Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Why Stallman is right about Steve Jobs

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An indication of the extent to which people in today's world are prone to hypocrisy is evidenced by the way they react after someone dies.


A comedy team in Australia, the Chaser, put it very nicely in a song (mp3 here) that many TV viewers found offensive; the line they employed, varying from verse to verse in their Eulogy Song, ran that however offensive people were during their lifetimes, they turned into top blokes after death.

This is true in most societies - in Sri Lanka, there is even a specific word in the language (Sinhalese) that means "not saying bad things about people after they die."

But Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, is no respecter of persons. On hearing of the death of Steve Jobs, he wrote these words on his personal blog:

"Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.

"As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, 'I'm not glad he's dead, but I'm glad he's gone.' Nobody deserves to have to die - not Jobs, not Mr. Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs' malign influence on people's computing.

"Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective."

Every word of it is true - but people have lined up in a massive queue to vent their anger on the man. Merely because he said something that others would not have is no reason to slag him off.

All that Stallman meant was that Jobs has glorified the concept of proprietary software to the extent that it has become cool to use such software. For all his contributions to locking up the code, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has never managed to make Windows cool.

Stallman is an advocate of software freedom. In this case he was speaking in his personal capacity but given his position in the world of FOSS, he cannot really divorce what he says in private life from his public persona.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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