Friday, 14 October 2011 16:04

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.


A simple Google search for "Stallman Steve Jobs" brings up a fair few condemnatory rants about his eulogy to Jobs. I haven't been able to find one person who thinks he was justified in writing what he did.

But then, remember, he was saying this about the former chief executive of a company that is at the forefront of trying to prevent its competitors from bringing products to market by using patent suits; a company that sues at the drop of a hat; a company that tries to dictate everything to its users including the type of songs and books they buy; and a company that enjoys restricting its users hardware upgrade options.

In that context, one cannot really see anything incorrect with what Stallman said. He may have put it in direct language – would it have been any better if it was couched in bizspeak?

At no point did he say that he was glad that Jobs had died; indeed, he took care to point out that nobody really deserved to die.

Of course, it wasn't politically correct to write such an eulogy. But then when has Stallman been politically correct? Had he been concerned about what people think about him, where would those who care about software freedom be?

Stallman has nothing to be ashamed about; if only some of the hypocrites in the FOSS ranks were half as direct, we would live in a much better world.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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