“Pay attention to your freedom instead of self-serving forecasts” – Richard M Stallman speaks with Poornam Media

January 10th 2008 was special for Bobcares in two ways. The day saw the release of Bobcares’ first open source software venture vTonf. The second speciality was the visit of Dr. RICHARD MATHEW STALLMAN, Founder of Free Software Movement, who did the honours by releasing the software and addressing Bobcares. It was indeed a dream come true for every BOB.

Poornam Media Representatives, Vinu Deena Mathew and Kichu Mubarak covered an exclusive interview with Dr. Stallman. The conversation between them and RMS elicited a lot of information. A special mention and a huge load of thanks to Amit James and Unni Krishnan, who helped us compile a good set of questions. Read through…

Kichu Mubarak: What according to you are the largest challenges faced by Free software movement?

RMS says: “The biggest threat comes from laws that prohibit distribution of certain free software. Some countries have laws prohibiting software that enables users to overcome Digital Restrictions Management. Some countries allow software techniques and structures to be patented. Both of those laws have the effect of censoring free software.

Just now there is another attempt to authorize software patents in India. It is urgent for citizens of India to take political action against this; please contact the Free Software Foundation of India (gnu.org.in) to help.”

Julia Mathew: What, in your opinion, is the free software community’s greatest accomplishment so far?

RMS says: “We have made it possible to do computing without being under the dominion of software developers. We achieved this by developing convenient free operating systems such as GNU/Linux and BSD, and thousands of free applications.”

Kichu Mubarak: You have been travelling around the world promoting Free software, how do you rate the spread of free software in those countries, especially in India?

RMS says: “On my short visits to a place, I focus on spreading the word about why free software is necessary for a free society. Measuring usage is a different job, which I don’t do. However, I have seen that there is a strong free software community there.

India is very fortunate in that Kerala is moving its public schools to free software. What is needed now is to convince the rest of India to do likewise.”

Julia Mathew:What are the strategies that FSF have against Microsoft’s vision:- “the era of ‘open computing,’ the free exchange of digital information that has defined the personal computer industry, is ending.”

RMS says: “If Microsoft says that, it appears to be an attempt at a self-fulfilling prophesy. If people believe it, they may make it come true.

The way to deal with that is to refuse to let Microsoft lead you. Pay attention to your freedom instead of self-serving forecasts.”

Kichu Mubarak:We have been hearing that Linus Torvalds may not license GNU/Linux under GPL v3; he would rather prefer to stay with GPL v2. Do you think this is going to hinder the growth of GPL v3 or GNU/Linux?

RMS says: “First, Torvalds decides the licensing of the kernel, Linux. He has no say over the licensing of other programs in the GNU/Linux system.

Some people call the GNU/Linux system “Linux”. This confuses the whole (the operating system, GNU/Linux) with one part (the kernel, Linux), and thus confuses the facts. If you call the system “GNU/Linux”, that helps clarify the difference, as well as giving the GNU Project a share of the credit for the system that we began in 1984.

To your second question, “Do you think this is going to hinder the growth of GPL v3 or GNU/Linux?”

I see no reason why it would have that effect, but keeping Linux under GPL v2 will hurt users in their use of Linux, because it will allow practices such as tivoization that deny them the freedom to modify their copy.”

Julia Mathew: Most free software is released under GPL v2. What issues and concerns does the GPL v3 address?

RMS says: “The overall purpose of GPLv3 is the same as that of GPLv2: defend the freedom of every user. We have improved GPLv3 in many specific ways, including gentler termination for violators, better internationalization, and protection against new methods of denying the users their freedom. For the most important of these specifics, see http://gnu.org/licenses/rms-why-gplv3.html. For full details, see the Rationale document in gplv3.fsf.org.”

Kichu Mubarak: RMS, Which among your projects would you rate the best?

RMS says: “If you mean specific software projects, GNU Emacs is my personal favorite, but I think that the GNU Compiler Collection was the most crucial for the free software movement.

