Interview: Richard M. Stallman, Inventer of Open Source, Free Software Crusader

"Did you see the crazy person handing out anti-ebook flyers?" someone said to me while I was at ReaderCon. Indeed, the man with the giant hair and beard handing out flyers looked a bit like a vagrant. I went up to see what it was about, saw his face and did a double take. I checked his name-badge just to be sure.

"You're Richard Stallman," I said in disbelief.

"Yes," he said, and handed me a flyer. "If you care about books you should read this."

A copy of the anti-ebook flyer can be found here.

For those of you who don't know, Richard M. Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation in 1984 with the mission of creating software that could be freely distributed and wasn't tied down by nasty licensing restrictions (software that had been 'freed'). Eventually, this transformed into the "Open Source" movement, that term popularized by Eric S. Raymond as way to ease corporate adoption of free software. Stallman also wrote key components of what would become the Linux operating system (or "GNU/Linux" as he refers to it, a reference to his own GNU operating system project which Linux draws from), as well as the Emacs text editor which I use in my programming job every day, the Gcc C compiler which is now a cornerstone of Unix-based software development, and many other important applications.

So what was one of the greatest software engineers of our time, a recipient of the MacArthur "genius" grant, doing handing out flyers at a science fiction convention? I asked him.

Stallman insisted, however, that I not put the video of our interview on YouTube, because you have to use non-free software in order to view it. So, I uploaded the interview in the free Ogg Theora format. Does this make things less convenient for everyone? Yes. But Stallman is more concerned with freedom than convenience, as he makes clear in the interview. For him the use of free over non-free software is a moral proposition.

So here is the video, embedded using HTML5. Enjoy.

I apologize for the background noise. I made the mistake of conducting the video in a hallway, which seemed like a good idea at the time. I'll try to noise reduce the video later and see if I can improve it.


ebooks and drm

Whilst agreed that DRM (like GM foods perhaps) serves corporate interests over people, and Stallman should be lauded, there will always be those of Stallman's ilk who are bound (by benevolent and/or anti-authoritarian nature) to provide open source alternatives, and hackers who will negate any DRM the vested megalomaniac corporations can throw at us - hence the whole thing is a silly farce (case in point would be ereader software Calibre with 3rd party plugin for converting Amazon's proprietry format into any file type you chose.) True this may not be convenient, like the Ogg Vorbis / Theora / Whateva formats - but they exist as an alternative. That is to say, I chose to read ebooks and not be bound by Amazon's restrictions.