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RMS – Too Crude to Lose

Richard Stallman at the University of Pittsburgh 2010 (courtesy Wikipedia)
When it comes to software freedom, Richard Stallman is a bomb throwing anarchist. That’s a good thing. The FOSS community needs a few bomb throwers in its arsenal.

His job is to keep the bad guys, those who constantly attempt to usurp our principles for their own gain, at bay. More importantly, his job is to expose them, which helps keep us FOSSers from believing the spinmasters when they use Orwellian magic to convince us that “closed is open.”

We are susceptible to such spin.

We love our Linux, we love our GPL, we love our “free and open” so much that we often jump on the bandwagon to proclaim projects “free and open” just because they contain some open source code. Look how pleased many of us are that Android runs atop the Linux kernel. That means it’s got to be FOSS, doesn’t it?

Nope. Nyet. Nada.

We get confused. We think that OSS is the same as FOSS, which it isn’t. There are lots of open source licenses that don’t guarantee software freedom, and the closed source guys are always more than willing to take advantage of them. Take Apple’s OS X for example. It’s built atop one of the open sourced BSDs. Apple makes most of the source code available for a look see and attempts to win us over by calling that “open source.”

But what can you do with with the OS X source code after you look at it? Can you install it on your vanilla version X86 machine? Can you distribute it freely to all of your friends? Can you modify it and make those modifications available to the public? The answers: nope, nope and nope.

The list of companies pushing non free software on us under the banner of “open source” is long. There are also companies embedding open source software in their devices in ways that are completely contrary to license restrictions. We FOSSers often drink the Flavor Ade and accept non free software as free because we get drunk on the idea that we’re winning, just because there’s OSS in the lineage. As for free code that’s hidden in devices, we’d never even know it was there if not for the suspicious minds of Stallman and his ilk keeping a wary eye out.


So Stallman said that he’s glad Steve Jobs is gone. Now everyone is acting surprised, exclaiming “I can’t believe he said that” and calling for his head on a stick. This reaction is just nuts. Of course he said that. What part of RMS do you not understand? He’s a bomb throwing anarchist, remember. Also remember, we need bomb throwing anarchists – and we don’t need them to just throw bombs when it pleases us.

When he threw the Jobs bomb, FOSS media was covering the death of Apple’s founder as if he was a tech Gandhi. Being caught up in the spirit of the moment, we were drinking the Flavor Ade being served up by the mainstream press. Wasn’t that an inspiring commencement speech he gave at Stanford? Didn’t his products make computing more assessable to the public and didn’t the iPhone revolutionize mobile computing? The answers: yep, yep, and yep.

However, we were about to forget that those things were only a part of Steve Jobs. We were about to forget that Steve Jobs had a dark side and that he was absolutely no friend to FOSS.

That’s when RMS threw his bomb or slapped us in the face or (insert your metaphor here).

Steve Jobs was also a tyrant; you wouldn’t want to work for him. And what about the way that Apple, under his direction, was going about filing lawsuits seeking to stop Android at every turn? Or how about the fact that much, if not most, of Apple’s software is built on open source code that has been turned proprietary and closed – with very little being returned to the open source community?

Yes indeed, Mr. Stallman is very crude. His farts probably stink and his piss probably smells like urine. I doubt whether RMS cares whether we like him or not. He just wants to stop the bad guys. He just sees himself as a software freedom fighter – which I guess he is. If we win the war for software freedom, a consequence might be we’ll find we’ve won other freedoms as well.

I’m sorry that Mr. Stallman can be a jerk – but I’m glad he’s on our side.


  1. PatrickEB PatrickEB October 11, 2011

    Dear Christina,

    Having met RMS only once, having read about him and read his comments and watched video of him, it’s my opinion that he can’t be any different. It’s not a matter of choice but a matter of his neurology. If he were to be born now, he’s receive a lot of assistance to help him become more personable and social and to learn the cues that most of us take for granted.

    All of that said, the guy is a real-life genius and, as you say, a bomb thrower…and we need him and others like him. FOSS/FLOSS needs him and the world needs him but doesn’t know it – we just benefit from his actions and thoughts.

