Free software advocate Richard Stallman spoke at Microsoft Research this week

A day later, everyone's seemingly alive but Windows still isn't 'free.'
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Alessandro Segala

Microsoft invited free software legend Richard Stallman to speak at its Microsoft Research headquarters this week. Stallman, known for launching the Free Software Movement to develop the GNU operating system, was and still is a staunch Microsoft critic.

Microsoft's ongoing embrace of open source has resulted in some fairly surprising moves for the company. A Microsoft-built Linux kernel in Windows 10? Check. Bringing SQL Server to Linux? Done. Open-sourcing big chunks of .NET? It happened. 

Nothing should be surprising to us Microsoft watchers on this front anymore. When I saw tweets showing what looked to be a photo of Stallman at Microsoft, my first thought was this must be a hoax.

But Microsoft Azure Chief Technology Officer Mark Russinovich tweeted this morning (September 5): "In other OSS-related news, Richard Stallman visited campus yesterday and gave a talk at Microsoft Research."

Ale(ssandro) Segala, @ItalyPaleAle, posted a photo of Stallman at a podium on September 4. A couple of Redditors asked whether there was a recording or transcript of his talk and there doesn't seem to be. (According to Segala, Stallman requests no video feeds in "places using proprietary JS.") But his remarks at Microsoft had to do with free software and privacy

Update: One attendee of Stallman's talk, Microsoft software engineer Pedro Paulo provided me with a few of the topics discussed when I asked him on Twitter. He said Stallman gave a "mostly standard talk," covering the importance of free software, GPL v3, GNU vs. Linux. He added that "he had a list of 'small requests': make Github push users to better software license hygiene, make hardware manufacturers to publish their hardware specs, make it easier to workaround Secure Boot."

If you're wondering whether Stallman's distaste for Microsoft has lessened over the years, his personal home page makes it clear that it has not. The front and center of his main page is a list of "Reasons not to use Microsoft." The list is current, and includes "Microsoft recorded users of Xboxes and had human workers listen to the recordings," and "Microsoft tricked users into 'upgrading' to Windows 10.'"

Each time Microsoft makes another open-source-related move these days, there are still always folks on Twitter or in comments on blog posts who caution that Microsoft hasn't really changed and never will be a true friend of open source. This change in Microsoft didn't happen overnight, but the momentum is growing.

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