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In Pictures: Don’t call it Linux! And other things that tick off Richard Stallman

Love him or hate him, you have to admit that the founder of the free software movement isn’t shy about sharing his opinions on things he finds objectionable.

  • Recently, Richard Stallman, the creator of Emacs, the GNU project, and founder of the free software movement, said that OS X and Windows were “malware.” Of course, aside from being known as one of the greatest living programmers, Stallman is also known for not being shy about sharing his opinion on things he feels strongly about. While his criticisms may lack the sting (and brevity) of those that Linus Torvalds will regularly launch at things he doesn’t like, there’s no denying that Stallman’s stances are heartfelt, well thought-out, and consistent with his stated philosophies. Use the arrows above to read about 10 things that have drawn Richard Stallman’s ire over the years - and still do.

  • Cell phones Backstory: Richard Stallman is quite adamant about not having or carrying a cell phone, be it a smartphone or otherwise. One reason, he says, is that these phones always contain at least some non-free software, starting with the firmware and continuing up the stack through drivers, operating systems, and apps. Stallman even points out that Android devices, while being “less bad” than Windows or Apple smartphones, still have a long way to go to be truly run only by free software. Also, Stallman is strongly opposed to the many ways that cell phones can spy on a user, by tracking one’s location and activities, even potentially becoming a listening device. Quotes: “I am unwilling to hand over that sort of data about my movements at all, which is one reason why I refuse to have a mobile phone. I think that a court order should be required even to store data about people's movements.” November 2011 “There is a way to make a cell phone acceptable _for occasional communication only_: put a one-way pager in the phone, so people can page you if they are trying to reach you. That way, you can keep its radio connection off most of the time. When you get the page, you can decide when and where to reveal your location by connecting the phone to the network.” May 2014 “We must stop all the ways that phone companies track the location of portable phones, beyond the unavoidable minimum needed to know how to communicate with the phone.” December 2011 "I don't have a cell phone. I won't carry a cell phone. It's Stalin's dream. Cell phones are tools of Big Brother.” March 2011

  • vi Backstory: Among the many things that software developers argue endlessly over, one of the most enduring disagreements is about which editor is the best: Emacs or vi. Richard Stallman helped to create the original version of Emacs and later developed GNU Emacs, which is still very popular today. Not surprisingly, Stallman hasn’t hidden his dislike of his editor’s main rival, vi, and his devotion to Emacs. However, unlike, many of the other things which get Stallman riled up, his even he admits that his position in the vi vs. Emacs holy war is all in good fun. Quote: “It’s true that vi vi vi is the editor of the beast, but using a free version of vi is not a sin, it’s a penance.” January 2006

  • Being tied to the open source software movement Backstory: Richard Stallman began the free software movement in 1983 with the GNU project. “Free” software is defined as that which preserves its users’ freedoms, including the freedom to use, modify and redistribute the program as the user sees fit. The open source initiative, on the other hand, grew out of the free software movement in 1998 as a way to encourage open and collaborative software development. While the two movements have much in common, they are not identical, as all free software is open source but, depending on the license used, not all open source software is free software. To Stallman, the free software movement is a philosophy, while open source is a development methodology. The difference, he says, is important and words matter, so equating them by using the terms interchangeably is something which drives him batty. Quotes: “I never imagined that the Free Software Movement would spawn a watered-down alternative, the Open Source Movement, which would become so well-known that people would ask me questions about 'open source' thinking that I work under that banner.” May 2000 “Calling freedom-respecting programs ‘open source’ leads people to ask, timidly, ‘Please, sir, may I have some more leeway,’ rather than saying they deserve freedom and mean to get it.” February 2015 “What we achieve by distinguishing free software from open source is to call attention to issues of freedom.” October 2007 “... I never advocated ‘open source’; that's the slogan of people who disagree with me. I advocate ‘free software’, free as in freedom.” July 2013 “... I am not a supporter of ‘open source software’ and never was….” December 2012

