Lunch with rms

Lunch with rms

Acad: I propose to go to a little cafe because if we go to a restaurant we have no time.

RMS: OK. If the cafe has lunch then that is nice. OK.

DC: I read on your...

RMS: Sorry, did you check?

DC: Well I am afraid that it wasn't recording. Track 2 was remained resolutely at zero there.

I read on your website that you calculate that about 28% of the code in most distributions comes from GNU-Linux.

RMS: [Interrupting] I don't know about most distributions. Well, first of all it's Guh-noo.

DC: Guh-noo.

RMS: I don't know about most. This is a calculation that was made by one person who made a distribution, one particular version. Now I would guess it's probably more or less the same but, you know, if you add a lot of stuff to the distribution, then that fraction will get smaller. On the other hand, what won't change...

DC: [on attempting to cross road at zebra in face of hostile French motorist behaviour] Oh, no mercy eh?

RMS: on the other hand is the ratio between that and Linux which was 3%. And it is clear that the GNU project is the biggest single contributor to the system.

DC: Shall we?

Acad: There is just very fast food here, and I think we can do better.. eh [indicates another restaurant]

DC: We're in your hands.

RMS: Well why did you bring us here if you didn't want us to go here?

Acad: [indicates neighbouring restaurant] May it is quite better here...

RMS: OK, fine. I'm not objecting, I'm just confused.

Acad: They have a plat du jour that is a little cooked. It's tomatoes and rice and salad.

RMS: Sounds good.

Acad: Well if it's not too much noise...

DC: Well, it's a very high quality recording. We can test... [looks at gain meter, which is satisfactory, though also registering a lot of traffic noise on the main road 3 metres away] I'm going to push this in your direction [pushes mic to RMS]

RMS: Shall we start with [impeccable pronounciation] une assiette de charcuterie? [/impeccable pronounciation].

DC: Go right ahead. It's all on me.

Acad: If we want to be sure to be finished in 40 minutes, then we can take plat du jour, or if you want starting...

RMS: Yes, I said the charcuterie, peut etre?

Acad: of starting. And then the plat du jour?

RMS: Maybe. I guess. I saw some other things I might like, I guess we could ask if they would take a long long time. If they have confit de canard...

Acad: I am afraid that...

RMS: That'll take a long time.

Acad: We shall ask?

DC: And shall we have something to drink? I'm going to have some sparkling mineral water...

RMS: Water's fine with me. [indicates table carafe of water] I don't want any of that. I have plain water.

DC: [to academic] would you like a beer? I'm sorry, I'm Douglas by the way. [shakes hands]

Acad: Ashlieau Rutle (?) I think easy to read... but

DC: [spills water] Oops. Ha ha.

Acad: Hashim. [to waitress] [Fr, about time pressure]

RMS: Hay une heure

Waitress: oui, oui.

RMS: Moi, je prend le confit du canard.

HR: Du avee une entree?

RMS: Es-que.. is everybody going to have the plat du cha...

DC: I'm going to have the plat du jour, so

RMS: OK, would you like the idea that we all get une assiette du charcuterie?

DC: OK

HR: Yep, one, between us

[to waitress] ...[Fr, the order]

Waitress: Friteau?

RMS: Is there another choice?

Waitress: Salade?

RMS: Bien, D'accord. Des frites.

HR: A beer?

DC: Are you having beer? I'll have a beer.

HR: [to RMS] Tu veux boire...

RMS: Non, non.

HR: Voila. Deux bieres.

RMS: [over the top] Es-que vous une salade con confit? (???)

Waitress: Une salade de arte (???)

RMS: Oui

Waitress: Vous-voulez ???

RMS Oui oui oui. Je prefere un salade verte.

HR: Other ordering in French.

DC: Combien de... [breaks down immediately] Whenever I try and speak French I speak Spanish...

They laugh.

HR: I understand Spanish, but...because I speak Occitain, and I confuse Occitain and Spanish and when I try to speak Spanish I speak.

DC: Occitain is like catalan is that right?

HR: Yes it is very close.

DC. I spent a summer in Barcelona when I was a medical student in 1987, but I'm afraid my languages are all rusty now.

RMS: I never go to bars.

DJC. Just Barcelona.

