Richard Stallman – The state of the Free Software movement

Richard Stallman – The state of the Free Software movement

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On April 13th, 2022, Richard Stallman — founder of the Free Software Foundation and the GNU project — gave an hour and a half presentation on “The state of the free software movement”.

You can listen to the whole presentation on

Note: According to the Free Software Foundation, “Due to unforeseen technical difficulties, RMS gave his talk over audio only.”

I’ve included a few choice quotes from Stallman’s 90 minute presentation below.

Though, truthfully, I highly recommend listening to the whole thing. There’s no denying the massive influence Richard Stallman has had on the software world (Free Software in particular, obviously), and hearing his thoughts on the current state of the computer software world is both important and enlightening.

Stallman on Ubunu:“Ubuntu of course is a non-free distro, and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone use it. Some important packages are now distributed only through their non-freedom-respecting package system, and not as Debian packages. So it’s even harder than before to get any freedom out of an Ubuntu installation.”

Stallman on Hardware Freedom and Macintoshes“What’s getting worse? Well, the libre-booted machines that we have are getting older and scarcer. Finding a way to support something new is difficult, because Intel and AMD are both designing their hardware to subjugate people. If they were basically haters of the public, it would be hard for them to do it much worse than they’re doing.

And Macintoshes are moving towards being jails, like the iMonsters. It’s getting harder for users to install even their own programs to run them. And this of course should be illegal. It should be illegal to sell a computer that doesn’t let users install software of their own from source code. And probably shouldn’t allow the computer to stop you from installing binaries that you get from others either, even though it’s true in cases like that, you’re doing it at your own risk. But tying people down, strapping them into their chairs so that they can’t do anything that hurts themselves — makes things worse, not better. There are other systems where you can find ways to trust people, that don’t depend on being under the power of a giant company.

We’ve seen problems sometimes where supported old hardware gets de-supported because somebody doesn’t think it’s important any more — it’s so old, how could that matter? But there are reasons…why old hardware sometimes remains very important, and people who aren’t thinking about this issue might not realize that…”

Stallman on Video Games“Well, first of all, I don’t think there’s anything bad about playing a game. Unless the game is non-free — then it’s bad for you, if you play it.

But typically these games are not solitaire; you’re playing with other people. And using a non-free program together with other people? That’s particularly bad. Because it means that those people are pressuring each other to keep running that non-free program. And whenever a non-free program generates that kind of effect, where each user is pressured by all the other users to continue doing something that’s bad for you — that makes all of them ethically responsible for pressuring the others. Which means you really should stop.

Now, more free games? It doesn’t satisfy an urgent practical need, obviously… But the crucial thing is, free ones might make it easier for some people to say, ‘Let’s move off this non-free thing, and play a game that is free. So we can have the same pleasure, but without paying freedom as the price.’“

Stallman on Planned Obsolescence and Waste“Planned obsolescence causes a lot of waste. And in particular, it produces lots of e-waste. Of course, manufacturing the new devices to be sold to people who have just suffered planned obsolescence uses a lot of energy and a lot of material resources. So free software is exactly the thing to help people keep using the same device for longer.

Now this is not a very direct connection. It’s a consequence of being in a community where individuals have more control over what they do. And that is very important, itself. But it also enables people to be less wasteful.

Businesses will direct you into wasteful consumption, because it’s profitable for them. And if they have less influence over you, you can stay away from the wasteful consumption.”

Stallman announcing a Manual for GNU CStallman closed out his presentation by announcing a new book he has written: a manual for the GNU C compiler.

“I have written a manual for GNU C, and the Free Software Foundation is going to publish it in not-too-terribly long. Now, why do I say it’s a manual for GNU C? It does not try to describe the C standard — because that would be tremendously complicated, and tremendously hard to use.

It’s not just that there are a lot of details in the C standard. It’s written in terms of abstractions. Instead of telling you what the program means, it tells you what the program is permitted to mean. So you need to think at a second-order level to make sense of the C standard. Well, the purpose of this manual is to enable people to learn C, and also to enable them to look up the details of what C constructs mean… And indeed, C inevitably is full of wrinkles and more complex rules, but I’ve tried to express them in ways that make it easier to understand C programming. And part of what enabled me to do that is forgetting about the standard.

Now, GCC follows the C standard. It will be quote “conforming” if you specify certain options, which you don’t actually have to specify. But by only describing what GCC does — and not all the other possible things some other compiler might do without violating the standard, it makes the manual much simpler and clearer. So I hope that once this manual has settled down, people will adapt it to cover other languages that are more or less of the same category.”

Thanks to the Slashdot users who transcribed some portions of Richards speech. If you’d like to watch some additional interviews and shows with Richard, I have some of my interactions with him posted here on The Lunduke Journal.

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