Stallman, Richard Matthew 1953-

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STALLMAN, Richard Matthew 1953-


Born 1953, in New York, NY; son of Daniel (operator of a printing brokerage company) and Alice (a teacher; maiden name, Lippman) Stallman. Ethnicity: "Jewish." Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1974. Politics: "Liberal in the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt." Religion: "Scientific atheist and secular humanist."


Office—545 Tech Sq., Rm. 425, Cambridge, MA 02139. E-mail—[email protected].


Computer scientist. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, software developer, 1971-83; GNU Project, Boston, MA, founder, 1984—; Free Software Foundation, Boston, founder, president, 1985—.


MacArthur Foundation fellowship, 1990; Grace Hopper Award, Association for Computing Machinery, 1991; Pioneer Award (with Linus Torvalds), Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1998; Yuri Rubinski Award, 1999; Takeda Award (with Linus Torvalds and Ken Sakamura), Takeda Foundation (Japan), 2001, for social/economic betterment; elected to the National Academy of Engineering, 2002. Honorary doctorates from the Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden), 1996, University of Glasgow (Scotland), 2001, and Vrij Universitet (Brussels, Belgium), 2003. Honorary professor, Universidad Naciobal de Ingeniería (Peru), 2003.


No Sir, No Monopoly!: Free Software: A Perspective, Prajasakti Book House (Hyderabad, India), 2002.

Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman, edited by Joshua Gay, GNU Press (Boston, MA), 2002.

Author of software, including EMACS, 1975, GNU EMACS, 1984, GNU C Compiler, 1988, and software manuals. Author's works have been translated into Italian, and are due to be published in Spanish and Portuguese.


Richard Matthew Stallman is a revolutionary leader of the hacker movement, which promotes the unlimited freedom of information. Stallman maintains that once someone has a copy of a program, they should have the freedom to use them, improve them, and then share the results. By doing so, duplication of effort is avoided, freedom, community, and creativity is encouraged, and the most advanced programming is made available to everyone. Stallman is the creator of EMACS, the forerunner of modern word processing programs, and GNU ("GNU's Not Unix"), which, together with the kernel developed by Linus Torvalds, became GNU/Linux.

Stallman became hooked on programming when, at the age of twelve, he discovered a computer manual that belonged to a camp counselor. While he was in high school, Stallman wrote programs for IBM. He was a young undergraduate at Harvard University when he began working in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), studying by day and programming at night. The environment was open, the computer files unprotected, and the young hackers were loosely supervised by Marvin Minsky, known as the father of artificial intelligence. The AI lab developed its own computer, the LISP (List Processing) Machine, with its own operating system designed for AI applications. Then things began to change. Two separate groups left to set up companies, one called the Lisp Machine, Inc., and the other Symbolics. Both licensed the LISP Machine operating system from MIT and, according to their contracts, returned any improvements made. The industry benefited as cooperation continued.

In 1982, that changed when Symbolics found a loophole in their agreement that allowed that they did not have to give MIT the right to redistribute their improvements. Stallman took every improvement and rewrote it in a shareable form. But the mood had been set, and other hackers had already left, many to join the companies. Stallman left too, in 1984, but rather than fight the LISP fight, he developed an entirely new operating system, called GNU. He began at an old, empty office at MIT, where in 1984 he developed GNU EMACS, a program that could be used to edit programs, write them, play games, and read e-mail. It could be used with UNIX, the program that had been purchased from AT&T and been vastly improved upon at Berkeley.

The following year, Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation, a nonprofit that is generously supported and which sells manuals and other support materials for the GNU programs. The organization became staffed and received gifts of computers from many companies. Stallman's second program, GNU C Compiler translates machine code into source code, and programmers around the world improved the program that could generate code for many types of microprocessors. Large corporations, like Hewlett-Packard, who were benefiting from Stallman's creations, gave generous grants to the Free Software Foundation.

Sam Williams, who first met Stallman in 1999, wrote a biography of the computing genius titled Free as in Freedom. Chris Bidmead, who reviewed the book in MicroScope, noted that "Stallman argues—or more accurately, because he hates argument, declares" that his intent, the open distribution of source code, "was hijacked" by Torvalds and Eric Raymond, a former associate of the GNU project, "in their 'New Testament' version that came to be called 'open source.' The book chronicles this rift, examining it with objectivity, but also some sympathy for Stallman's increasingly isolated position."

Bidmead noted that "like any true hero, Stallman's faults and virtues are almost inextricably intertwined. The near pathological meticulousness that can drive his peers to distraction was an essential ingredient in the GNU General Public License, the complex legal definition that Stallman drew up to ensure the freedom of the code even through subsequent mutations. The avid dogmatism that frightens away potential sympathizers powers the dogged effort that in a decade produced the EMACS editor, the GNU compiler, and the host of essential tools and utilities. Linux was able to turn GNU into a complete operating system."

Stallman maintains an extensive Web site for GNU, and a personal site where he posts not only his views on free software, but also on civil liberties, the use of medical marijuana, privacy, human rights, commercialism, the media, government foreign policy, and many other subjects. Links to sites and petitions are provided. Stallman reveals his personal history, likes and dislikes, and adds stories, jokes, and travel tales. A man who lives simply, he derives much of his income from speaking engagements.

Stallman's own book, Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman, is a collection of reprinted and new essays that explain Stallman's philosophy regarding free software. In it, he sets forth his four freedoms for its use and comments on what he considers abuse of copyright law and patents. Library Journal's Joe J. Accardi called the book an "important collection by a software visionary." Mikael Pawlo reviewed the volume for GrepLaw, noting that Stallman "could never be accused of being boring. The thoughts on computer programs are mind-boggling, and regardless of how Stallman will be looked upon in history, his thoughts have dominated the debate on regulation and ethics of computer programs … and most probably will affect current major strategy choices of companies like IBM, Apple, and Microsoft. Every IT policy maker and IT procurement officer should read this book. However, the book touches on subjects affecting a much larger audience, and everyone who ever thought of the architecture that regulates the Internet and our computers will have plenty of defining moments with Free Software, Free Society."



Levy, Steven, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Anchor Press (Garden City, NY), 1984, with revised afterword, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Williams, Sam, Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software, Farnham/O'Reilly (Sabastopol, CA), 2002.


Economist, July 15, 1989, "The hacker's return," p. 81.

EDN, October 1, 1990, Jay Fraser, "Keeper of the faith: Richard Stallman is leading a crusade to preserve your programming freedom," p. 175.

Library Journal, October 1, 2002, Joe J. Accardi, review of Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman, p. 120.

MicroScope, May 7, 2002, Chris Bidmead, "The man behind the project: in his book Free as in Freedom, Sam Williams takes the reader on a voyage of discovery into Richard Stallman's obsession with the GNU/Linux label," p. 24.

Network World, January 11, 1999, Robin Holman, "GNU's Not Linux" (interview).

Technology Review, February-March, 1991, Simson L. Garfinkel, "Programs to the people: computer whiz Richard Stallman is determined to make software free—even if he has to transform the industry single-handed," p. 52.

ONLINE, (March 13, 2001), Tom Henderson, "Free or Not Free" (interview).

GNU Project, (July 8, 2003).

GrepLaw, (September 13, 2004), Mikael Pawlo, review of Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman.

Richard Stallman Home Page, (September 13, 2004).