RMS: One bar or another as far as I'm concerned they all smell like beer.

DJC: You're not a beer drinker then?

RMS: I hate it.

DJC: Do you smoke?

RMS: It tastes so bitter.

DJC: Right.

HR: I come back. I'm going to take cash.

DJC: I'm going to pay for this if that is in order.

RMS: It's up to you.

DJC: Yeah, no, I'd like to. It's an honour to meet you. I read about you in Stephen Levy's book, as I think I mentioned in my email, and at that point it left you as a kind of lone hero, battling against the odds...

RMS: Well, that's what I was, but fortunately I'm not lone anymore.

Waitress: something

RMS: but it is that determination not to accept the chains of proprietary software that animates the GNU project.

DC: [to waitress] con gas du presion...

RMS: no no the minerale gaseuse. Il n'est pas d'autre. Il prefere de bubbles.

Waitress: somethign

RMS: de petite bouteille?

DC: I really like to drink a lot of water.

RMS: But you can get several small bottles. It's possible.

DC: I've got a big bag. It's warm here compared to London.. so

RMS: so this is why I want the GNU project to get credit for what it has done, because if you look around the community in most places you see people who are taking a weak position for freedom. They say, well yes, I like free software, but if it's more convenient to use proprietary software, if there's some practical benefit of accepting chains, then they accept chains. Well, how are people going to win freedom with such weak determination for freedom? And normally, if you look at the institutions that use the name Linux, they spread this attitude of weakness, willingness to use proprietary software, just for mere expediency. The place where you see determination for freedom is the GNU project. So I want these 20 million people who the GNU system to know that they're using the GNU system, to know that they're using a system that exists specificially because of people who were determined to fight for freedom. Because if they don't know that, then they tend to think it is impracticable to be so idealistic. Really, in the long term though, there's nothing more practical than idealism. What could possibly keep people going making a long effort to to reach some difficult goal, if not idealism? Anything else, they'll just sort of drift away, and that's the danger that the community is in now: the danger of drifting away from the goal of freedom. I'm worried that five years from now... you see, today, if you look hard you get a complete free operating system: you can use a computer in freedom. It doesn't have all the features that someone might wish but you can do it. Five years from now that may no longer be feasible because if most of the community doesn't really care if they add non-free software, it may be hard to keep a free system running at all. That is the biggest long term danger to our community: is that people who don't care about freedom very much will let it go.

DJC: Incorporating proprietary building blocks...?

RMS: Exactly. I'm pretty confident that five years from now there will still be something that derives from the GNU/Linux system. It may be mistakenly called Linux, as the systems are today. It may have many important pieces of free software in it, some of which we know today, but it may be shot through with non-free software, and thus completely useless for the purpose of freedom.

DJC: Yeah. One of the problems we identified this morning in the medical developer's workshop was that a lot lof the government regulatory processes for software are quite onerous, and it is a challenge to meet those requirements which from many points of view seem reasonable. For example, mission critical software such as prescribing...

RMS: They want to check, right.

DJC: For example in my own country, in the UK, there is a 5000 ukp fee to put any piece of software that is going to be used in the NHS (the predominant health care provider) through the process, and that's obviously going to be difficult for...

RMS: But here's an interesting point

DJC: small organisations or...

RMS: but this actually in a sense a business opportunity. Because normally when they certify a program you want to get the certified program, you want to get it from who ever distributes certified copies, and so somebody can make a business of properly supporting and certifying versions of GNU/Linux and then selling the certified copies to user sites, or making a contract with the National Health Service saying ³We'll support this and get it certified, but of course it's going to cost some money, probably less that you would have paid for some proprietary program, because it won't have the same kind of restrictions, but the point is that this should be a business opportunity for free software business.

[lunch arrives]

RMS: I would say that those requirements are not unreasonable, given that they are meant to protect public safety. You probably know more that I do about the radiation machine that exposing people to too much radiation because of a software bug. You want these things to be double checked for that use...

DJC: Absolutely

RMS: and I can understand the NHS saying we won't allow anybody's modified version to be installed on our machines. You see, freedom to make a modified version is one thing, but whether you can install it on a NHS machine for their use is another. You know, they probably want to use only the same version that was certified.

