Chapter 14
Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software

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Table of Contents

Copyright

Preface

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Project Gutenburg

Crushing Loneliness Writing the biography of a living
person is a bit like producing a play. The drama in
front of the curtain often pales in comparison to the
drama backstage.

In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley gives
readers a rare glimpse of that backstage drama.
Stepping out of the ghostwriter role, Haley delivers
the book's epilogue in his own voice. The epilogue
explains how a freelance reporter originally dismissed
as a "tool" and "spy" by the Nation of Islam
spokesperson managed to work through personal and
political barriers to get Malcolm X's life story on paper.

While I hesitate to compare this book with The
Autobiography of Malcolm X, I do owe a debt of
gratitude to Haley for his candid epilogue. Over the
last 12 months, it has served as a sort of instruction
manual on how to deal with a biographical subject who
has built an entire career on being disagreeable. From
the outset, I envisioned closing this biography with a
similar epilogue, both as an homage to Haley and as a
way to let readers know how this book came to be.

The story behind this story starts in an Oakland
apartment, winding its way through the various locales
mentioned in the book-Silicon Valley, Maui, Boston, and
Cambridge. Ultimately, however, it is a tale of two
cities: New York, New York, the book-publishing capital
of the world, and Sebastopol, California, the
book-publishing capital of Sonoma County.

The story starts in April, 2000. At the time, I was
writing stories for the ill-fated BeOpen web site
(http://www.beopen.com/). One of my first assignments
was a phone interview with Richard M. Stallman. The
interview went well, so well that Slashdot
(http://www.slashdot.org/), the popular "news for
nerds" site owned by VA Software, Inc. (formerly VA
Linux Systems and before that, VA Research), gave it a
link in its daily list of feature stories. Within
hours, the web servers at BeOpen were heating up as
readers clicked over to the site.

For all intents and purposes, the story should have
ended there. Three months after the interview, while
attending the O'Reilly Open Source Conference in
Monterey, California, I received the following email
message from Tracy Pattison, foreign-rights manager at
a large New York publishing house:

To: sam@BeOpen.com Subject: RMS InterviewDate: Mon, 10
Jul 2000 15:56:37 -0400Dear Mr. Williams,

I read your interview with Richard Stallman on BeOpen
with great interest. I've been intrigued by RMS and his
work for some time now and was delighted to find your
piece which I really think you did a great job of
capturing some of the spirit of what Stallman is trying
to do with GNU-Linux and the Free Software Foundation.

What I'd love to do, however, is read more - and I
don't think I'm alone. Do you think there is more
information and/or sources out there to expand and
update your interview and adapt it into more of a
profile of Stallman? Perhaps including some more
anecdotal information about his personality and
background that might really interest and enlighten
readers outside the more hardcore programming scene?

The email asked that I give Tracy a call to discuss the
idea further. I did just that. Tracy told me her
company was launching a new electronic book line, and
it wanted stories that appealed to an early-adopter
audience. The e-book format was 30,000 words, about 100
pages, and she had pitched her bosses on the idea of
profiling a major figure in the hacker community. Her
bosses liked the idea, and in the process of searching
for interesting people to profile, she had come across
my BeOpen interview with Stallman. Hence her email to me.

That's when Tracy asked me: would I be willing to
expand the interview into a full-length feature profile?

My answer was instant: yes. Before accepting it, Tracy
suggested I put together a story proposal she could
show her superiors. Two days later, I sent her a
polished proposal. A week later, Tracy sent me a follow
up email. Her bosses had given it the green light.

I have to admit, getting Stallman to participate in an
e-book project was an afterthought on my part. As a
reporter who covered the open source beat, I knew
Stallman was a stickler. I'd already received a half
dozen emails at that point upbraiding me for the use of
"Linux" instead of "GNU/Linux."

