Richard M. Stallman: Troll

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you may not be aware that Steve Jobs, co-founder and legendary CEO of Apple Inc., has recently died after a long and protracted battle with pancreatic cancer. After the announcement of his death, many news outlets (tech-oriented and otherwise) ran lengthy tributes to a man who has forever (and often disruptively) altered more industries than any other in recent memory.

The day after Jobs’ death, Free Software visionary and GNU Project founder Richard M. Stallman had this to say about the man:

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.

Upon finding this post via Twitter, my immediate reaction was a deep loss of respect for Stallman, a man whose contributions to the Free Software movement cannot be understated. The way that I see it, Stallman and Jobs are one in the same. Both are (or were, in the case of the latter) visionaries, both contributed immeasurably to an industry that employs, informs, and entertains me on a daily basis, and both are/were zealots when it came to their personal opinions about software.

Now I’m not an Apple guy. Far from it, in fact. I don’t own a single Apple product, I use Linux whenever and wherever possible, and I only break from the four essential freedoms when obtaining and enjoying media that cannot be accessed otherwise. But regardless of your thoughts on Steve Jobs, the man deserves your respect.

While Stallman qualified his statement by noting that nobody deserves to die, he also focused his personal fanaticism when it comes to the perceived threat of non-free software directly on the shoulders of one man in a world of many.

There’s something about Freedom that Stallman doesn’t seem to (or want to, as all accounts paint him as a pretty smart dude) understand. It’s a simple point, and one that needs to be reiterated often: Freedom is the right to choose. In politics, in products, and in computing, freedom is the right to choose what is best for you.

Steve Jobs put his ideas and his products into the free market, and paying customers often chose them above those of Stallman. Perhaps those customers got shafted, but when faced with a choice between the freedom to edit configuration files and the beautiful design of an Apple product, they unsurprisingly chose the latter.

That’s freedom, whether you like it or not. Fuck Richard Stallman.

Further Reading:


  1. You know, I don’t really disagree with this.

    “Freedom is the right to choose” is what primarily differentiates Free Software from Open Source. Open Source proponents say that you shouldn’t be restricting how users can use your software in the name of “freedom.” That’s not freedom, they say.

    I see free software restrictions as a social contract thing. Living in a free and democratic society, you don’t have the freedom, say, to not pay taxes. Similarly, if we were living in a free software world (and we’re not), you wouldn’t have the freedom to use proprietary licenses.

    We could have a long and lively debate about whether this is a good thing. I mostly fall on the free software side of things, but then I work for a proprietary software company and advocate Ubuntu, which has a bunch of compromises that takes it away from the Nirvana of free software purity.

  2. Well said buddy! Steve was a great guy, I’m sure whole world loved his innovations. He gives apple a new introduction to the latest innovation world. I’m sure apple and all of the lovers Steve will miss him very much. Thanks

  3. When I went onto his site the first thing I though was this just reeks of “I’m right, you’re wrong, if you don’t think like me just shut it”. It just seems so arrogant, from the ‘Don’t use Facebook (It’s evil bla bla bla)’, the massive amounts of really unfounded propaganda, and the whole crappiness of the design of the site which just seems like he can’t be bothered.

    This isn’t a personal attack on him, and if he reads it don’t take it personally because I’m not saying you are like that, it’s just my impression from the info, and I understand that not all people will agree with me or might interpret it that way, but he just doesn’t sound like the sort of person I’d like to be friends with!

  4. @Darcy
    The problem I have is that most Open Source software specifically has a great ‘backend’, but the UI is just terrible (Ubuntu memorable exception). The problem is that it’s all designed by comities of lots of members, all with different views, so in the end I find that it’s just a mash of loads of ideas that look rubbish.
    Case in point, VLC Media Player, greatest Media Player ever, but stock UI sucks!

  5. @Darcy:
    I didn’t really consider the difference between Open Source proponents and Free Software crusaders before. Given the two options, I am most certainly an Open Source guy. There is a lot of benefit to Open Source, and some companies (including large ones like Google) make a great deal of money despite their ties to Open Source, plus the net benefit for society is huge. With that said, I think that a Free Software World would be a very bad place. Frankly, I like being employed to write software, even if the end result is proprietary. I fail to understand how the industry would move forward at the rate that it does if everything was Free in the Free Software sense.

    @Nathan Smith:
    It isn’t just about Apple fanboys and Steve lovers. Everybody owes the man some respect for the things that he accomplished during his career. It’s like the Beatles: You may not personally like their music, but if you know anything about the history of recorded music, you can’t deny the contribution that they made to modern music. For that, you owe them your respect, regardless of your personal feelings.

    What the hell are you talking about? Also, while not all Open Source projects have terrible UI, I will agree with you that it is generally something that the community could stand to work on. Part of the issue is that Open Source software is often written by engineers employed by huge companies and hobbyists who work in their spare time, not by teams with full design capabilities. Open Source software like Linux is also often used in Server environments, and so is designed with functionality above usability in terms of priorities.

