week, recently . And, other people
said that it is turning the Net into the Microsoft Company Town.
And this is relevant, because, you know, the trial court in the Microsoft
anti-trust trial recommended breaking up the company, Microsoft. But in a
way, that makes no sense; it wouldn't do any good at all: into the
operating part, and the applications part.
But, having seen that article, I now see a useful, effective way to split
up Microsoft into the services part and the software part. To require
them to deal with each other only at arm's length. That the services
[division] must publish their interfaces, so that anybody can write a
client to talk to those services. And, I guess, that they have to pay to
get the service; well, that's OK. That's a totally different issue.
If Microsoft is split up in this way [...], "services and software", they
will not be able to use their software to crush competition with Microsoft
services. And they won't be able to use the services [division] to crush
competition with Microsoft software. And we will be able to make the free
software, and maybe you people will use it to talk to Microsoft services,
and we won't mind!
Because, after all, although Microsoft is the proprietary software company
that has subjugated the most people, the others have subjugated fewer
people; it's not for want of trying [Laughter], they just haven't
succeeded in subjugating as many people. So, the problem is not
Microsoft, and only Microsoft. Microsoft is just the biggest example of
the problem we're trying to solve, which is proprietary software taking
away users freedom to cooperate and form an ethical society. So, we
shouldn't focus too much on Microsoft. You know, even though they did
give me the opportunity for this platform, that doesn't make them
all-important. They're not the be-all and end-all.
QUESTION: Earlier, you were discussing the philosophical differences
between open source software and free software. How do you feel about the
current trend of GNU/Linux distributions as they head towards supporting
only Intel platforms? And the fact that it seems that less and less
programmers are programming correctly, and making software that will
compile anywhere. And making software that simply works on Intel systems.
STALLMAN: I don't see an ethical issue there. Although, in fact,
companies that make computers, sometimes port the GNU/Linux system to it.
HP apparently did this recently. And, they didn't bother paying for a
port of windows, because that would have cost too much. But getting
GNU/Linux supported was, I think, five engineers for a few months. It was
Now, of course, I encourage people to use autoconf, which is a GNU package
that makes it easier to make your programs portable. I encourage them to
do that. Or when somebody else fixes the bug that it didn't compile on
that version of the system, and sends it to you, you should put it in.
But I don't see that as an ethical issue.
QUESTION: Two comments. One is: recently, you spoke at MIT. I read the
transcript. And someone asked about patents, and you said that "patents
are a totally different issue. I have no comments on that."
STALLMAN: Right. I actually have a lot to say about patents, but it takes
an hour. [Laughter]
QUESTION: I wanted to say this: it seems to me that there is an issue. I
mean, there is a reason that companies call both patents and copyrights --
things like hard property in trying to get this concept. Which is, if
they want to use the power of the State to create a course of monopoly for
themselves. And so, what's common about these things is not that they
revolve around the same issues, but that motivation is not really the
public service issues, but the motivation of companies to get a monopoly
for their private interests.
STALLMAN: I understand. But well, I want to respond because there's not
too much time. So I'd like to respond to that.
You're right that that's what they want. But there's another reason why
they want to use the term "intellectual property". It's that they don't
want to encourage people to think carefully about copyright issues or
patent issues. Because copyright law and patent law are totally
different, and the effects of software copyrighted software patents are
Software patents are a restriction on programmers---prohibiting them from
writing certain kinds of programs. Whereas, copyright doesn't do that.
With copyright, at least if you wrote it yourself, you're allowed to
distribute it. So, it's tremendously important to separate these issues.
They have a little bit in common, at a very low level. And everything
else is different. So, please, to encourage clear-thinking, discuss
copyright, or discuss patents. But don't discuss "intellectual property."
I don't have an opinion on "intellectual property". I have opinions on
copyrights and patents and software.
QUESTION: You mentioned at the beginning that a functional language, like
recipes, are computer programs. There's a cross a little bit different
than other kinds of language created on. This is also causing a problem
in the DVD case.
STALLMAN: The issues are partly similar, but partly different, for things
that are not functional in nature. Part of the issue transfers, but not
all of it. Unfortunately, that's another hour speech. I don't have time
to go into it. But, I would say that all functional works ought to be
free in the same sense as software. You know: textbooks, manuals,
dictionaries, and recipes, and so on.