Both of these are part of a much larger overall project, the GNU operating system, which I started in 1984 to make it possible to use computers and have freedom.”

Julia Mathew: India is said to be a large consumer of FSF product. India has a large engineering resource which can be used in FSF/Opensource. But currently we can see that the participation of Indian software/engineers/designers in FSF/Opensource is much lesser that Latin American countries, From your view point what may be the reason for that?

RMS says: “Break! It is a fundamental mistake to model political activism in terms of business, so I don’t not want to use the term “FSF product”.

The Free Software Foundation is not a business, it is a political organization that campaigns for freedom for users. So if you want to say that we have a “product”, that product can only be freedom.

Likewise, I don’t want to talk about users as “consumers”, because that assumes they are passive and can only use what we give them.

And about this “India has a large engineering resource which can be used in Free Software. But currently we can see that the participation of Indian software/engineers/designers in Free Software is much lesser that Latin American countries, From your view point what may be the reason for that?”

I don’t know whether that is true. It seems to me that India has pretty strong support for free software, compared with most countries.”

Kichu Mubarak: Many companies which uses opensource product such as novel are signing deal with MS. Is that dangerous to FSF? Do you have any plan to block such activities ?

RMS says: “It isn’t particularly dangerous to the Free Software Foundation as such, but deals such as the Novell-Microsoft pact do threaten the freedom of free software users. This is why GPL version 3 has provisions to defend against such pacts.”

Julia Mathew: Okay. The FSF media format ogg. Most of the studios and music factories produce media files in proprietary media formats. What is your opinion on this fact?

RMS says:

“We FSF uses the Ogg formats, and promotes them, but calling them “FSF formats” gives us too much credit: we did not develop them.

The most common format for music is MP3. This format is not secret, and in fact there is free software to make MP3 and to play MP3. But the algorithms needed are patented in some countries, and some free software distributors in the US do not dare distribute those free programs.

We release our audio and video materials only in Ogg formats because we want to lead the world to switch to them.”

Kichu Mubarak: In a country like India, where there are lot of regional languages, Free softwares needs to be translated to local languages for bringing the spirit of FSF to local people. We can also see that there are several projects those works based on this aim. How much importance does FSF gives to such initiatives ?

RMS says: “Translation is the first thing that non-English-speaking people think of doing when they want to contribute. But translation only helps a specific subset of the users — those that speak the language you translate to. Thus, we urge people to consider making the other kinds of contributions, those which that help users in all parts of the world.”

Julia Mathew: Most of the software giants give sponsorship to good projects by students and usually the result of those projects will become their proprietary products. Do you have any plan to support such projects by students so that they will become a part of Free Software?

RMS says: “The FSF is not in a position to do this, because it would cost a lot of money. What we do instead is teach people to recognize that non-free software is unethical. We hope that some students will understand this, reject the temptation to make their software proprietary, and spread the ideals of free software where they are.”

Kichu Mubarak: RMS, The GNU/HURD, the free operating system by FSF is still in development. What is the current status of that project and when will it be released like GNU/Linux?

RMS says: “The GNU HURD kernel is making little progress nowadays. Perhaps it will someday be good to use, but it won’t be soon. This is a disappointment, but not a disaster, because the kernel Linux is available. The usual version of Linux contains non-free software (firmware “blobs”), but free software advocates maintain a free version. See http://directory.fsf.org/project/linux.”

Julia Mathew: Most of the sysadmins and articles refer to vi instead of Emacs. What may be the reason?

RMS says: “I have not heard that, and I wonder whether it is true. Which sysadmins and articles are you looking at?”

Kichu Mubarak: FSF has started the development of Free Bios. What is the current state of the project? When will be the release of a computer with free BIOS ?

RMS says: “There is already a free BIOS, called Coreboot. The FSF can’t take the credit for this work, but we’re very happy that it was done.

There are already desktop and server computers that work with Coreboot; you just have to be careful to choose them. The problem is in laptops: there are no laptops that work with a free BIOS except the OLPC. We keep trying to convince laptop makers to sell laptops that run free BIOS.”