    RMS may well lack a lot of the social skills we take for granted, but I don’t believe he was being consciously cruel or nasty when writing about Steve Jobs death. In fact, he was merely stating that it’s not a happy moment for anyone to die, but he felt that Jobs was a malign force in computing and electronic social media.

    I felt it was sad that he died and especially so young (my father died at 46 and my sister died at 49) and I have a lot of sympathy for his family and him. I have not sympathy for his behaviour as the head of Apple and share this with RMS.

    Thanks for the very interesting and well written article.


  2. macias macias October 11, 2011

    It is not about FOSS, or anarchy, or iPhone, or anything like that.

    Simply, manners matter — I don’t need any jerk on my side, because it is not jerk side.

    It is a bit disturbing, that the concept of WHAT we say and HOW we say it, is so hard to grasp. Considering your vocabulary, you should be comfortable with jerks though.

  3. Edwin Edwin October 11, 2011

    Sigh. So we’re fools, just like Apple users are fools, and we need RMS to alienate and insult everyone in order to keep the bad guys at bay, and to protect us from our own incurable gullibility? That makes so much sense. So this is the path to winning people to Free Software: insult and abuse them, call them stupid, and never ever make a case for Free Software itself– just berate and attack. Got it. Thank you. I needed you to tell me what to think today. I have no idea what I’ll do for tomorrow.

  4. Bill Cannon Bill Cannon October 11, 2011

    I have never had any use for any of Steve Jobs’ products or politics. The same goes for Bill Gates. I never had any use for any of his products or politics, either. They were both ill-mannered jerks.

    There is not a day, however, when I do not utterly depend upon and put to use the freedoms that Richard Stallman fashioned and taught us to demand for ourselves.

    I know what a legacy is and it is Richard Stallman who has established and articulates what really matters and what really will endure.

  5. darkduck darkduck October 11, 2011

    Mr.Jobs has gone. I am sorry for his friends and relatives.
    But as a person who never understood and barely used Apple products… I don’t care.

    PS. I still like Pixar job. It was Job’s job too.

  6. MH MH October 11, 2011

    We live in an Orwellian world where the media fabricates an illusion, manipulated by the powers that be, to keep all the little wage slaves in line. Any time someone points out the emperor has no clothes they are sure to be ridiculed or damned. Heaven forbid anyone should bring attention to any inconvenient truths.

  7. Microlinux Microlinux October 11, 2011

    Sigmund Freud once said: “I don’t have any problems with my enemies. It’s my friends who are causing me headaches.” I’m 100% GNU/Linux since 2001, and I run a small IT company specialized in Open Source solutions for professionals. I guess I subscribe to most of RMS’s ideal when it comes to software. But this is NO EXCUSE to stand in the first row at the funeral and piss on the grave. Absence of tact, rudeness and insults have never won a cause. Quite the opposite.

  8. nattydread nattydread October 11, 2011

    Has any one ever thought that Mr. Stallman may be Autistic?(Aspergers). His traits are very similar to one with Aspergers Syndrome. Poor social skills, very blunt, and extremely genius. I suspect this is the case. And if so and if I could I wouldn’t have it any other way. Mr Stallman has brought to computing than Bill Gates and Steve Jobs combined. Mr Stallman is a freedom fighter. The established incumbents may view him as a terrorist. Well I say he is a hero in the war against the big guns to preserve people’s freedom. Lets face it, if you don’t have total control over a technology then that technology controls you.

  9. Ozgur ILGIN Ozgur ILGIN October 11, 2011

    Stallman’s timing was bad and also his words were reckless.But it does not change the fact that
    1)Jobs was not a FOSS or FLOSS guy
    2)There is no clear difference between apple and old Windows/Intel cartel.
    3)Jobs did not cahange the word at all. The real change came from FOSS/FLOSS front and “Jerk” Stallman was one and maybe most important one among those of.
    4)A demise is always sad regarless of who died. And despite his reckless words, stallman is not glad. Double-check his article.

  10. woo woo October 11, 2011

    I LOVE RMS… and you for posting this!
    Why? RMS is and remains true to himself, doesn’t change direction based on corporate winds.