DJC: The way the things happen at the moment tends to be that software houses takes it on, they do a lot of work in certifying software, and then

[waitress interruption]

RMS: J n'ai attendu Beaucoup de Brie ici

[more waitress/RMS discussion about the menu]

RMS: Je prends un steak

HR: Comme cuit?

RMS Comme le chef prefer...

DJC: Normally those things are tightly coupled together: the process of getting a piece of software through a certification model and

RMS: and

DJC: and selling the software for subsequent use. So what you're proposing is a departure from that.

RMS: Somewhat of a departure. But not a big one. Because if the NHS wants to use it, they can make a contract with someone who will support the program and get it certified. Basicially, someone who will fix whatever problems are discovered in the certification process and produce something that is assured to work reliably who will deal with any problems that arise.

DJC: I agree with you. I think it would be a workable business model for the NHS to insist... in fact there are lot of good arguments for saying that all the contracts that they write are open source as a result.

RMS: I don't do open source

DJC: or free software or whatever

[waiter interruption]

DJC: OK, so... did you have to change from the duck?

RMS: Don't worry about it.

DJC: It should be a great opportunity for the NHS...

RMS: They should be able to save money this way

DJC: And also I think to have better quality.

[more waitress interruption]

DJC: And don't ignore the potential for idealism

RMS: Il y a du probleme?

HR: Sometimes it's easier to not try to understand.

DJC: I think there is a great potential for idealism: the NHS was founded 50 years ago on the basis of a higher ideal: to try and provide healthcare for everyone irrespective of their circumstances, financial background, and that's enabled all kinds of good things to happen: and it'd be good perhaps to

[more waitress interruption]

and the potential to contribute to a project for the greater good is something that I think still motivates a lot of NHS staff.

RMS: Yes, it's a shame of course that there is now New Labour which doesn't really fund the NHS the way it ought to be.

DJC: Yeah, they're not really exactly GNU-Labour.

[pause]

DJC: So where does all this come from? How did you come to be the free software guru?

RMS: Well, you can hear this in my speech tomorrow, so I don't see much point in giving you my speech now, so I can give it to you tomorrow. If you have more questions after the speech, then ask them. That would be efficient.

DJC: Yeah sure.

RMS: So

DJC: So the magazine that I write for, Linux User, is aimed at a business audience, mainly in the UK, but

RMS: I think it is very important to talk about freedom, even for a business audience, because we don't want business to have the power to drive freedom off the agenda.

DJC: But we're looking round at the IT managers and people who commission software systems, so would it be inefficient to recapitulate the very pragmatic and concrete advantages of free software?

RMS: Well, I'm sorry, I'm not going to ignore the most important advantages to focus solely on the practical ones. That's exactly what's wrong with the open source movement, and since I don't agree with them, I'm not going to act like them, I'm sorry. And I'm not going to let business determine priorities. That's one of the biggest political problems in the world today is business is being too much influence to determine priorities for life.

DJC: So what are the priorities for you?

RMS: Freedom and community. Having a good society to live in. That's the priority. I don't want a system where people are being divided and dominated, but that's what non-free software does: it divides and dominates people.

DJC: So does that, do you see your roots in the academic ideals of openly sharing information...

RMS: No, well partly, but I don't want to narrow the context to something that is purely academic. It is a matter of social justice, having a good society.

DJC: So what's a good society got in it? If Richard Stallman were president or prime minister, what kind of things would you implement?

RMS: Oh, I would abolish the WTO. I'm not against world trade, but we can't have global protections for the rights of business without global protections for the rights of workers, global protections for public health global protections for human rights and the environment, global protections for the general standard of living. The one-sided system of world trade that we have now is working to drive wages down, and it's benefits are received mainly by those who have the most money. I mean, consider, if an American factory worker making say 18 dollars an hour gets replaced by a Mexican factory worker making one dollar an hour, well this does a certain amount of good for poor Mexicans but poor Mexicans get maybe 8% of the money that the American workers lose, so it is a terribly inefficient way of aiding Mexicans. Now I do want, I want comfortable life to extend to everyone in the world. I think Mexicans should have that too, but it's silly to do this in a way that makes American workers lose 20 times what the Mexican workers gain.

