He is corpulent and slovenly with long scraggly hair, strands of which he has been known to pluck out and toss into a bowl of soup he is eating. His own website says he engages in 'nasal sex' with flowers. And though he fancies himself a crusader for tech 'freedom', he labours mightily to control how others think, speak and act, arguing in Orwellian doublespeak that his rules are necessary for people to be 'free'. He's Richard Stallman and he's bringing down the work of giants around him.
Dan Lyons has about had it with Richard Stallman. Dan writes for Forbes and has just assembled the most scathing attack ever on the self-proclaimed head of open source software. And the reason he's calling 'enough is enough' is Stallman's latest trick is to try to destroy the entire open source movement he could not himself create or control.
'The free Linux operating system set off one of the biggest revolutions in the history of computing when it leapt from the fingertips of a Finnish college kid named Linus Torvalds 15 years ago', writes Lyons in the 30 October edition of Forbes.
'Linux now drives $15 billion in annual sales of hardware, software and services, and this wondrous bit of code has been tweaked by thousands of independent programmers to run the world's most powerful supercomputers, the latest cell phones and TiVo video recorders, and other gadgets.'
'But while Torvalds has been enshrined as the Linux movement's creator, a lesser known programmer - infamously more obstinate and far more eccentric than Torvalds - wields a startling amount of control as this revolution's resident enforcer.'
'Richard Stallman is a 53 year old anticorporate crusader who has argued for 20 years that most software should be free of charge. Now Stallman is waging a new crusade that could end up toppling the revolution he helped create. He aims to impose new restrictions on IBM and any other tech firm that distributes software using even a single line of Linux code.'
Stallman's hold on the Linux movement stems from his Free Software Foundation, formed in 1983 in conjunction with his promise (never fulfilled) to produce a 'free' Unix. Too many people - Linus Torvalds excluded - never understood what kind of demagogue they were dealing with and voluntarily - following Stallman's advice - put their software copyrights in his hands.
Today the entire open source movement are regretting it.
'A cantankerous and finger wagging freewheeler, Stallman won't comment on any of this because he was upset by a previous story written by this writer. But his brazen gambit already is roiling the hacker world', writes Lyons.
Stallman's trick 'has the potential to inflict massive collateral damage upon our entire ecosystem and jeopardise the very utility and survival of open source', says a paper published in September by key Linux developers.
'This is not an exaggeration. There is significant danger to going down this path', adds James Bottomley, principal author of the paper.
Simon Lok dumped Linux years ago because of Stallman. 'One day these jackasses will do something extreme, and it's going to kill us', he said back then. 'Now it's coming to fruition', he adds now.
Stallman is weird, and although he styles himself as a crusader for tech 'freedom', he labours mightily in the other direction, controlling how people think, speak, and act - using Orwellian doublespeak to put forth the argument that people have to do things his way in order to be 'free'.
Stallman won't speak to reporters unless they agree to use his doublespeak exclusively - which includes not referring to Linux by its universal name but by 'GNU/Linux', a name he himself invented when his cohorts left him for the Torvalds project.
And 'GNU' isn't GNU either - even though Stallman uses a gnu as his mascot. No, 'GNU' must be pronounced 'guh-noo' or it's no interview. And 'GNU/Linux' must be pronounced 'guh-noo slash Linux' or at the very least 'guh-noo plus Linux'. Otherwise no interview.
As pointed out by Lyons and elsewhere at this site, Stallman's own record as a programmer isn't exactly spectacular. Linus Torvalds became an embarrassment for Stallman, accomplishing more in one month than Stallman had in ten years, and it was only when Stallman couldn't get the new Linux recruits to come help him instead that he hijacked the Linux name.
As Red Hat programmer Ulrich Drepper put it, 'don't trust this person'.
At Wikipedia where 'Stallmanites' reign supreme there are over 3,400 references to 'GNU/Linux', an operating system that doesn't even exist.
In the meantime the operating system that does exist - Linux - has attracted investments in the billions from giants such as Amazon, Google, HP, IBM, Red Hat, and Sun. All of which could suffer or be destroyed by Stallman's latest move.
So what is Stallman doing now? He's trying to upgrade the open source licence agreement, the so called GPL or 'General Public Licence', to put crippling restraints on corporations currently using Linux and other open source projects for which he's had the copyright donated to his Free Software Foundation.
It would be one thing if Stallman himself had written a single line of all that code, but Stallman hasn't written any code at all in at least ten years. He's been too busy convincing open source programmers to donate their code to him.
Linus Torvalds himself is against Stallman and has opposed the 'upgrade' to the GPL, but now he may be too late. As programmers continued to work for Linus, Stallman got them to put the copyrights in his own name - this for their own protection, he claimed.
Linus was smarter than to sign away his creations as others had done but he did adopt Stallman's GPL - the licence Stallman is now trying to subvert for his own purposes.
Stallman's new licence puts a ban on anything that can protect or enforce copyright, patent, or other rights - this despite Stallman greedily hanging onto the copyrights he's duped from open source developers over the years. Clearly either you let Stallman own and control everything or nothing will work.
And the way Stallman's dictatorship of the programmers is set up, even though he says he invites comments, he and he alone can decide what the final form will be and how it should be interpreted.
There are simple questions which make a world of difference and for which Stallman still has not provided any answers or even clues - such as whether he will approve software under the old licence cohabiting with software under the new one.
The common perception is Stallman himself doesn't have a clue - he's too happy just being able to stir the pot and get some attention.
For someone who doesn't have a real job, hasn't written a line of code in at least ten years, doesn't have a house or car, and subsists off grants he's able to get the corporations he hates to donate to him, that's quite a treat indeed.
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