In 1983, Richard M. Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF) as a non-profit organization to promote the freedom and independence of software users. This mission has since become synonymous with open-source and free software leaders, who strongly advocate the FSF’s principles.
Recently, Stallman’s return to the FSF has sparked an uproar of reaction among open-source and free software leaders. In this article, we will explore what Stallman’s return means for the FSF and the open-source/free software movements.
Definition of Free Software Foundation
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting computer users’ rights to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. Founded in 1985 by software freedom activist and programmer Richard Stallman, the FSF is often credited with inventing the free software movement and fostering the free software definition.
The FSF campaign for free software can be divided into two main activities: providing legal support to defend the rights of its members when they are accused of copyright infringement, and publishing educational materials about copyleft (a license that allows its users to modify and distribute another person’s or company’s work without permission from the copyright holder). The FSF promotes six essential freedoms for computer users, which it believes should be granted to all computer programs:
- The freedom to run a program as you wish.
- The freedom to study how a program works and adapt it to your needs.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
- The freedom to improve a program and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public so that everyone benefits.
- The freedom from not having restrictions imposed by software patents on what you can do with programs.
- The right of commercialization/non-commercialization of modified works derived from an original program or piece of code released under free software licenses such as GPL or Apache License 2.0.
Most recently, in 2020 Richard Stallman rejoined FSF as President, a move which sparked outrage among many open-source and free software leaders as he had been at the center of various scandals concerning personal conduct over social media earlier in 2019-2020 such as transphobic remarks made towards trans women being highly criticized by many members of open source communities worldwide including those within Debian project he helped create himself.
Overview of FSF’s mission and history
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is an influential non-profit organization devoted to promoting computer user freedom and encouraging the development of free software or software whose users are allowed to freely run, share and modify the source code for it. It was founded in 1985 by famous computer scientist Richard Stallman as a way to spread his vision of a world in which software should be available for use by everyone. Since its founding, the FSF has grown into a major force in fostering the development of free and open-source software (FOSS) with its inspiring advocacy campaigns and public education efforts around the world.
The FSF’s mission statement is “to promote freedom of access to computing resources through free software”. In particular, they promote four essential freedoms:
- The freedom to run the program as you wish;
- The freedom to study and change the source code for any purpose;
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor; and
- The freedom to distribute modified copies with added features that suit your needs.
Recently, Richard Stallman has re-assumed control of FSF after a brief absence from his role as president due to personal troubles, spurring outrage among many critical open-source supporters who feel he’s no longer fit for service in such an important position due to his track record of controversial comments online about race, gender identity and other protected classes under US laws. Whatever one may think of Stallman personally, however, there’s no denying how powerful an influence FSF still is on modern computing today thanks largely in part due its founder’s original vision over three decades ago.
Return of Richard Stallman to FSF
The return of Richard Stallman to the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has sparked outrage amongst open-source and free software leaders. In recent weeks, Stallman has returned to the FSF, the organization he founded in 1985, and has since become a controversial figure in the free software community. The current issues have reignited the debate about Stallman’s role in the free software movement and the FSF’s mission.
Stallman’s past involvement with FSF
Richard Stallman established the non-profit Free Software Foundation (FSF) in 1985. The foundation was created to promote the free distribution of computer software, with a particular emphasis on making it free for any users to modify and distribute it. It also works to protect users’ rights to use, study, copy and modify the software in whatever way they choose.
Stallman continues as the visionary of the FSF today, with various positions within its architecture and system design. He originally served as its president until stepping down in 2009 due to controversies over his controversial comments about the age of consent laws and sexual harassment allegations at MIT. In 2014, he returned for a staff position in the organization’s technology team and has since been working towards developing copyleft licensing systems that seek to bring an end to proprietary web content. Under his tenure, the FSF also released several popular open source education tools such as Badges Intuitively Mentored Development System that assists students with hands-on coding experience while learning how different programs make up the internet infrastructure as well other initiatives like Gnu Free Documentation License (GFDL).