  • Amazon Backstory: There are a number of large tech companies that Richard Stallman isn’t a fan of and Amazon is most definitely one of them. Among the many reasons Stallman gives for boycotting Amazon are that the company sells ebooks and digital music that deprives customers of their rights through restrictive licensing, that the Amazon Kindle - or Swindle, as he calls it - uses proprietary software and contains backdoors through which Amazon can delete books and update software, that the company reportedly abuses its employees by making them work in sweatshops, and that it hurts independent bookstores, small publishers, and authors through its near-monopoly power. It’s probably safe to assume he’s not an Amazon Prime subscriber. Quotes: “Amazon mistreats independent bookstores, publishers, authors, the national treasury, and its workers — as well as readers that use the Amazon Swindle.” July 2013 “Amazon’s Swindle is malware. That’s not its official name, of course. I am talking of an ebook reader which is designed to swindle readers out of their traditional freedom of reading.“ March 2012 “When Obama cited Amazon as the source of jobs in the US, he is saying that he wants Americans to have lousy precarious part-time jobs with no benefits.” August 2013 “Using the Amazon Swindle makes you stop lending books to your friends — which means you're not their friend any more.” November 2014

  • Ubuntu Backstory: On the surface, one would expect Richard Stallman to be a fan of Ubuntu, a free software distribution of GNU/Linux created by Canonical. However, since the release of version 12.10 in 2012, Stallman, already not a fan of Ubuntu because it installs non-free software, has focused his ire on Canonical and Ubuntu for including the “shopping lens” feature. The shopping lens sends user search queries from the desktop to Canonical and returns a list of relevant Amazon products to display. While users can opt out of this functionality, Stallman feels strongly that it’s spyware and that it should be removed completely. Since Ubuntu is free software, forks without this functionality have been created. However, Stallman feels it’s still important to avoid Ubuntu in order to convince Canonical to remove it, as a way to demonstrate the ability of the free software community to police itself. Quotes: “This is egregious and we need to teach Canonical a lesson. We need to teach Canonical not to spy on its users.” February 2013 “Any excuse Canonical offers is inadequate; even if it used all the money it gets from Amazon to develop free software, that can hardly overcome what free software will lose if it ceases to offer an effective way to avoid abuse of the users.” July 2012 “If users decide to install Ubuntu, I consider it a mistake….” March 2013 “... don't install or recommend Ubuntu. Instead, tell people that Ubuntu is shunned for spying.” July 2012

  • Microsoft Backstory: For many years, Richard Stallman has called out Microsoft for what he considers practices that abuse the rights of its users. In direct opposition to the free software movement which Stallman started, Microsoft, he feels, uses patents and monopolistic practices to impose its will on users and deprive them of their rights to use and modify software as they see fit. He has also referred to Windows as malware, because, he says, it impinges on users’ rights in other ways, such as by spying on them. Of course, it’s no surprise that Stallman has never seen eye-to-eye with a company founded by Bill Gates, a man who, in the early days of Microsoft, famously wrote an open letter to hobbyist programmers, accusing them of stealing of his software. Quotes: “Microsoft is known generally for imitation rather than innovation. When Microsoft does something new, its purpose is strategic--not to improve computing for its users, but to close off alternatives for them.” February 2001 “Windows is not just malware, it is a universal malware.“ March 2012 “It is unethical for universities to entrust their computing and email to Microsoft services because this exposes them to surveillance.” May 2014 “Microsoft demands that ARM computers sold for Windows 8 be set up so that the user cannot change the keys; in other words, turn it into restricted boot. Now, this is not a security feature. This is abuse of the users. I think it ought to be illegal.” June 2012