  11. Brian Wilcox Brian Wilcox October 11, 2011

    Thanks RMS, he’s on the mark again! No I don’t mind the loss of Steve, anyone stupid enough to be threatened by a doctor would never cure him self was destined to die anyways. You can’t trust the AMA any more than you can trust the M$ or Apple so that’s that.

  12. nick nick October 11, 2011

    To be perfectly honest, I heard more than one cry of “ENOUGH!” from quite a few tech friends over the past week.
    Listening to the press both mainstream and tech rewrite recent history and thrust under his name inventions which he popularized but did not create.
    After hearing the Xth announcer and tech specialist talk about how Jobs invented the MP3 player in 2001 and totally (my college roommate worked for Diamond when it got sued for its MP3 players in 1998 by the RIAA) created products out of his marvelous genius, many people went into a predictable backlash mode.

    No one ever wishes death on a person but I understand the sentiment of RMS. Apple’s whole mystique is built into the myth of Jobs genius. Whether he invented tablets, music stores, apps store, mp3 players or flat screen phones or not wasnt important. It was selling essence De Steve in every product. More than Gates or Linus, his myth was a useful as J.Peterman’s was in Seinfelds tv series.
    His departure affects a company and its brand like no other.

    It is possible to feel empathy for a human beings loss without having respect for him as a person or technologist.

  13. AC AC October 11, 2011

    Re: Macias

    Placing form over substance is intolerable. The substance of what is communicated is far more important than the manner in which the information is conveyed.

    RMS hit the nail on the head. Jobs is all but deified by his legions of faithful, but the end result of Apple’s success is the limited freedom of Apple customers – who were, and remain, blindly complicit in their own victimization.

  14. istok istok October 11, 2011

    … if any of you mourners are wondering where your revolutionary, visionary steve is right now, this suggests he’s moved to a much warmer climate:

    all in all, i don’t know what possessed stallman to be so kind in his reaction. gentilezza, i guess.

  15. PatrickEB PatrickEB October 11, 2011

    October 11th, 2011 at 7:10 am

    This was what I was hinting at when I said that his issues are neurological. I don’t wish to be insulting to RMS but the little contact I had with him one evening and the videos, reports etc (as well as comments by friends who have met him more) would all suggest Aspergers Syndrome. I’m not aware of any formal assessment nor aware of what he thinks of such statements.

    Given this, it is not unlike someone with such a condition to make such comments as he does and to act in the fashion as he does. A jerk would be someone who knowingly acts in this way. He’s not a jerk.

  16. Darwin Darwin October 11, 2011

    I can’t compete with you, so I wish you the death!
    to be gone, is an euphemism for DEATH!

    People should always have the choose, even to lock themselves down!
    You call Apple products prison, for a friend of mine, it was the liberty from the prison of blindness! he’s blind and for the first time he was able to use the same cool Product every one else does/ can do!

  17. Al Al October 12, 2011

    Most people don’t realize that RMS (and he’s not the only one) is fighting a war, the kind that’s just “under the surface”, so not everyone is able to feel it.
    But everyone that’s not blinded by the media can see that the FOSS movement needs him, as their “frontal assault” man, they’re fighting a war that currently prevents us from being locked in, from being controlled in our daily lives.
    Do you people actually think that companies like Apple are interested in anything more than your money?
    Jobs was surely a visionary, in both worlds, he envisioned a “better” product, better for its users, and better for its sellers, and he sold it really well, that’s all. Anyone that actually CAN think, can see that the walled garden he created is actually a prison for freedom, and that is what RMS is fighting against.

  18. Dave Lane Dave Lane October 12, 2011

    I’ve had the privilege of spending a full day with RMS, and while his style of personal interaction is abrupt (to the point of being awkward), once you establish a rapport of sorts, you realise the incredible generosity and patience RMS is forced to display every day. Ultimately, he sees the significance (implications, ramifications, and nuances of meaning) of *everything*. More importantly, he appreciates it and acts on it.

    Given the sort of misunderstanding of his *very precise* language by nearly all those offended by his statement on Jobs’ demise (he’s not happy he’s dead – as some commenters have mis-quoted. He’s simply glad he’s gone – that he’s no longer present to spread his unfortunate influence), I can understand why he might be a bit abrupt from time to time.