More recently, Richard Stallman announced that he was returning to the role of President at FSF following an outcry from open-source and free software leaders who felt his previous departure was a setback for digital civil liberties across the world. This return serves as an opportunity for the organization not only to continue its work towards advancing freedom software but become stronger than ever under Stallman’s leadership – thus sparking enthusiasm among its many supporters both within and outside of the GNU/Linux community for what new paths lie ahead as we look into future development under this new era at FSF.
Stallman’s recent return to FSF
Recently, Richard Stallman—the archetypal hero of the open-source software movement and founder of the Free Software Foundation—has returned to his role as president of the FSF after stepping down in 2019. This move has sparked significant outrage among certain open-source and free software leaders who contend that Stallman’s return would impede the progress which had been made in modernizing the culture and structure of the FSF under its interim president until now.
Stallman is a figurehead in the free/open source software movement, having spearheaded many initiatives such as releasing core components that have made up GNU/Linux OSes such as Apache, GCC, GRUB, Linux, and Bash. His reemergence at this particular moment has thus raised questions amongst many leaders in the technology industry regarding his goals with returning to FSF.
While some view this move as a major setback for community growth due to current allegations against Stallman (which include statements deemed inadequate by some as responses related to sexual harassment), others believe this may be an opportunity for him to use his influence positively within projects such as Debian and Let’s Encrypt. The return of Stallman thus continues to create much debate between open-source and free software leaders due to issues regarding his past conduct and the potential need for greater accountability from him moving forward.
Reactions to Stallman’s Return
The recent announcement of Richard Stallman’s return to the Free Software Foundation sparked outrage, confusion, and concern among many open-source and free software leaders. While Stallman’s return has been welcomed by some, others have expressed their deep misgivings about the decision.
Let’s take a look at the various reactions to Stallman’s return to the FSF:
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When Free Software Foundation (FSF) founder Richard Stallman announced his return to the organization in early April 2021, it sparked a wave of support and criticism among open-source and free software leaders.
Many noted that while they respected Stallman’s contributions to the field, they felt he hadn’t properly atoned for past statements that many felt perpetuated “rape culture”.
Furthermore, some felt he was returning to the FSF with no plans for meaningful reform or growth.
Some argued that it wasn’t suitable for the organization he co-founded to be led by someone who has made controversial remarks about, among other things, underage girls wearing revealing clothing and internet censorship. They held that, given his widely-publicized personal beliefs, allowing him to lead the FSF was reckless and irresponsible.
Others saw this as an opportunity for collaboration with caution. They proposed a solution in which community input would guide an environment where accountability is expected from leadership on critical issues like gender equality and social justice issues like racism.
Regardless of position on his return, all could agree on one thing: Richard Stallman’s return had sparked strong reactions among open-source and free software leaders.
Support for Stallman’s return
Richard Stallman’s return to the Free Software Foundation (FSF) sparked both outrage and support among open-source and free software leaders. While some of the open-source community felt that his return would be detrimental to the organization, some saw it as a step in the right direction for both FSF and Stallman himself.
One of the strongest supporters of Stallman returning to FSF was GNU project leader Luca Bruno, who wrote an Op-Ed in The Verge urging people to “support him, help him grow, clarify any wrongs committed in past… [and] welcome him back with outstretched arms.” This sentiment was echoed by Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker; while noting that she was not speaking on behalf of her company, she said on Twitter that re-engagement with the FSF was “really encouraging” and could have a positive impact.
Similarly, positive reactions came from other free software companies, such as Red Hat, Canonical, and Collabora; these organizations expressed hope that Stallman’s return would lead to a stronger commitment by FSF towards its original mission. Furthermore, many developers and community members shared online articles expressing their approval of Stallman rejoining FSF.
Although there is still dissent surrounding this issue in particular areas of the community – particularly related to some allegations made about Stallman – these reactions demonstrate that there is strong approval for his reentry into an organization he founded more than three decades ago with a single mission: ensuring that users everywhere can use all software freely without cost or restrictions.
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