  • Software patents Backstory: Software patents exist, some say, to encourage software development by rewarding developers who create something new and useful. Richard Stallman, however, has long disagreed with this notion. Software patents, he says, create monopolies on ideas without even requiring software to be written. Granting patents for software, he argues, actually inhibits development by forcing developers to avoid using good ideas that have been patented. Patents also expose developers and software users, to the threat of lawsuit, again stifling development, he says. The solution, according to Stallman, is to grant a safe harbor for software that runs on general purpose computers. Until and unless that day ever comes, just be sure to not use the term “intellectual property” around Stallman. Quotes: “Software patents tie up every software developer and every computer user in a new in a new form of bureaucrat.” March 2002 “These patents put all software developers in danger, and users as well—a danger there's no reason we should stand for.” November 2012 “Trying to make software safe from patent extortion by fighting patents one at a time — under the patent system's current rules — is like trying to make people safe from malaria by swatting mosquitos (and only the ones that come within reach of your hands).” June 2013 “The way to prevent software patents from bollixing software development is simple: don't authorise them.” June 2005

  • Apple Backstory: While Apple and its products may be beloved by many, Richard Stallman has found many reasons to dislike the world’s most valuable company over the years. Among the many wrongs he accuses the company of committing are that it deprives users of the right to modify software on its devices, it exploits 3rd party app developers by underpaying them, it uses DRM to limit rights to, and practices censorship over, the ebooks and music it sells, its devices spy on users, and the company abuses the workers who manufacture Apple’s many “iThings.” When Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, Stallman was one of the few people who didn’t shed a tear. Quotes: “Apple is a pioneer in attacking the freedom of its customers, because Apple extended its control even over application installation. Users cannot install any program they choose; they can only install from Apple’s App Store. This is censorship!” March 2012 “The mere practice of referring to service staff as ‘geniuses’ is dishonest already.” September 2012 “The iThings are known for surveillance features — some delivered by Apple, and others delivered by apps. You'd be a fool to trust this; but then, you'd be a fool to use an iThing.” August 2012 “Nobody deserves to have to die - not [Steve] 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.” October 2011 “Apple is your enemy, and if you don't recognize this and fight, you're being a chump.” January 2013

  • When people call it “Linux” Backstory: Richard Stallman launched the GNU project in 1983 with the goal of creating a free software version of the Unix operating system. A key part of an operating is the kernel, which manages system resources like I/O, memory management, and device drivers. Part of the GNU project has been the development of a kernel, named GNU Hurd. Although development of GNU Hurd began in 1990, it still isn’t ready for production use. However, a good alternative appeared when Linus Torvalds made his new Linux kernel free software, releasing it under the GNU GPL license in 1991. The integration of the Linux kernel with the existing GNU tools led to a full-blown free software operating system, which most people refer to simply as Linux. Stallman finds this offensive, saying it ignores the contribution of GNU’s developers to the operating system’s success. Quotes: “I'd appreciate it if, when they talk about the GNU/Linux system, they didn't call it just ‘Linux’.” June 2012 “Calling the whole system ‘Linux’ leads people to think that the system's development was started in 1991 by Linus Torvalds.” May 2000 “Give us equal mention. We need it. We need it not just because it is fair but because it will help people recognize what we have done so they will think about what we are asking them help us do.” April 2006 “... your choice of words determines the message you transmit to others, which influences their thoughts, which then guide their actions. So it makes a difference what name you use.” March 2012

  • Proprietary software Backstory: In the early 1980s, Richard Stallman decided to devote himself to creating non-proprietary, or “free”, software and systems, starting with his announcement of the GNU project in September 1983. Proprietary software, to Stallman, is any software which he deems to be “non-free,” meaning it restricts users’ rights to use, modify, or redistribute the program through licenses, copyrights, or patents. Some open source software, using this definition, can be called proprietary. Stallman feels that proprietary programs often, eventually, include malware of some sort. By “malware” he means more than just malicious code, but also code that mistreats users somehow, for example by imposing censorship, conducting surveillance, or further restricting users’ rights to data they own (DRM). To Stallman, proprietary software, including things like Windows and iOS, is itself malware. Quotes: “The use of proprietary software in society is not development; it’s dependence. The use of proprietary software is a social problem. We should aim to put an end to it.” March 2012 “You know, if you were *really* going to starve, you'd be justified in writing proprietary software.” May 2001 “So many cases of proprietary malware have been reported, that we must consider any proprietary program suspect and dangerous. In the 21st century, proprietary software is computing for suckers.” May 2015

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