QUESTION: I was just wondering on on-line music, there are similarities
and differences created all through.
STALLMAN: Right. I'd say that the minimum freedom that we should have for
*any* kind of published information, is the freedom to non-commercially
redistribute it, verbatim. For functional works, we need the freedom to
*commercially* publish a modified version, because that's tremendously
useful to society. For non-functional works, you know, things that are to
entertain, or to be aesthetic, or to state a certain person's views, you
know, perhaps they shouldn't be modified. And, perhaps that means that
it's OK, to have copyright covering all *commercial* distribution of them.
Please remember that according to the U.S. Constitution, the purpose of
copyright is to benefit the public. It is to modify the behavior of
certain private parties, so that they will publish more books. And the
benefit of this is that society gets to discuss issues, and learn And, you
know, we have literature. We have scientific works. The purpose is
encourage that. Copyrights do not exist for the sake of authors, let
alone for the sake of publishers. They exist for the sake of readers and
all those who benefit from the communication of information that happens
when people write and others read. And that goal, I agree with!
But, in the age of the computer networks, the *method* is no longer
tenable, because it now requires Draconian laws that invade everybody's
privacy and terrorize everyone. You know, years in prison for sharing
with your neighbor. It wasn't like that in the age of the printing press.
Then, copyright was an industrial regulation. It restricted publishers!
*Now*, it's a restriction imposed by the publishers on the public. So,
the power relationship is turned around 180 degrees, even if it's the
QUESTION: So you can have the same thing - but like in making music from
STALLMAN: Right. That is an interesting.
QUESTION: And unique, new works, you know, it's still a lot of
STALLMAN: It is. And I think that probably requires some kind of fair use
concept. Certainly making a few seconds of sample, and using that in
making some musical work: obviously that should be fair use. Even the
standard idea of fair use includes that, if you think about it. Whether
courts agree, I'm not sure, but they should. That *wouldn't* be a real
change in the system as it has existed.
QUESTION: What do you think about publishing *public* information in
STALLMAN: Oh, it shouldn't be. I mean, the Government should never
require citizens to use a non-free program to access, to communicate with
the Government in any way, in either direction.
QUESTION: I have been, what I will now say, a GNU/Linux user ...
STALLMAN: Thank you. [Laughter]
QUESTION: ...for the past four years. The one thing that has been
problematical for me and is something that is essential, I think, to all
of us, is browsing the web.
QUESTION: One thing that has been decidedly a weakness in using a
GNU/Linux system has been browsing the web, because the prevailing tool
for that, Netscape...
STALLMAN: ...Is not free software.
let me respond to this. I want to get to the point, for the sake of
getting in more. So, yes. There has been a terrible tendency for people
to use Netscape Navigator on their GNU/Linux systems. And, in fact, all
the commercially packaged systems come with it. So this is an ironic
situation: we worked so hard to make a *free* operating system, and now,
if you go to the store, and you can find versions of GNU/Linux there (most
of them are called "Linux"), and they're not free. Oh, well part of them
is. But then, there's Netscape Navigator, and maybe other non-free
programs as well. So, it's very hard to actually find a free system,
unless you know what you're doing! Or, of course, you can [simply]not
install Netscape Navigator [with the commercial systems].
Now, in fact, there have been free web-browsers for many years. There is
a free web browser that I used to use called "Lynx". It's a free
web-browser that is non-graphical; it's text-only. This has a tremendous
advantage in you don't see the ads. [Laughter] [Applause].
But anyway, there is a free graphical project called "Mozilla", which is
now getting to the point where you can use it. And I occasionally use it.
QUESTION: Conqueror 2.01 has been very good.
STALLMAN: Oh, OK. So that's another free graphical browser. So, we're
finally solving that problem, I guess.
QUESTION: Can you talk to me about that philosophical/ethical division
between free software and open source? Do you feel that those are
[recording switchs tapes; end of question and start of answer is missing]
STALLMAN: .... to a freedom, and ethics. Or whether you just say: "well,
I hope that you companies will decide it's more profitable to let us be
allowed to do these things".
But, as I said, in a lot of practical work, it doesn't really matter what
a person's politics are. When a person offers to help the GNU project, we
don't say: "You have to agree with our politics". We say that in a GNU
package, you've got to call the system, GNU/Linux, and you've got to call
it free software. What you say when you're not speaking to the GNU
project; that's up to you.