Kichu Mubarak: RMS, If you don’t mind can you please tell us about the operating system you run on your laptop now? Do you have preference for any particular GNU/Linux distribution?

RMS says: “I use gNewSense, one of the few distros that has the policy of rejecting non-free software.”

Julia Mathew: All know Stallman – But, nothing about your family. Can you please tell something about your family ?

RMS says: “I don’t have a family, and I don’t want one, because I don’t want to dedicate my life to getting money to pay for children. That is life on a treadmill! Meanwhile, it contributes to overpopulation, which is harmful and dangerous to the world.

By not having a family, I have remained free to do with my life what I think is best. Thus I have enjoyed life and achieved something important for the world.”

Kichu Mubarak: Microsoft has launched an open source project “Open XML Translator” (http://news.zdnet.com/2100-3513_22-6090912.html)for Microsoft Office to open and save documents in the OpenDocument, or ODF, format. What is your Opinion about such moves by this software giant. Is that a business trick?

RMS says: “Looking at that article, I cannot see anything visibly bad about the plan. However, I cannot tell whether the program will be free software. Most open source licenses are free, but there are a few that are somewhat too restrictive. I don’t know what license Microsoft will use. For that matter, we can’t even be sure the program will be open source just because Microsoft said so.

A plug-in for Word, as such, is of no use to anyone in the Free World. Word is proprietary software, so if you use Word, you have already given up your freedom. However, it is possible that people could modify that plug-in to make a program that would run stand-alone to convert between ODT and some kind of Word format.

That might be a useful program, but it could require a lot of additional work.”

Julia Mathew: From your personal Home page we can see that you prefer gNewSense as a linux distro. But, that is created from Ubuntu. What is your opinion about Ubuntu, which is also not using any proprietary software in it and one of the most used distro currently?

RMS says: “I wish you were right about that. The fact is that Ubuntu does offer to install non-free software. That is why I will not recommend it. It is also not nice of them to call the whole system “Linux”, but that is less important as an ethical issue than installing non-free software.”

Kichu Mubarak RMS, In your site we can see that you are using search engine software htdig for searching your site. Which search engine do you use for web search?

RMS says: “I’d rather not recommend any specific one.”

Julia Mathew: How is the activity of FSF in India? Are you getting much support from Indian software community?

RMS says: “FSF India is a separate organization. I don’t keep track of its activities in detail — you should ask them if you want to know more. But one thing that it is now doing is fighting to block the new attempt to institute software patents in India.

You asked “Are you getting much support from Indian software community?”

There seem to be a large number of free software supporters in India. However, that is likely to be a small fraction of all the computer users in India. So there is plenty of room for more to support us.”

Julia Mathew & Kichu Mubarak: Thank you, RMS for the time you have given us from your busy schedule.

RMS says: “Thank you. Readers can join FSF India (gnu.org.in) and increase our support. “


Poornam media is the official newsletter of Bobcares.


Articles By Kichu and Julia About the Interviewer:

Kichu Mubarak, a Systems Engineer at Bobcares, has been in Poornam since the 14th of February 2007. Just within 2 months of joining Poornam, he was noticed for his innate ability to understand people and deal with different angles of vision, and was thus selected to be a reporter for Poornam Media. Kichu displays a unique confidence to tackle problems in critical situations. This mission oriented man, portrays an intense passion about anything he puts himself into. These qualities have made him the Team Lead of Poornam Media within just 1 year.

Vinu Deena Mathew aka Julia worked as a Systems Engineer at Bobcares for 14 months. Julia as she liked to be called, is an innately passionate person, who never backed down from any challenge that came her way. Communication is her forte, and the company of people brought her, into her element. These qualities coupled with her excellent analytical and innovational abilities made her the face of Poornam Media. On the lighter side, her unassuming character and chatty nature always brought a smile to all around her. Right now she is doing her Masters Degree in Computer Networks.gplv3.fsf.o


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