    Most people aren’t as prescient, focused, or flat out intelligent as he is, and he doesn’t blame them for this. He just tries to ignore those elements and focus on challenging and clarifying his principles, and then – get this people – he *lives up to them*.

    It would be fair to say that RMS is an inspiration to me – a hero for taking on such an unforgiving and (as can be seen here) often unpopular struggle with such tenacity and commitment – and I say that after spending a long day in a car conversing with him, listening to his beloved Hungarian folk music, and walking around mountain passes with him.

    Once you calibrate your expectations to his personality (and yes, in my uneducated opinion, Aspergers is not out of the question) he’s both a friendly and extremely genuine and generous character.

  19. silverlokk silverlokk October 12, 2011

    Maybe I quibble but two things:

    1. Apple used BSD-licensed code, and therefore didn’t have to contribute back.

    2. Apple has one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry. Maybe you wouldn’t want to work for him but a few thousand did want to.

  20. John Navratil John Navratil October 12, 2011

    I’m sorry (fill in here) is dead, but I’m glad he is gone.

    This this with…

    Saddam Hussein
    Osama bin Laden
    George Bush
    Dick Cheney
    Barack Obama
    Bill Gates

    and see if you feel the same each time. This hagiography of Steve Jobs is silly.

  21. Ivan Ivan October 12, 2011

    “He’s a bomb throwing anarchist, remember.”

    As historical references go, this one to the haymarket massacre is the worst one that you could have chosen. There is little evidence that it was an anarchist but lots of evidence that it was a corporate goon that tossed the bomb into the crowd to inflame public opinion against the demonstrators.

    Unless you are trying to say that RMS is a corporate goon actively seeking to keep the linux desktop from a majority of computers, you should have chosen a better reference.

  22. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | October 12, 2011

    @Ivan He’s not a goon. He’s not seeking to keep the Linux desktop from a majority of computers. He’s a bomb throwing anarchist whose bombs are not made of dynamite, but out of words and actions.

    Thanks for the history lesson. However, the counter culture reclaimed the term back in the 1960s. We own it now, not those who would seek to usurp us.

  23. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | October 12, 2011

    @silverlokk My point entirely. The BSD license is a perfect example of an open source license that doesn’t guarantee software freedom.

  24. Misinormed Misinormed October 13, 2011

    As with any organised religion, FOSS advocates/extremists will try to ram their ideals down everyone else’s throat, whether they want it or not.

    It seems the movements requirement for “Freedom” takes precedence over basic human emotions and decency, who then is the intended target for software, if not human? Robots?

    How many Redhat “support businesses” can the economy sustain in order to keep all source for all programs “free”? Consider how you would feed yourself and family in your ideal world. Do not count on your fellow mans ability to “Do The Right Thing”, because you all have surely lost your way to do the same. Decency. You have none.

  25. NoTY NoTY October 13, 2011

    I won’t be glad when he’s dead, but I will be glad when he is gone.

  26. Justen Robertson Justen Robertson October 13, 2011

    It’s okay, you don’t need to apologize for him. There’s this perverse idea that we have to make excuses for people we respect when they do something we can’t reconcile with our image of what a “good person” is. This is not the case. Stallman stuck his foot in his mouth. Saying “I’m glad he’s gone” about a recently deceased person who was loved by a lot of people is a dick move.

    It was crass, yes, and agitprop is often crass; but the difference between agitprop and what Stallman did is that agitprop is supposed to be effective. You’re right, in this case he was a “bomb thrower” – which, to many FOSS advocates (as with bomb throwers to many anarchists), makes him a liability. You see, throwing bombs doesn’t make the rest of the world want to know more about your philosophy; it makes you, and by extension the whole movement you claim to represent, look like a bunch of juvenile assholes, to be ignored at least and eliminated at worst.