QUESTION: The company, IBM, started a campaign for government agencies to
sell their big new machines that they used Linux as selling point, and say
STALLMAN: Yes, of course, it's really the GNU/Linux systems. [Laughter]
QUESTION: That's right! Well, tell the top sales person. He doesn't know
anything for GNU.
STALLMAN: I have to tell who?
QUESTION: The top sales person.
STALLMAN: Oh yes. The problem is that they've already carefully decided
what they want to say for reasons of their advantage. And the issue of
what is a more accurate, or fair or correct way to describe it, is not the
primary issue that matters to a company like that. Now, some small
companies, yes, there'll be a boss. And if the boss is inclined to think
about things like that, he might make a decision that way. Not a giant
corporation though. It's a shame, you know.
There's another more important and more substantive issue about what IBM
is doing. They're saying that they're putting a billion dollars into
"Linux". But perhaps, I should also put quotes around "into", as well,
because some of that money is paying people to develop free software.
That really is a contribution to our community. But, other parts is
paying to paying people to write proprietary software, or port proprietary
software to run on top of GNU/Linux, and that is *not* a contribution to
our community. But, IBM is lumping that altogether into this. Some of it
might be advertising, which, is partly a contribution, even if it's partly
wrong. So, it's a complicated situation. Some of what they're doing is
contribution, and some is not. And some is sort is somewhat, but not
exactly. And you can't just lump it altogether and think: "Wow! Whee! A
billion dollars from IBM." [Laughter] That's over-simplification.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit more about the thinking that went into
the general public license?
STALLMAN: Well, here's the -- I'm sorry, I'm answering his question now.
SCHONBERG: [ Do you want to reserve some time for the Press Conference?
Or do you want to continue here?
STALLMAN: Who is here for the Press Conference? Not a lot of press. Oh,
three -- OK. Can you afford if we -- if I go on answering everybody's
questions for another ten minutes or so? OK. So, we'll go on answering
So, the thinking that went into the GNU GPL? Part of it was that I wanted
to protect the freedom of the community against the phenomena that I just
described with X Windows, which has happened with other free programs as
well. In fact, when I was thinking about this issue, X Windows was not
yet released. But I had seen this problem happen in other free programs.
For instance, TeX. I wanted to make sure that the users would all have
freedom. Otherwise, I realized that I might write a program, and maybe a
lot of people would use the program, but they wouldn't have freedom. And
what's the point of that!?
But, the other issue I was thinking about was: I wanted to give the
community a feeling that it was not a doormat---a feeling that it was not
prey to any parasite who would wander along. If you don't use copyleft,
you are essentially saying: [speaking meekly] "Take my code. Do what you
want. I don't say no." So, anybody can come along and say: [speaking
very firmly] "Ah, I want to make a non-free version of this. I'll just
take it." And, then, of course, they probably make some improvements.
Those non-free versions might appeal to users, and replace the free
versions. And then, what have you accomplished? You've only made a
donation to some proprietary software project!
And when people see that that's happening---when people see: "other people
take what I do, and they don't ever give back", it can be demoralizing.
And, this is not just speculation. I had seen that happen. That was part
of what happened to wipe out the old community that I belonged to the
'70's. Some people started becoming uncooperative. And we assumed that
they were profiting thereby. They certainly acted as if they thought they
were profiting. And we realized that they can just take off cooperation
and not give back. And there was nothing we could do about it. It was
very discouraging. We, those of us who didn't like the trend, even had a
discussion and we couldn't come up with any idea for how we could stop it.
So, the GPL is designed to stop that. And it says: "Yes, you are welcome
to *join* the community and use this code. You can use it to do all sorts
of jobs. But, if you release a modified version, you've got to release
that *to* our community, as part of our community---as part of the free
So, in fact, there are still many ways that people can get the benefit of
our work, and not contribute, like you don't have to write any software.
Lots of people use GNU/Linux, and don't write any software. There's no
requirement that you've got to do anything for us. But, if you do a
certain kind of thing, you've got to contribute to it. So what that means
is that our community is not a doormat. And I think that that helped give
people the strength to feel: "Yes, we won't just be trampled under foot by
everybody. We'll stand up to this".
