Dr. Richard Stallman Talk @ UMSL

Monday night, I attended the RMS talk presented as part of the Spender & Spencer series at University of Missouri – Saint Louis. As expected, the talk was about the freedom of software and how proprietary software is “evil”.

It has been awhile since I have heard RMS speak. Maybe my memory is failing, but I don’t recall the numerous mentions of proprietary software being linked to terrorism. The core was by the mere statement that since proprietary software is not free as in freedom, it is terrorism. The second was a linking about how Microsoft Windows’ history with back doors. One back door exists as requested by NSA. Another backdoor never made it to Windows. This backdoor was supposedly being added unbeknownst to Microsoft by members of al-Queda. *

Let’s skip over the outrageous claim where proprietary software vendors threaten to rape people who use free software in countries like Argentina. * Yes, that “rape” not a metaphoric term for selling software at an outrageous price or requiring professional services to make that expensive software actually work.

What is interesting about RMS and the proclaim for freedom is the angle of where freedom requirement ends. For example, the FSF has a website, and I have no doubt that it is running on free, open source software. Yet, are the upstream routers, switches, and the remainder of the infrastructure running free open source? I would be willing to bet that are not. The proclamation that we should all use free software contradicts this. In reality, every user has limits on where free software can be required.

There was no mention of why the developers should not have their freedom to control their creations. On that topic, Stallman repeated his known opinion on how we are all force fed Linus Torvalds’s freedom by his stances on the GPL and lack of reference to GNU/Linux vs. Linux.

One point of fun was how RMS slammed UMSL at the midpoint of the talk. In front of the Chancellor, he stated that the university had banned free software, such as GNU/Linux (full titled just for RMS… this one time only).* No real elaboration on this, but it may honestly explain the overwhelming difficulty Contegix has faced in our goal to hire Linux talent.

My curiosity was peaked with the mention of how most Linux distributions are not composed solely of free software. RMS stated this phenomenon began in the mid-1990s. This was done to feed the needs of the consumer when a free alternative was not available. RMS argues that this impacted the free software movement as the inclusion became viral. Even when the non-free software was replaced with a free alternative, there was yet another unmet need and, thus, more proprietary software included. This begs a thesis study on whether Linux and thus GNU would have advanced as far as it has today if these needs were not met by the inclusion of the proprietary code.

Even when preaching to the choir, not everyone is a believer. It’s a shame that speech contains radicalness and a touch of bitterness about the GNU/Linux debate. Frankly, this turns people off and taints the message for many. A few people walked out at some point. Regardless of whether this was due to the radicalism, the true message is often lost.

Was it a good talk? Absolutely. Will I see Stallman again? Absolutely. Should people see Stallman talk? Absolutely! Do radical ideas from both sides of a debate help balance the world? Possibly. Will we be able to determine if/when Alzheimer’s hits Stallman and he starts speaking crazy? Hell, no.

* [References? Nah, those are for wusses and evil proprietary software vendors when they sell you their evilware. BTW, since Contegix uses RHEL and SLES, we are evil too!]

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