Richard Stallman: GNU do you think you are?
About 10 years ago, when I was just a junior reporter in my first stint at PC Pro, I interviewed Richard Stallman, the self-styled “software freedom activist” and GNU Project founder.
To say the interview didn’t go smoothly would be like saying there’s a small spot of bother between Israel and Palestine. About 10 minutes into the interview I asked him a question about Linux. Big mistake.
“There’s no such thing as Linux,” Stallman shot back, before forcefully explaining that referring to it as anything other than GNU/Linux was a grave personal insult because it failed to recognise his work on the GNU project.
So I wasn’t altogether shocked to read the following comment in an online Q&A with Stallman that was published this week on Reddit:
At the 1999 Atlanta Linux Expo, I was standing there chatting with you and a group of people. A very young boy (around 14 years old) very timidly approached you to thank you for your work and what you have done. He was obviously very intimidated and spoke only a couple of sentences, but unfortunately made the mistake of referring to “Linux” instead of “GNU/Linux”.
You ripped into that boy and tore him a brand new a*****e, and I watched as his face fell and his devotion to you and our cause crumpled in a heap. You destroyed that boy with your harsh words.
Someone in the FSF [Free Software Foundation] told me a year later that you had changed for the better and you were much calmer. My question to you now is: do you regret the harsh tone you’ve dished out to so many people over all that time?
Stallman’s answer denies all knowledge of the confrontation and suggests the questioner might have “exaggerated” it – which I very much doubt, as it sounds almost identical to the strip he tore off me.
In his defence, Stallman does admit he shouldn’t have behaved in such a manner, before stating:
I will try my best to keep my good humour as I explain that the system is GNU/Linux. You can help me succeed by joining in the work. If you make a point of calling the system “GNU/Linux” and explaining why, the error will gradually become less common.
Perhaps more people, journalists included, would be willing to give Stallman his due credit if he learned that manners – like his preferred type of software – cost nothing.
(Image courtesy of Daniel Villar Onrubia)
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