QUESTION: Yes, my question was, considering free but not copylefted
software. Since anybody can pick it up and make it proprietary, is it not
possible also for someone to pick it up, and make some changes and release
the whole thing under the GPL?
STALLMAN: Yes, it is possible.
QUESTION: Then, that would make all future copies then be GPL'ed.
STALLMAN: From that branch. But here's why we don't do that.
STALLMAN: Here's why we don't generally do that. Let me explain.
QUESTION: OK, yes.
STALLMAN: We could, if we wanted to, take X Windows, and make a
GPL-covered copy, and make changes in that. But, there's a much larger
group of people working on improving X Windows and *not* GPL-ing it. So,
if we did that, we would be forking from them. And that's not very nice
treatment of them. And, they *are* a part of our community, contributing
to our community.
Second, it would back-fire against us, because they're doing a lot more
work on X than we would be. So, our version would be inferior to theirs,
and people wouldn't use it, which means: why go to the trouble at all?
QUESTION: Mmm hmm.
STALLMAN: So, when a person has written some improvement to X Windows,
what I say that person should do is: cooperate with the X Development
Team. Send it to them, and let them use it their way. Because they *are*
developing a very important piece of free software. It's good for us to
cooperate with them!
QUESTION: Except, considering X, in particular, about two years ago, the X
Consortium that was far into the "non-free" open source...
STALLMAN: Well, actually it *wasn't* open sourced. It wasn't open
sourced, either. They may have said it was. (I can't remember if they
said that or not.) But it wasn't open source.
It was restricted. You couldn't commercially distribute, I think. Or you
couldn't commercially distribute a modified version, or something like
that. There was a restriction that's considered unacceptable by both the
Free Software Movement and the Open Source Movement.
And yes, that's what using a non-copyleft license leaves you open to. In
fact, the X Consortium; they had a very rigid policy. They say: "If your
program if copylefted even a little bit, we won't distribute it at all.
We won't put it in our distribution." So, a lot of people were pressured
in this way into not copylefting. And the result was that all of their
software was wide open, later on. When the same people who had pressured
a developer to be too all-permissive, then the X people later said: "All
right. Now we can put on restrictions.", which wasn't very ethical of
But, given the situation, would we really want to scrape up the resources
to maintain an alternate GPL-covered version of X? And it wouldn't make
any sense to do that. There is so many other things we need to do. Let's
do them instead. We can cooperate with the X developers.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment: is the GNU a trademark? And is it
practical to include it as part of the GNU General Public License allowing
STALLMAN: We are, actually, applying for trademark registration on GNU.
But it wouldn't really have anything to do with that. It's a long
story to explain why.
QUESTION: You could require the trademark be displayed with GPL-covered
No, I don't think so. The licenses cover individual programs. And, when
a given program is part of the GNU project, nobody lies about that. The
name of the system as a whole, is a different issue. And this, is an
aside. It's not worth discussing more.
QUESTION: If there was a button, that you could push and force all
companies to free their software would you press it?
STALLMAN: Well, I would only use this for published software. You know, I
think that people have the right to write a program privately, and use it.
And that includes companies. This is privacy issue. And it's true, there
can be times when it is wrong to do that, like if it is tremendously
helpful to humanity, and you are withholding it from humanity that is a
wrong, but that's a different kind of wrong. It's a different issue,
although it's in the same area.
But yes, I think all published software should be free software. And
remember, when it's not free software, that's because of Government
intervention. The Government is intervening to make it non-free. The
Government is creating special legal powers to hand out to the owners of
the programs, so that they can have the police stop us from using the
programs in certain ways. So I would certainly like to end that.
SCHONBERG: Richard's presentation has invariably generated an enormous
amount of intellectual energy. I would suggest that some of it should be
directed to using, and possibly writing free software.
We should close the proceedings, shortly. I want to say that Richard has
injected into a profession, which is known in the general public for its
terminal a-political nerd-itude, a level of political and moral
discussion, which is I think unprecedented in our profession. And we owe
him very big for this. I'd like to note to people that there is break.
STALLMAN: You are free to leave at any time, you know. [Laughter] I'm not
holding you prisoner here.
STALLMAN: One final thing. Our website: www.gnu.org
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