    Anyway, I have a ton of respect for Stallman, but that doesn’t stop me from saying it was over the line. Whatever Jobs was, he wasn’t a mass murderer or some insane megalomaniac; he made products that a lot of people who don’t give a damn about FOSS liked, so they bought those products freely and voluntarily. None of us who care about FOSS were ‘taken in’ by Jobs. I have yet to meet a person, even an iFanboi, who has made the claim that iOS is open, let alone FOSS. Jobs didn’t do anything to help FOSS, that’s for sure, but if he created a product that was better than anything the FOSS movement has to offer, that’s our failing, not his. Maybe Stallman is glad he’s gone; that’s fine, but saying so publicly was a dick move, and that’s all there is to it.

  27. GreyGeek GreyGeek October 13, 2011

    “2. Apple has one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry. Maybe you wouldn’t want to work for him but a few thousand did want to.”

    The majority of Apple “employees” work in Apple’s manufacturing plants in China. Working (and living) in their locked down environments, sleeping like sardines stacked three high in conditions which wouldn’t be allowed in US prisons, unable to leave or live a normal life, certainly results in “low turnover rates”.

    The plain, unvarnished truth is that if RMS did not defend the GPL, even with rhetorical bombs, FOSS, which is TOTALLY dependent on the GPL, would never survived and prospered as well as it has.

  28. Conrad Conrad October 13, 2011

    People who are able to be insulted are weak.

  29. Kukulkan Kukulkan October 13, 2011

    The ridiculous hyperbole and simpering fawning over Jobs is absolutely pathetic. Seriously, one guy even goes so far as to equate rms posting his own opinion on his own blog to “standing in the front row of the funeral and pissing on his grave”? Give me a f***ing break you whining tool.

    People die every day, and just because they’re dead doesn’t suddenly negate the very real damage they may have caused while they were alive. So while you may require hypocrisy in others, it doesn’t mean rms (or anyone else for that matter) is required to dance to your tune. In short, get over yourself.

  30. Nagarjunary Nagarjunary October 13, 2011

    Seems some folks here, and many tech-minded folks in general, seem to forget this:

    the fitness evaluation criterion for life isn’t naked truth, nor naked intelligence.

    RMS provides both naked truth and naked intelligence; however, his message is not evolutionarily fit, because human society requires MORE than just truth and intelligence.

    It requires things like empathy and tolerance… the ability to cooperate, even with those whose ideas you do not share.

    These are not signs of weakness. Quite the contrary. They are signs of evolutionarily refined strength: they are the true litmus test of a species’ ability to survive: to socialize successfully.

    RMS doesn’t get it. Truth doesn’t win out on its own. You must convince, and that is an inherently social act.

    FOSS software is a wonderful idea, and were it not driven by an anti-social asshole, it would be more widely praised and accepted for the great idea it is.

  31. Misinormed Misinormed October 13, 2011

    @Nagarjunary: Well said. Prepare for a multitude of negative remarks and justifications from the dedicated followers though.

  32. David David October 13, 2011

    Steve Jobs was a sociopath, he didn’t belong in human society because he did not push towards progression or advancement of humanity; he pushed for progression and advancement of his company. He was not a visionary, he was not even that intelligent, if you look at all the facts, steve jobs takes credit for other people’s work.

    Take a look at the pathetic fools that mourn the death of steve jobs, take a good look at them and see their inferior intellect.

    Steve Jobs was not an empathetic man, he was not creative, nor should he ever be regarded as a family man; he was a business man, and sociopaths are great at doing business.

  33. Daeng Bo Daeng Bo October 13, 2011


    Indeed, Stallman is more like Col. “I ordered the Code Red” Jessep than an anarchist, standing on the fence line and keeping his troops prepared for skirmishes and battles.

    The world needs principled people. Those principles are the major difference between the Free Software of RMS and the Open Source of ESR.

  34. Kenneth Kenneth October 14, 2011

    A lot of people won’t understand Mr. Stallman’s tactics. Still, it is impressive that he is getting some results. I admire Steve Job’s work and vision. I find his lost such a waste. He will be remembered and I am grateful for his contributions.

  35. no no October 16, 2011

    1) recall Niven’s Law. There is no cause so noble that it won’t attract a**holes.

    2) I would rather have RMS on my side than most. Blunt or no (“autistic?” really? has the therapy racket pathologized plain-spoken honesty now?), he has principles and he speaks the truth.

    3) Veritas magnus est et prevalebit.

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