• COMMENT 2019-09-08 BY OHI team

    OHI interview with Richard Stallman: The father of free software

    OHI interview with Richard Stallman
    The father of free software

    OHI project interviewed Richard Stallman on 8th September 2019 in Silicon Valley.


    It was the second time that we interviewed Richard Stallman, the father of free software. He traveled from San Francisco by train to our residence in Silicon Valley. And we needed to go to the station to pick him up. It is challenging to us because he doesn`t use the cellphone and the main way of connecting him is by e-mail and one of his friends' mobile.


    His computer is Lenovo ThinkPad, but the software inside is all free software, and he even hid the computer identification code MAC address because it is easy to be tracked. As one of the most famous programmers in the world, he positions as a defender of free faith and political activists.


    Interviewing with Richard Stallman is undoubtedly a challenging thing just like picking him up in the train station. Before our interview, he has repeatedly emphasized that his free software faith must be well understood and respected by us. Well, that should not be a worry for him at all actually. Because I have known him pretty well and I even wrote a 20,000 words article to introduce him 20 years ago.


    He sticks to his own beliefs and never compromises to business and reality. He insists on free sharing of software and open source code, and everything against it is naturally not "moral" in his perspective. In social common sense, pirates are immoral. However, in his point of view, the companies, who control the source code as its own intellectual property, and do not allow users to share it in the name of "pirates" , are immoral. Such subversive thoughts and minds opened our horizons and refreshed our world view.


    From his perspective, "free software" in English can easily cause ambiguity as the word "free" means both liberty and without charge in English. Therefore, Richard Stallman thinks that the translation of "free software" in Chinese is better since the two meanings of free have exactly two different words, "自由" and "免费" , "自由" means liberty, and "免费" means no charge, which is easy to understand and does not cause any misunderstanding. He is so familiar with these two words that his pronunciations are pretty accurate.

    I met Richard Stallman twice in the late 1990s, he visited China often at that time. However, recently he has not traveled to China again. Because he is determined not to go to the country where fingerprints are needed. Also, He pointed out that the United States was the first country that needed fingerprints for entry and exit inspection, and afterward more and more countries followed it. He lists the countries that require fingerprints to enter, and the name list is certainly getting longer. For a man who has been to dozens of countries, the world is clearly moving to a direction he does not like. He certainly dislikes Trump, because he believes that Trump destroys democracy.


    As the interview went on, Richard Stallman became more talkable and told us detailed stories of the origin of his free software spirits and its development processes, we found that he is a person who can communicate easily. Later, his friend came, and they needed to rush for the next appointment. The two-hour interview had to end and hope we can interview him again next time.


    The biggest change of Richard Stallman is that his belly got bigger than ever, and his shirt can hardly be buttoned up. However, I have to say that his belly was not small before either.


    As one of the most important thinkers in IT history, Richard Stallman was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame by Internet Society (ISOC) in 2012. His idea of free software and the open-source software derived from it are undoubtedly critical to the success of the Internet.


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