RMS: Still a Dick

The free-software, open-source world is full of characters, many of whom are known by their initials. Probably the most infamous of these is the president of the Free Software Foundation, Richard M. Stallman, or rms. RMS is notorious for his inability to interact with other humans in anything resembling a “human” way, and for his (some would say) infantile insistance on correcting and challenging other people’s choices about technology and software. Stallman believes all software should be open source, and that there is no moral place in society for closed-source software, or proprietary hardware, or anything of the sort. It’s an extreme position really only viable for someone who doesn’t have to interact with the business world more or less at all, but whatever.

Anyway, it should come as no surprise that rms had something to say about the passing of Steve Jobs. He was of course gracious and respectful while also acknowledging their ideological differences, and making the case for his own position.

No, I’m kidding. He said he was glad Jobs was gone, hoped his influence would end, and called all Apple users fools:

Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.

As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, ‘I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone.’ Nobody deserves to have to die — not Jobs, not Mr. Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs’ malign influence on people’s computing.

Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.

My first reaction is basically “Jesus, what a dick.” That’s not news; Stallman is infamous for inappropriate behavior, and more than a few folks have suggested his cause — the free distribution of software unencumbered by what he considers “onerous” intellectual property rights — would be better served by someone that didn’t seem so content to piss everybody off.

Fortunately, someone over at ReadWriteWeb had the time for an actual takedown:

It’s no secret that RMS and Steve Jobs held firmly opposed views when it comes to software freedom. I didn’t expect Stallman to hold a vigil at an Apple store for Jobs, or even to say much of anything at all. But his ill-considered response does nothing for the cause of free software, and actually does a lot of damage.


This is, unfortunately, typical of Stallman – and exactly why the self-appointed leader of the free software movement is the last person who should be spokesperson for anything. He manages to offend common decency by celebrating the absence of a man who contributed enormously to the world of computing, and insult millions of Apple users simultaneously. But I see no argument whatsoever here to persuade Jobs’ fans that they should be considering free software. Just a petty expression of relief that a rival is no longer available to compete with Stallman’s cause.

If Stallman had to make a statement emphasizing his dislike of Jobs’ influence, he could still have done so respectfully. Consider this; “I didn’t share Steve Jobs’ vision of computing, and I wish he’d chosen to embrace free software. I’m very sorry that he’s gone and we’ve lost the opportunity to have that conversation. My sympathies are with his family at this time.” There’s no need to pretend that Stallman liked Jobs, but his post is contemptible.

Even if you accept Stallman’s world-views on free software and ethics about software licensing, we shouldn’t be “glad he’s gone.” Jobs’s work has inspired a lot of free software developers over the years, and he and his teams at Apple set a bar for excellence that more developers should aspire to.

It’s unseemly to wish away those we do not agree with. What Stallman is saying, in essence, is that his ideals of free software can only compete with what users want from computing products when they’re less attractive. To me, that says Stallman would be happy to force his ideals on users rather than persuading them that free software actually matters. Or, at least, that he lacks confidence that it’s possible.

There’s more, if you’re geeky enough to care.

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