Richard Stallman - What is free software?

Συνέντευξη του Richard Stallman (ελληνικά)

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Richard Stallman: Free software means software that respects the user’s freedom. There are four essential freedoms that the user of software should always have:

* Freedom Zero is the freedom to run the program however you wish.

* Freedom One is the freedom to study the source code of the program and to change it to make the program do what you wish.

* Freedom Two is the freedom to distribute copies of the program to others, when you wish. Now this includes republication of the program.

* And Freedom Three is the freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others when you wish, and this also includes publication if that’s how far you wish to go.

If you have all four of these essential freedoms then the program is Free Software. Which means that the social system of the distribution of this program is an ethical system that respects the freedom and community of the users.

If one of these freedoms is missing, then the program is proprietary software, meaning that it keeps the users divided and helpless and gives the developer power over the users. This is an injustice.

Proprietary software should not exist and should not be used. If you want to have freedom while using computers, the only you way you can have it is by rejecting proprietary software. And that’s the aim of the Free Software Movement.

We want to replace proprietary software, with its unjust social system with Free Software and its ethical social system. And so we develop free replacements for proprietary software, and other free programs whenever we get an idea, so that the world can live in freedom. The part that uses computers, at least, in that one area of life. Because winning and maintaining freedom in general is a much bigger, much broader and harder activity, but this is one part of it.

RG: What are the key negative consequences of using proprietary software versus free software?

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Richard Stallman: Well, I’ve pretty much said already why proprietary software is bad because the developer has power over the users, the users are subjugated. And these developers use their power in various different ways, some hurt the user more than others, but they never should have this power in the first place.

So, with proprietary software the developer decides what it will do, and the users are stuck with that. The only way they can avoid whatever the developer decided is to stop using the program, to escape.

Whereas with free software the users are in control, the users decide what the program will do. And so Free Software develops in a democratic manner. Under the control of the users, the changes that are made and accepted are the changes users want to make and then accept.

RG: What are some of the key examples of Free Software that you suggest people to use or consider using?

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Richard Stallman: The fundamental instance of Free Software is the GNU operating system, which is the only operating system that was ever developed for ethical reasons, instead of for commercial or technical reasons, which is why most systems were developed.

I launched the development of the GNU operating system in January 1984 with the specific goal of making it possible to use a computer and live in freedom. In 1992 the last major gap in the GNU operating system was filled by the kernel Linux. So the result was the combination of GNU and Linux, which was the first complete free operating system. And because of this, there is at least the possibility of using a computer in freedom.

Before the existence of GNU/Linux, it was simply impossible. No one who used a computer could have freedom.

Long enough in the past, it was different, you know in the nineteen-seventies there were some other free operating systems, but they disappeared, and by the eighties there were none. There were none that could run on a modern computer back then. And so it was the existence of GNU/Linux that made freedom a possibility.

RG: Is GNU/Linux a system that now individuals, professionals and organizations can start to use for their daily operations?

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Richard Stallman: They do. Lots of organizations, lots of companies, lots of public agencies and lots of individuals already use GNU/Linux. It’s not particularly hard to use- it’s just different.

So, you have to make a certain effort to move to freedom. But its not a big sacrifice, so we’re lucky, because there are times and places where people had to make very big sacrifices for freedom, and we’re very lucky that they were willing to do so.

RG: To support those, who like me, favor change over the control exercised by large corporations and media, what are the type of actions that individuals can take?

Ogg file (non-proprietary) download

Richard Stallman: I wish I knew.

This is the greatest political question of our time.

How can we put an end to the empire of the mega-corporations and restore democracy? If I knew I would be the savior of the world.

What I think I can tell is that the media are crucial.

The power of the corporate media enables truth to be suppressed and lies to be passed as truth.

You’ve probably heard that a half truth can be worse than a lie. A lot of the things that our government’s and media say are one-tenth truths, nine-tenths lies. And it doesn’t take many of them together to create a completely fictional worldview, like the one that Bush says – presents – when he talks.

So I recommend that people stop listening to the mainstream media. Don’t watch television news, don’t listen to news on the radio, don’t read news on ordinary newspapers. Get [your news] from a variety of web sites, which are not operated under the power of business money, and you have better chance of not being fooled by the systematic lies that they all tell, because they’re all being paid by the same people to tell the same lies. Or nine-tenths lies.

End of interview.

Interview notes

As I was closing my camcorder at the end of the interview, Richard said casually: "...and do not post it to YouTube, as it doesn't use free software!"

Update Nov. 13th 06: Richard Stallman wrote to correct me about this. Though I jotted down his sentence on my notepad right after he pronounced it, Richard says to have said something different. Here it is: "...and do not post it to YouTube, as it doesn't work with free software!"

Though I wasn't able to find an alternative online resource that utilized free software and allowed me to direct stream the above video clips, I thought only fair to mention here Richard's own recommendation.