crypto and public policy

Free Software: Not Exactly a New Fad

Filed under: Free Software September 27, 2003 @ 1:00 pm

Twenty years ago, Richard Stallman started the GNU project to provide a liberated alternative to highly-constrained closed software. The idea was and remains simple: users should be in full control of their software, including running it, modifying it, and restributing their modifications. Throughout the years, Stallman has often been characterized as a freak, a man who cannot compromise on his “ridiculous” principles. In the face of this criticism, even from people in the same camp, Stallman has steadfastly maintained his principles of uncompromising freedom, true to his words of 1983.

Many believe the “open-source movement” is a fad started around 1998, but its roots go back to the dawn of computers. Companies sold hardware and shipped it with accompanying limitation-free software. Then some realized they could make money off software. To do so, they constrained software usage rights. The Free Software Foundation and GNU project were, in fact, reactions to industry changes. Neither new nor untested, the principles of free software are the very ideas that made the Internet and software revolutions possible.

Stallman is a genius. In Lessig‘s words, he is the “philosopher king” of our generation. Stallman’s other writings include a short essay entitled the Right to Read. When it was written (1996), it seemed ridiculous. Today, it seems prophetic and incredibly scary.

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