I recently attended a Chicago tech meetup that featured none other than the fabled Richard Stallman, a true pioneer in the technology industry. Stallman started the GNU project — something that you may have never heard of but that has impacted your computing life in a great many ways.

Stallman’s presentation was a fairly straightforward walkthrough of software freedom and why it matters. He underscored why “free software” is not a description of its monetary cost, and more importantly is not a synonym for “open source.” “Open source” is best described as a development and distribution methodology, whereas “free software” is more of an ideology. Open source software is simply software that gives you access to the source code; free software is software that entitles you to specific rights and freedoms of using that software. There is a ton of code that is open and does not cost money, but is not necessarily free.

Stallman’s talk was fascinating; and what I took away from it is that there is often a difference between pragmatic decision making and ideological purity. Limiting yourself to solely free software solutions is often inconvenient or inefficient. Regardless, Stallman is a staunch advocate for the free software ideology. While I personally favor pragmatism, I respect his position and am glad that he holds it. The activism work that Richard Stallman does is neither glamorous nor easy, but it’s work that benefits us all and it’s worth learning more about.

Banner image (Front of the envelope with the “Copyleft (L)” sticker) mailed from Don Hopkins to Richard Stallman in 1984 by Don Hopkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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