  6. Yes, Richard Stallman can be a dick sometimes, but I’d ask that you keep an open mind.

    There are concrete advantages to the GPL and other share-alike licenses over BSD-style licenses. I don’t think Linux would have been nearly as successful or attracted nearly as many contributors (many of whom are competitors) with a BSD-style license.

    And I do think RMS’ framing of software and copyright issues as essentially human rights issues is also important and hugely influential.

    You might consider finding one of RMS’ free software talks on the net sometime. He addresses (deliberately and methodically) many of the points you bring up. And he brushes some aside too. You many still disagree with him, but I think it’s worth your time hearing him out. Even if it’s so you can understand the arguments to defend your position against far more zealous free software advocates than me.

  7. @Darcy,

    Again, I can’t find much to disagree with you on here. I can think of instances where share-alike licenses are very desirable indeed. For example, if a media codec were made share alike, then media distributed in that encoding could be played on nearly any device that one could imagine.

    Thanks for your insight.

  8. “Freedom is the right to choose”??
    I’m astounded by this new fad of interpreting freedom substantially as “availability in the market”. that is… market. freedom is something else.

  9. @Robi – Yes, freedom is the right to choose. That is not the same as “availability in the market.” One can be free yet operate in a market that does not offer a variety of choice. However, one is only free if they are able to choose between the many options in a market. In short, you’re an idiot.

  10. One noticeable thing… when people die they usually become sooo good people. I do not know Jobs personnally like, I guess, none of you. Maybe Jobs was the greatest guy ever, maybe he was just a moron. The only visible thing is what was wearing his trademark, and most of these thing were not his own creation but the creation of his engineers. Ipod like anything else from apple was not coming out from Jobs mind but from people working for Jobs. Yes that guys did a lot of things in the computer history… yes he his one of the guys that put down the basis of what we are using now, but be careful this was 30 years ago, since then he was mainly a business man that built an empire using his legend and carism.
    Did stallman said rough thing, yes maybe, but hey why not? Isn’t it a right to have an opinion that differ from other ones?
    Something to remember about open source/fsf community, apple did its comeback with OS X… and this would not have been possible without bsd, and on the open source side apple didn’t act so cleanly as we think. One of the rule of a community is to give back to the community as much as the community is giving to you… apple took the best from the community without giving anything… is that a good behaviour? I don’t think so, but hey maybe I’m wrong and I am just an idiot.

  11. @Lou – You’re right, we do tend to put people like Jobs into martyrdom when they die. And you’re right that he did not single-handedly create all of the gadgets that Apple has sold over the past 10 years. However, it’s important to remember the role of a good CEO in any company. While Apple’s engineers may have created the actual devices, they probably would not have succeeded if not for the leadership of Jobs. As for not giving back to the open source community, you’re right. Apple did base OSX on top of BSD, and they did not (as far as I know) give much back. However, giving back is not a rule of the community. To the best of my knowledge, Apple’s use of the open source licenses was 100% above board. If the community wanted to stop businesses like Apple from re-packaging and re-selling their products, they should have used a more restrictive license that requires derivative products to be open sourced. Clearly, this wasn’t important to the community when the project was established, so we can’t really hold Apple to task for it.

  12. Hello

    I think it might be you that’s missing something: The right to choose is one type of freedom sure, but there are more fundamental and important freedoms that Steve Jobs actively infringed on on a daily basis. There’s piss all point having the choice between coke or pepsi if I don’t have the right to say “I’m not thirsty”.

    Apple offers one more Intel x86 platform with another OS to run it, along with the thousands of others that do. Apple’s existence doesn’t prove Steve Jobs was a force for freedom, but it’s policies of actively trying to take away people freedoms, *including* their freedom of choice by trying to lock people into their products, argues against it. Steve Jobs spent his life acting in opposition to everything Stallman has ever stood for, Stallman’s sentiment is hardly surprising given that Jobs was one of the staunchest adversary to his goals; and I don’t really see how that makes him a “Troll” either.



  13. Absolutely, and Apple’s draconian policies are largely responsible for the IBM PC platform “winning” the format war in the 80’s, and MS eventually gaining it’s current stranglehold on the industry. If he’d kept his negative impacts to his customers, that would be one thing, but his approach was far more universally applied, and has helped to stifle, not enhance, innovation. In the end I think his overall impact on the industry has been negative, not positive.

    Given Apple’s truly awesome level of marketing, I think Stallman pointing out one of the real downsides of choosing Apple isn’t anti-freedom at all; it helps people make an informed decision and therefore is pro-freedom, isn’t it?



  14. Stallman is 100% correct.
    Jobs is not an innovator.
    Too many people are acting like he was some type of Saint.
    No apologies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.