As founder of the Free Software Foundation, how would you define free software?
Free software means software that respects users' freedom. More specifically it means you as a user have these four essential freedoms:
1) To run the program as you wish.
2) To study the source code and change it, and thus make the program
do what you wish.
3) To redistribute exact copies when you wish – this is the freedom
to help your neighbour.
4) To distribute copies of your modified versions when you wish – this is the freedom to contribute to your community.
With these four freedoms, we users have control of our computing, both individually and collectively. A free program develops democratically under the control of its users, whereas a proprietary program develops under the dictatorship of its owner and imposes that owner’s power on its users.
The choice before you is the choice between freedom, co-operation and democracy on one hand, and subjugation, isolation and exploitation on the other.
You are keen to disassociate yourself from the open source community.
Could you explain how it differs from free software?
The licence criteria of open source are almost the same as those of free software, because they were derived indirectly from ours. The big difference is at the level of philosophy and values.
The free software movement's main values are freedom and co-operation. Proprietary programs that forbid co-operation or that cannot be changed by users are a social problem. Our goal is to put an end to that problem.
In the 1990s, there was a philosophical split in the free software community between those of us who wanted freedom and those who only appreciated the practical by-products of free software. In 1998, the latter group invented the term "open source", previously unused in this sense, as a way of talking about the field without alluding to any ethical criticism of non-free software. They associated the term solely with their practical values.
The ideas of open source have motivated some developers to release useful programs as free software. I appreciate those contributions to the community, but I don't agree with the open source philosophy or the values it is based on.
What influenced your decision to champion the free software movement?
During the 1970s, working at the MIT AI Lab, I was part of a large free software community that included universities and companies. At the AI lab we used an operating system that was free. Living the life of the free software community, I saw how good it was.
Commercial pressure, together with the obsolescence of the mainframe PDP-10 [Programmed Data Processor model 10], eliminated our community in the early 1980s. The prospect of using proprietary software for the rest of my life was so ugly that I decided to create another alternative.
In 1983 I announced the plan to develop a Unix-like operating system that would be 100 per cent free software. I dubbed it GNU for GNU's Not Unix.
Why do you think the different terminology - open source, free software, proprietary, GNU/Linux - is so important?
"Free software" and "open source" are the names of two different political viewpoints within the free software community - the community built by the free software movement. As a leader in the free software movement, I want my efforts to promote the movement and spread our ideas of freedom.
Thus, I decline to participate in activities labelled open source. People who agree with that stand are free to support it. I disagree with it, so I don't.
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