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richard stallman iñigo martinez   Richard Stallman is one of the best known faces in the free software movement. He is one of the founder members of the GNU project that was set in motion 20 years ago. When you take a look at his curriculum vitae, the word ‘genius’ springs to mind: he studied at Harvard and he worked on developing operating systems – by that time he developed the editor Emacs – at the prestigious Boston MIT Artificial Intelligence laboratories until 1984 when he dropped everything and got involved in the setting up of the GNU project. The free software movement has a lot to thank him for. He hasn’t been involved in programming for a few years now. Since then he has travelled all over the world like an apostle spreading the evangelism of free software in his role as director of the Free Software Foundation. That said, a short interview with him is more than enough to add another achievement to the long list he has already accumulated; that of myth-killer. His questionable hygiene, bad manners and disdain for the person speaking to him eclipse his academic and programming achievements as well as the huge work he has done in support of free software. One doesn’t take from the other, but it’s much easier to admire his work from a distance.

How do you think development of the GNU/Linux system is coming on at the moment?
I don’t know whether free software or private software will win out in the end. That’s in everybody’s hands. There’s a lot of natural inertia out there that comes from users using these programmes. Add to this that Microsoft do a lot of work on encouraging that inertia by signing special agreements with different institutions all over the world. They’re giving away programmes to schools, so that students get used to using their products. But those programmes aren’t free once you get outside school. They give you your first dose of drugs for free.

The development of GNU/Linux in servers and other specialised areas (animation, supercomputing...) has come on faster than work in other areas. Every year we hear talk of how GNU/Linux is going to take the jump to everyday users’ computers, but it still hasn’t happened, even if the amount of users is slowly growing.
It’s true that until a few years ago the GNU/Linux system didn’t have the good user-friendly graphics and interface that it should have had. The GNU/Linux system has never focused on these areas that you mention, but the use of these poor graphics was basically limited to those areas. Nowadays, on the other hand, we have proper interface graphics. There as comfortable and as user-friendly as those found in Windows.
(he thoughtfully tugs a few loose hairs from his beard, rolls them up into a little pile and leaves it on the table, as natural as you like)
Having said that, I don’t think that we should focus the advantages of free software on the technical side of things. We should focus on the freedom afforded to the user. All programmes contain errors, some of them put there on purpose and some accidentally. Free software gives the user the freedom to access the codes, the freedom to correct and improve the codes and the freedom to pass those codes on to somebody else. Private software always restricts the freedom the user has. For example, the freedom of the press doesn’t mean that we all have to publish a newspaper, but it does mean that the freedom to do so is there if we want to avail of it.

What do you think of the increasingly popular Mozilla Firefox and Open Office software libre applications for the Windows system?
It’s better to use Windows with Open Office than with other private desktop productivity programs. The fact is that it’s much more probable that people will start using free software in gradual steps rather than jumping in head first. The question here is not to use one application instead of another but rather to get people to abandon the use of private software and to start using free software, to move over to that world of freedom.
(this time he pulls out a toothpick from god knows where and digs out a few more hairs from in between the gaps in the keys in his laptop. He goes through the same procedure with these hairs: pulls them out, rolls them into a ball and drops it onto the table, as natural as you like)
So, I think it’s a great idea to use those programmes because they are the first steps down the right road. I must admit though, that I’m not the best person to be giving advice on changing over from Windows other systems because I have never once used Windows.

What do you think of the European Union’s recent efforts to introduce a patenting system, much akin to the one in The States, in the area of software?
This is a really serious problem. As you have pointed out, the European Union Commission is trying to get a law passed on software patenting system by using all kinds of dirty tricks, the worst of which is the fact they are trying to go against a decision taken by the European Parliament. That’s antidemocratic and that’s why I support the disbanding of the EU. It’s not right that a few public civil servants can introduce laws that go against decisions taken by the European Parliament and the governments of its member states. For instance, the Dutch Parliament came out against patenting software but the Dutch Government is doing exactly the opposite. Total corruption. The European Union is danger to democracy and it should be dismantled.
(time to gut stuck into the hairs on his head...)
The idea of a politically unified Europe appeals to me, but only if that union is democratic. And the truth is that what we have now is democratic only in appearance. The EU parliament has no real power of decision. It’s different in the USA, you’ve got a democratic system there, but it’s also true that it doesn’t work as well as it should. Members of Congress and the Senate pass tyrannical laws, the power of the media is uncontrollable...

Moving away from computing to other areas of creativity, what kind of effect do you think GNU has had on the Copyleft movement?
Copyleft is a tool that helps avoid user restriction of published work. But I see it as a means rather than as an aim in itself. That’s why I never comment on the Copyleft movement. For example, I don’t think that copyleft should be approached the same way in music. Unlike in practical creativity, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to allow people access to change what has been created. It’s nice to give people that opportunity , but I don’t view it as a must. I defend the rights of users to make private copies once there is no commercial benefits being looked for.

euskadi, ven y cuéntalo
We received Stallman in Bilbo invited by the SPRI. This is what he wrote in his web (www.//agia.fsf.org/rms-blog/entry-20041223):
"After my speech in Bilbao, part of an event sponsored by the Basque region's government to promote free software in local businesses, my hosts gave me a bag with a few gifts--designed, I would guess, to introduce the visiting foreigner to something about the region (mainly with a view to drumming up business, I think). The next morning, as I was getting ready to leave, I unpacked the bag. One of the gifts was a record of music by Kepa Junkera, a well-known Basque musician. I had heard the name but never heard his music, and I wanted to listen. But the front of the box said "Copy Control". Suspicious, I read the back of the box. In several languages it told me that the record could be played on Windows and Mac systems. It didn't say that the record can't be played on GNU/Linux systems with free software, but it wasn't hard to deduce that implication. They had given me a Corrupt Disk as a gift!
I think this was the first time I actually held one in my hands. How ironic. I had mentioned the EUCD in my speech, and how the unavailability of DeCSS could in itself convince millions of people to reject free operating systems, but I don't think I specifically mentioned about Corrupt Disks. I would have mentioned them if I had suspected I'd be given one.
I handed the disk back to the person who had invited me, saying "Here you see the face of the enemy. Please bring this back to the store and get your money back, so they won't get any profit from this, and please, don't buy Corrupt Disks!"