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The most hated man in cyberspace

This business movement, which Stallman grandfathered, has done to software what Moore’s Law did to hardware.

Richard Stallman.

Having covered this space for nearly two years, I have seen more resentment toward Stallman than anyone in the world, even though (on the issues) he’s right.

Stallman, if you don’t know, is the father of GNU, and the "Free Software"  movement. He’s not the father of open source, he’s its grandfather. He created what I call the Four Freedoms – free to get, free to use, free to change, free in obligation.

It’s that last freedom, the obligation to give back new code in exchange for the other freedoms, that sticks in the craw of so many. It was in reaction to this that the "open source" movement itself was created. In order to make a business out of this, it was felt, this fourth freedom would have to be sacrificed.

It is sacrificed, in BSD-type licenses. You don’t have to share your enhancements to BSD code with the community. But what has happened, in fact, is that projects based on BSD licenses don’t get as much community support as those under Stallman’s GPL. Businesses will associate with one another under BSD, and claim that their clients prefer the BSD license. But you don’t see many hackers in their basements volunteering time to BSD projects. You do see it, still, under the GPL.

To those who believe in a proprietary model, moreover, Stallman is Satan himself. They consider him the enemy of profit, the job-destroyer. They contrast him with contemporaries Steve Jobs and Bill Gates asking, what have you done for your economy, your country? You’re destroying it.

It’s true that free software kills some jobs. It kills marketing jobs. It also cuts profits. Most open source companies I cover consist of programmers, support people, executives and Web folks. Marketing is often an afterthought. In two years on the beat I have been bought two meals, both by the same company (JBOSS). No t-shirts have come in my mail, I have gotten no tschotckes, no free air trips. Not even a beer. (Both meals were lunches. I drank tea.)

Is Stallman responsible? Maybe. JBOSS  was founded as a GPL company. But at the same time I have covered countless niches where solutions have become affordable for the first time, thanks to open source. This business movement, which Stallman grandfathered, has done to software what Moore’s Law did to hardware. It has pushed prices to the floor. It has brought thousands of new programmers, and millions of new users, to the Internet.

This has always been Stallman’s goal. His only goal. And he has taken it, all the criticism, all the jibes, because he believes in what he’s doing.

So hate him if you want. I can’t help but admire him. And I think I always will. To those who live for profit, the prophet may be scorned. But theirs, I’m convinced, is the kingdom of software heaven.

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