DJC: Maybe. I suppose it depends where the money is going. I think there is no serious doubt that inequality has increased over the last 20 years, within society, certainly within the UK, and probably also in the US.

RMS: Definitely, very much so in the US. In the US all of the increased wealth generated in the last 20 years has gone to the richest 5 or 10%. THe others have got nothing.

DJC: Well in Britain, we outdo you, because the poorer people have got relatively poorer.

RMS: Right, well in America, also the 20% poorest are poorer now. The 60% in the middle are about where they are: except they have to work harder, more hours, and the richest 20% have had all the gain.

DJC: It hasn't happened so much in continental Europe... the French and the German systems of social security held

RMS: Right, you see in the US and the UK you had right wingers followed by crypto right wingers. Reagan followed by Clinton, or Thatcher followed by Blair... It's a direct consequence of political choices.

DJC: Do you think that the political environment reflects the reason that the French and German governments have been a lot quicker to seize the advantages of free software?

RMS: I don't know. Could be. It's not much that the government attitude... it's the social attitude.. people I think in France and Germany are less likely to think that business should rule, and that business should be the measure of all things.

HR: In France, the minister of culture is now discovering Linux.

DC: Oh really, does he have it installed on his or her machine?

HR: Politicians are discovering it, and people are trying to use GNU/Linux in the educational area. In school, and I guess that in two years there will be a big competition from GNU/Linux. I could be wrong...

DJC: You have this national curriculum that goes from 6 to 18, so presumably if GNU/Linux is on the curriculum, everyone is doing it. Is that fair to say?

HR: Yes.

DJC: It's coming is it?

HR: Yes.

DJC: Well I think that's encouraging news.

DJC: So, the HURD, which I must admit I was ignorant of until you pointed it out, I had a look at your website about it: it's at version 0.3?

RMS: I don't know actually. I've had trouble getting anyone to update the web pages for the past 2 years or so.

DJC: Right. Is that a job opportunity for a potential Linux User reader? Or does it have to be someone in Boston who does it?

RMS: A job opportunity for what?

[interruption]

RMS: I don't know, I guess conceivably... it's not a fulltime job, so I don't know if it's a job opportunity. I'd like somebody to do it. It's certainly something I'd like a volunteer for.

DJC: I would think you could do pretty well.

RMS: What

DJC: I would think you could find a volunteer quite easily?

RMS: I don't know, maybe if I looked in a slightly different way. If I said ³Could somebody please volunteer to work on HURD webpages² then I might find one. I haven't done that yet. Maybe I should.

DJC: Well maybe we could find you a Linux User reader?

RMS: A Linux User?

DJC: Someone who reads the magazine may be interested in doing it. You know, I'm thinking of doing myself.

RMS: The thing is, in order to do it you have to first learn about the status. You have to first learn about the situation before you can write about it and that's some work, and it's not easy to do, because it isn't being written down by the people doing it. So I think the first thing I should try to do is ask Marcus Brinkman if he will update the webpages. He's one of the volunteers working on the HURD.

DJC: And how is the project going anyway?

RMS: Well, I met him a few days ago. He said that there was a major bug that caused occasional corruption of files, but he said he has an idea that maybe he's found a place that was causing it. He had a critical section that didn't have a lock. Since it's an asynchronous, an unpredictable problem, it'll probably take some time for him to find out if this is really the cause. So he can fix and see if the problem occurs.

DJC: This is the great advantage of the open approach: that he can scale his efforts by one hundred fold.

RMS: I'm sorry, I don't recognise an open approach.

DJC: Well, whatever, I mean, it's not just him that has to do the testing right? He can share that work with lots of other people.

RMS: [agrees]

DJC: So that's happening?

RMS: I guess. I haven't spoken to him since meeting him a few days ago. In fact, I don't know his email address. I'll have to find it out from somebody so I can get back in touch with him and talk to him about this.

[waiter interrupt]

HR: Du cafe?

DJC: Yes, maybe some coffee.

RMS: Jamais. Coffee's too bitter.

DJC: I stopped drinking coffee for a while last year when I was doing some marathon cycling, I wanted to get the effect of caffeine during the event. I had to cycle pretty much non stop for four days and it's very interesting not drinking coffee and then drinking coffee. It's a very powerful drug.

[to HR]

DJC: I did the Paris-Brest-Paris last year.

