Richard Stallman at IIT Madras

November 06, 2011

Today I got to meet the man who started it all! Who started the concept of “FREE SOFTWARE”. Who started the GNU project. Richard Stallman.

He is a programmer and philosopher who started the concept of ‘Free Software’. According to him the software should be free (here free implies freedom, not free as in free beer). He talks about four types of freedom:

0 - Freedom to use the software the way users wants.

1 - Freedom to study the code and modify it so as to suit your needs.

2 - Freedom to help your friends i.e. freedom to share the copy of the software

3 - Freedom to modify and distribute you own version of the software when you want

It all starts back in 1983, all the computers require the a basic software to function/operate AKA Operating System. And all the Operating Systems back then were proprietary softwares.

Stallman defines proprietary softwares as jail, he says most of the proprietary software are malware which have potential to send your personal data to remote server (of course to the developer). He also says most of the proprietary applications have backdoors, using which the developer can make changes to your system or install application without even seeking the permission of the user. The biggest malware he claims is “Microsoft Windows”, there are backdoors in Windows using which Microsoft can install any application on you system without even letting you know and can spy on you, same goes for Mac OS too. He even recommends not use Google Chrome as its source is not public, though Linux guys are at peace at chromium is open source.

So, Stallman didn’t like the idea that proprietary were keeping the people from excising their full rights over the application. He shared his ideas of free software with people and he formed a small community, sent mail to politician, used banners and all sort of stuff to make people realize that they are being abide of their freedom and make them realize they are in a trap. But nothing much could happen because of the small size of the community. So he himself being a programmer who could write a complete OS, decide to write one and make it free for people, make its source free to study, modify and share.

He started the GNU project in 1983 when he was in MIT, the goal was to create a Unix-like Operating System, Unix was chosen because Unix was the most popular OS back then and Stallman wanted a OS which could support maximum no of machines running, same architecture and same commands were used so that people can shift from Unix to this new Operating System without any hassle. By 1992 they were ready with almost all the component of the OS but one major part was still to be coded, The Kernel. Then came in picture the guy called Linus Torvalds, he had already written a kernel called ‘Linux’ but the source was not open to public, in 1992 Linus made Linux open and the same kernel combined with the other package written by Richard Stallman and his fellow mates to give birth to a new OS which was completely free, free to use the way you want, free to study how it works, free to modify and free to share. It was named GNU-Linux.

But unfortunately to most of the people think it’s only Linux and Linus is THE guy.

Stallman also started free software moment with the goal of ensuring software users’ four basic freedoms: the freedom to run their software, to study and change their software, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. In 1985 he founded the FSF (Free Software Foundation) to support free software moment.

He is the main author of several copy left licenses including the GNU General Public License, the most widely used free software license. also developed a number of pieces of widely used software, including the original Emacs, the GNU Compiler Collection, the GNU Debugger, and various tools in the GNU coreutils.

Visit GNU website for more info.