MEME 2.04

MEME 2.04

In this issue of MEME:

"In 1971 when I joined the staff of the MIT Artificial Intelligence lab, all of us who helped develop the operating system software, we called ourselves hackers. We were not breaking any laws, at least not in doing the hacking we were paid to do. We were developing software and we were having fun. Hacking refers to the spirit of fun in which we were developing software. The hacker ethic refers to the feelings of right and wrong, to the ethical ideas this community of people had -- that knowledge should be shared with other people who can benefit from it, and that important resources should be utilized rather than wasted."

--Richard Stallman, in MEME 2.04

This issue of MEME presents an interview with Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, recepient of a $240,000 MacArthur "genius" grant, and inveterate hacker of the old-school. Stallman's dream was to create "free" software for the people. Today, that dream is largely realized: several hundred-thousand people now compute for free using the Linux operating system in conjunction with programs from the Free Software Foundation. Without further delay, I'll let Richard tell you the story, in his own words.

David Bennahum: Richard, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. I want to start our conversation by asking, what is the Free Software Foundation? Why is it important?

Richard Stallman: The Free Software Foundation is important because of the project it hopes to further, which is the GNU project. The GNU Project was started 12 years ago to produce a complete, free operating system which is compatible with Unix. At the time, that seemed like such a large project that it was daunting. Many other people might have liked to see such a thing, but it seemed like such a big job that they went on to do something else. I was determined to reach that goal. I started working by myself, and I invited people to join me, and more and more people started working on it. We looked around to see what free components were available, and we found some like X-Windows and the text-formatter TeX, and we pushed for some components to be made available as free software, such as the Berkeley networking utilities, and many components we wrote ourselves such as the GNU C compiler, GNU EMACS, the GNU Linker, the GNU C Library. Whatever we could not find already available, we had to write.

DB: And the point was?

RS: The idea of a complete free operating system is to make it possible to use a computer entirely with free software. The reason that I sought that goal has do with -- Gee this is coming out all backwards. For some reason you are asking me about the means before we talk about the ends. Talking about the means first and then getting to the ends doesn't make a clear picture.

DB: All right, let's talk about the ends first.

RS: The question to ask is "what is free software and why is it important."

DB: All right. What is it then, why is it important?

RS: Free software is a matter of freedom, not price. Free software means that you the user have certain freedoms. The freedom to run the program, the freedom to adapt the program to your own needs by reading the source code and changing the parts that don't suit you. The freedom to help your neighbor by giving your neighbor a copy of the program, and the freedom to help build your community by adding new capabilities to the program and releasing them so other peo