HR: Sorry. Paris-Brest?

DJC Do you know about it?

HR: No. Today?

DJC: No, last year. Do you know about the Paris-Brest-Paris?

HR: No.

DJC: Oh you don't? You're the first French person I've met that doesn't.

RMS: It's some kind of sports thing. Why bother paying attention?

HR: I'm not very representative of French people.

DJC: It's not really a sport. It's more of a personal test.

RMS: [laughs] Write a big program. That's a more useful personal test because if you succeed you'll have done some good for the world.

DJC: Yeah. It's good to have command of the land though.

RMS: It's not even your land. How can you have command of it? It's French.

DJC: Well, you do, you know, because you're there, and you're being treated in a civilised manner by all these delightful French people who give you water at the side of the road...

RMS: You used the word command... to feel welcome, that's different.

DJC: I mean command in the sense that you decide what happens on your bicycle: you and no one else. You don't need a car. You don't need to buy petrol, you don't need to pay Gulf-Amoco...

RMS: The same can be true of writing software, but when you're done, instead of just having taken a trip you could have taken by train...

DJC: Well if you're taking against cycling I will have to leap in for the kill...

RMS: Cycling is fine when you want to go somewhere. If it's convenient to use a bicycle, by all means use a bicycle, but you weren't going to go to Brest were you?

DJC: I was on holiday. I was doing a holy thing. I was practising my religion.

RMS: Well, why not do something useful on your holiday?

DJC: Well, mostly I cycle from my home in Hackney to the BMJ and back, and it's 6.67 km and I do it in 23 minutes, but occasionally I cycle from Paris to Brest to Paris, once every four years, as a kind of pilgrimage, a hommage to the great spirit of cycling? French people understand this.

RMS: I don't. I see so many people who spend most of their time doing whatever somebody with money wants them to do, and once in a while they do some big thing, which is a lot of work, and the only pleasure as far as I can tell is that it is a lot of work and which is useless. Why not do something that is a lot of work and is useful to the community instead? If what you want is to do a lot of work, you can have a lot of work and be useful.

DJC: Well, because I am a rich man, and I want to choose my pastimes. I want to demonstrate my wealth by cycling a long way for no reason, on a groovy state-of-the-art bicycle.

RMS: Well, that doesn't seem like a worthy attitude to have. I'm not impressed.

DJC: Well, that's one possible argument.

RMS: It's not an argument, it's a confession.

DJC: [laughs] So when is it OK for me to cycle Mr Stallman?

RMS: Oh I'm not saying it's wrong to cycle, but if you're doing it just to do a lot of work... if you want to do something physical because it's a lot of work, why not

[pause]

do something that is physical hard work that would be beneficial?

DJC: Well I have a cycle trailer, and often I cycle fertilizer for the garden or take take rocks to the dump or whatever, but just sometimes I go on holiday, and that was holiday last year, and it was a very demanding holiday, and I wouldn't do it every year, but it was good.

I mean, like you I don't have a lot of time for people who do sponsored cycle rides because it makes it appear as though cycling is difficult, and that's a bad thing, because I think the world would be a better place, not only if people wrote free software, but also if people cycled more.

[to HR]

in fact I want to ask you about hiring a bicycle because I need to get around. So we can talk about that.

DJC: Is there not a danger... you've got a photograph of St Ig-GNU-tius on your website, and it's very amusing, but the danger of religious metaphors is that you split people apart? You know, I accept your points that whatever you've ...

RMS: I'm not saying you shouldn't ever do things for fun but what's strange is that the fun takes the form of working very hard. If you're going to work very hard cause you're going to enjoy working very hard, then I can understand that, but why not also choose a form of work that is going to produce a result. I'm not saying you should work all the time, but if you have decided to do some hard work, and the main virtue of it is that it is a change from what you normally do, there are lots of kinds of hard work that would be just as much of a change from what you normally do, which would also produce something.

DJC: YEp, I agree. Do you think hackers get enough exercise?

RMS: I can't make a generalisation on that. I don't know.

DJC: It is a domain that's kind of known for... [sedentaryness]

RMS: I used to get enough exercise before my ankle injury which mostly stops me from doing folk dancing anymore.

