Happy birthday Richard Stallman!

Richard Stallman at The University of Pittsburgh in 2010
Richard Stallman at The University of Pittsburgh in 2010

Richard Matthew Stallman (Photo ©Victor Powell) was born on March 16, 1953 in New York City.

Richard Stallman has been active in the programming field since he was in high school, also working for the IBM New York Scientific Center. His intention was to study mathematics or physics but he was also a volunteer assistant in the laboratory of the department of biology at Rockefeller University.

At MIT, Richard Stallman became a programmer in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and became part of the hacker community, where he became known by his initials rms, an acronym that also means root mean square. In 1974, he graduated with honors in physics at Harvard University. Initially, he went on with his studies in physics, but after a while he gave up to concentrate on his work as a programmer at MIT.

Richard Stallman started his activism in 1977 when MIT imposed a policy of restricted access to its computer in the lab. In later years, his involvement increased when software manufacturers stopped distributing source code and to restrict the use of their products, also through hardware and software protecions.

In the early ’80s, Richard Stallman decided to quit his job at MIT, also to avoid any risk of interference, and focus on his own initiative: the GNU Project. Initially, the idea was to create an operating system composed of free software only, over the years it expanded leading to the creation of a series of licenses. The most famous is the GNU GPL (General Public License), which allows the use and development of free software, but the GNU FDL (Free Documentation License) was also created for free content related to software documentation and educational material.

On October 4, 1985, Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF), a non-profit organization that aims to remove restrictions on software copy, redistribution, understanding and modifications. Initially, the FSF worked to promote the development of free software, from the mid-’90s it was also active under a legal point of view for the defense of free software.

Richard Stallman has developed several free programs widely used such as Emacs, the GNU Compiler Collection and GNU Debugger. A kernel was needed to get all the basic parts of a GNU operating system and the members of the project started developing the GNU Hurd kernel. In 1991, however, Linus Torvalds started the GNU / Linux project, which ended up being the one that led to the success of the GNU philosophy.

Richard Stallman is always active with conferences and speeches around the world to promote free software, to be defended against attempts by corporations to impose greater and greater restrictions in the laws governing copyright. His ideas are contained in various books such as the two volumes of “Free Software, Free Society: The Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman” and “Free as in Freedom)”.

Sometimes Richard Stallman looks like a fundamentalist for his very firm stands but if you look at the attempts to make the laws on copyright and software patents more and more restrictive can we blame him?

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