Last year, I decided that 16 March would from that day forward be Richard Stallman Day. Most people don’t know who he is, but isn’t that typical of people who revolutionize the world? Let the Obamas and the Putins think that they run the world. The rest of us know that they are mere figureheads who the greater social forces allow their illusions of power. Richard Stallman has no illusions of power because he has no power. He is just a thinker — one who changed the world.
If you don’t know who Richard Stallman is, I will tell you. He is the guy responsible for the server that delivered these words to you. He started the Free Software Foundation and the GNU project. He wrote the gcc and g++ compilers — and much more. But most of all, he led the free software movement, which led to what is normally called Linux. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that it is called Linux, though. It is named after Linus Torvalds. And not to take anything away from him, but an operating system kernel is not an operating system. It’s like calling a quarterback a football team.
The history of GNU/Linux is typical of our economic system where 99% of all the work can be done, but the person who puts that final piece of the puzzle gets an overabundance of credit. The truth is that GNU/Linux was the result of many thousands of developers working over decades. And all of that should be honored. But just like the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is celebrated with the moniker of one of its great leaders, Martin Luther King Jr, GNU/Linux and the free software movement should be celebrated in Richard Stallman’s name.
I think we should build statues to Richard Stallman. But I don’t see that happening any time in the near future. For one thing, he’s a political radical. And he’s radical about things that most people have never thought about. Every time I hear him talk or visit his website, I’m struck by how much of a sellout I am. But I’m just not smart and brave enough not to be swept along by doing what is easy, even if it makes me somewhat queasy. Then again, I’m not a technologist. I would be happy to go back to the typewriter.
Barring that, Richard Stallman has done great work to make technology better. It isn’t just GNU/Linux. Although Big Computer has never embraced free software, it has embraced open source software. And that continues to have great effects. Richard Stallman started a movement that has had as great an effect on the world as anyone I can think of in my lifetime. The world owes him a great debt.
Happy Richard Stallman Day!