DJC: O right. Do you mind me asking about your ankle?

RMS: It's a tendon, it seems to be a tendon, if I dance again it'll hurt again and it doesn't seem to get better.

DJC: And the finest minds of medicine in Boston can't help?

RMS: Apparently not.

DJC: Well I'm sorry to hear that.

RMS: It's really sad because I love dancing.

DJC: Yeah, yeah, dancing is very good exercise, and also social as well. It's a problem that a lot of my patients face: a sedentary existence combined with not seeing anyone.

RMS: Your patients?

DJC: Yeah, I'm a doctor. GP.

RMS: Oh.

DJC: I see patients once a week. I mainly work at the BMJ.

[to HR:]

So are you involved in organising the conference? This is the first one.

HR: Yes. It's a very good idea. The president of ABUL had this idea twelve months ago, he proposed this, and the people of the association and the University say we'll help and that's quite chaotic for the first time.

DJC: How many people have come to the conference?

HR: I guess around 400 people have given their name, and yesterday there was about 120 people in the public session. Maybe there are developers who also attended to public session. We cannot point.

DJC: As I understand it the public session is about the local users groups... anyone from Bordeaux can show up

HR: There are educational sessions, and the publicity was done in education networks like teachers and so, and medical sessions the publicity was done in the medical areas, there is a session with the using of free software in the business area, and I don't know how the publicity was done, but each are was publicised in different ways. And there was publicity in the network and the magazine, and it's very difficult to determine which one had results.

DJC: Certainly from the point of view of the medical session the people who have come are well know names in that area, and it's been... I had to work very hard to be here, but it seemed to me to be essential to be here, because of the people who have been attracted to the conference.

HR: The man who organised this session..

DJC: Phillipe Auroile?

HR: did a very good work. He organises himself very well.

DJC: Yes, self-organisation is the key.

HR: The challenge was to organise a big meeting without any commercial support.

RMS: This isn't really a big meeting if it has 120 people. Maybe 200 or so if you count the various things going on. A major regional science fiction convention run by volunteers in the US will have maybe 1000 people...

HR: yes, but in my scientific area, when we are 100 it is a big meeting, and I am working in image lazing?

RMS: The point is, something being run without corporate support, well look at those science fiction conventions where many have been going on every year for thirty or forty years regularly having a 1000 people or some of them more.

DJC: Yeah, the world cons are like 5000...

RMS: But there are only one of those a year.

DJC: My sister helped to organise one in Glasgow one time...

RMS: but the major regional ones--there are probably twenty of them every year in the US: a city will have one or more conventions: in the Boston area there are three put on by different groups of people every year.

HR: But it is a sci-fi convention?

RMS: Yes. They have lots of activities going on. Lots of volunteers working a lot. So the point is that there is an example showing that it is possible to get a thing like this done. What you can hope to do with volunteers and do it regularly and well goes quite far beyond the size of this, so don't hesitate to expand it. Oh and at the science fiction conventions they have to get all of their money from the membership fees. Nobody's donating any facilities for their use; they have to negotiate with hotels for their facilities.

RMS: Shall we go?

DJC: I think we'd better.

RMS: Ultimately we had plenty of time, but I suspect that this was no better than the food we would have had a university.

[DJC pays the bill]

HR: Thank you.

DJC: No thank you. If you want to repay me you can tell me where I can hire a bicycle. I see all these people cycling about, and they look like they're having a really nice time, and here we are walking, and that's really hard work.

[they cross zebra]

HR: French drivers still have to learn.

DJC: To give way on the zebra? Pedestrians have priority on the zebra?

HR: Of course, of course.

DJC: Yes, a theoretical priority.

HR: BUt drivers don't know that.

DJC: In London that generally does work, because the drivers they know that if you step out and they hit you, they are in trouble, but you have to believe in yourself. My experience of the French drivers is that they are pretty wide awake though.

RMS: I'm content to wait for a little while. After all, why should I keep them waiting for a long time to save me waiting for a short time? If I'd wanted to be more agressive I could have tried to be, but it didn't seem like a good thing to do.

DJC: There is a natural rhythm to crossing the road um...

I think that maybe when you examine the politics of motor domination of society you might wonder about that, but

[get into car]

but maybe the American cultural perspective is not an easy one.

RMS: I don't understand. You've lost me completely.

DJC: The car dependence?

RMS: I don't own a car.

DJC: I think that maybe it's different in Boston, probably public transportation is good there?

RMS: Well, not by European standards... but it is good by US standards.

DJC: but there are a lot of places

RMS: The only place with really good public transportation in the US is New York.

DJC: Right. I don't get a clear idea from you Richard, of who, you know, what life in GNU in Boston is like.

RMS: I don't have much of a life in Boston any more, I'm not there very much: I'm travelling all the time.

DJC: Spreading the word as it were?

RMS: Yes. Also seeing interesting places and having fun.

DJC: Sure. So who's there? Is it an organisation that runs...?

RMS: I'm sorry, I don't understand your question. Could you spell it out more precisely please?

DJC: The question is... gnu.org... I wonder if it is... I have difficulty of getting a conception of what kind of organisation it is? The people who are physically located there...

RMS: Well gnu.org is a domain. The GNU project is not exactly an organisation: it's an activity. It's people around the world working on things that are related to each other. The work is done as a somewhat unified project.

DJC: Right: so the physical location is unimportant.

RMS: It's totally irrelevant nowadays.

DJC: Really. But you still give out that address...

RMS: There are even tight groups working together on specific projects which consist of people geographically separated.

DJC: I see that address that you give out on your website... suite 330 or whatever...

RMS: Well, that's where my office is. That's where the distribution office is, that's where mail order is fulfilled.

DJC: So there's some people there banking cheques and sending out CDs?

RMS: Exactly. That's what they do there. Programmers don't work there. Never have.

DJC: And how do you handle the organisation of that then?

RMS: I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're talking about there.

DJC: Well, the distribution...

RMS: Oh yeah, well, there's an office manager. That's basically running sort of like a business, but that's not how the GNU project is running, not the GNU project in general.

DJC: There was one question that I was going to ask you, but I forgot. Do you see any problems with.. in a Stallman world tomorrow, all commercial manufacturers of software would copyleft all their software...

RMS: OK, by the way, did you really mean commercial, or did you really mean proprietary?

DJC: OK, proprietary.

RMS: Please don't ever use the word commercial to mean proprietary. Please don't ever embody in your words the assumption that commercial software can't be free, because there is free commercial software and it's very important and we want to encourage more of it. If you presuppose it's impossible, and that's embedded in your way of speaking then you'll be working very much against that.

DJC: Yes I understand that.

RMS: So please, if you hear at any time anyone use the word commercial software, and you think he really means non-free software, bring that up explicitly right away. It's very important to end that confusion.

DJC: So if proprietary software were all made free software tomorrow, what effect do you think that would have? What's your hope?

RMS: In the area of software, that people would no longer be divided and subjugated. People would be encouraged to co-operate, instead of being prohibited from co-operating. Now how would this effect society outside the use of software. Well, you know, it's hard to be sure but it wouldn't necessarily have a big direct effect. Its effects would be indirect. Its direct effects would be on software use, outside of that the effects but I hope that the existence of a free software movement will help to put paid to the ideology which puts business in charge of life. It will show that useful work can be done in other ways. That you don't have to assume that somebody has to... that the only way you can get anything done is if somebody owns something, or controls it has his property and dominates everyone else involved with it. Also, I could hope it would be good for reducing the extent for which computer systems are used to dominate their users, although the effect is not completely direct, the more you can be in charge of the software that you are using the more you can make sure it is not there to dominate you. Nowadays it seems to be fashionable to talk about thin clients, I'm not sure why anyone expects that people are going to stop doing jobs on their own computers and start doing them on remote servers instead, but this is very fashionable and I want to point out that that's a way of giving someone else the control over what's being done with your information. So you should really think twice before you use these thin clients, even supposing you wanted to anyway, which I doubt.

[RMS moves off into the conference foyer]

DJC: Richard, that's great. Thank you very much.



Transcription by Douglas Carnall 20 July 2000.


Copyright Douglas Carnall July 2000 douglas@carnall.demon.co.uk Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in electronic media, provided this notice is preserved. Please email me about other uses.

Thanks to the editors at the BMJ, Linux User, and Health Informatics Europe for encouraging me to make the trip.