Then again, I also knew Stallman was looking for ways
to get his message out to the general public. Perhaps
if I presented the project to him that way, he would be
more receptive. If not, I could always rely upon the
copious amounts of documents, interviews, and recorded
online conversations Stallman had left lying around the
Internet and do an unauthorized biography.

During my research, I came across an essay titled
"Freedom-Or Copyright?" Written by Stallman and
published in the June, 2000, edition of the MIT
Technology Review, the essay blasted e-books for an
assortment of software sins. Not only did readers have
to use proprietary software programs to read them,
Stallman lamented, but the methods used to prevent
unauthorized copying were overly harsh. Instead of
downloading a transferable HTML or PDF file, readers
downloaded an encrypted file. In essence, purchasing an
e-book meant purchasing a nontransferable key to
unscramble the encrypted content. Any attempt to open a
book's content without an authorized key constituted a
criminal violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright
Act, the 1998 law designed to bolster copyright
enforcement on the Internet. Similar penalties held for
readers who converted a book's content into an open
file format, even if their only intention was to read
the book on a different computer in their home. Unlike
a normal book, the reader no longer held the right to
lend, copy, or resell an e-book. They only had the
right to read it on an authorized machine, warned
Stallman: We still have the same old freedoms in using
paper books. But if e-books replace printed books, that
exception will do little good. With "electronic ink,"
which makes it possible to download new text onto an
apparently printed piece of paper, even newspapers
could become ephemeral. Imagine: no more used book
stores; no more lending a book to your friend; no more
borrowing one from the public library-no more "leaks"
that might give someone a chance to read without
paying. (And judging from the ads for Microsoft Reader,
no more anonymous purchasing of books either.) This is
the world publishers have in mind for us.See "Safari Tech Books Online;
Subscriber Agreement:
Terms of Service."

http://safari.oreilly.com/mainhlp.asp?help=service
Needless to say, the essay caused some concern. Neither
Tracy nor I had discussed the software her company
would use nor had we discussed the type of copyright
that would govern the e-book's usage. I mentioned the
Technology Review article and asked if she could give
me information on her company's e-book policies. Tracy
promised to get back to me.

Eager to get started, I decided to call Stallman anyway
and mention the book idea to him. When I did, he
expressed immediate interest and immediate concern.
"Did you read my essay on e-books?" he asked.

When I told him, yes, I had read the essay and was
waiting to hear back from the publisher, Stallman laid
out two conditions: he didn't want to lend support to
an e-book licensing mechanism he fundamentally opposed,
and he didn't want to come off as lending support. "I
don't want to participate in anything that makes me
look like a hypocrite," he said.

For Stallman, the software issue was secondary to the
copyright issue. He said he was willing to ignore
whatever software the publisher or its third-party
vendors employed just so long as the company specified
within the copyright that readers were free to make and
distribute verbatim copies of the e-book's content.
Stallman pointed to Stephen King's The Plant as a
possible model. In June, 2000, King announced on his
official web site that he was self-publishing The Plant
in serial form. According to the announcement, the
book's total cost would be $13, spread out over a
series of $1 installments. As long as at least 75% of
the readers paid for each chapter, King promised to
continue releasing new installments. By August, the
plan seemed to be working, as King had published the
first two chapters with a third on the way.

"I'd be willing to accept something like that,"
Stallman said. "As long as it also permitted verbatim copying."

I forwarded the information to Tracy. Feeling confident
that she and I might be able to work out an equitable
arrangement, I called up Stallman and set up the first
interview for the book. Stallman agreed to the
interview without making a second inquiry into the
status issue. Shortly after the first interview, I
raced to set up a second interview (this one in Kihei),
squeezing it in before Stallman headed off on a 14-day
vacation to Tahiti.

It was during Stallman's vacation that the bad news
came from Tracy. Her company's legal department didn't
want to adjust its copyright notice on the e-books.
Readers who wanted to make their books transferable
would either have to crack the encryption code or
convert the book to an open format such as HTML. Either
way, the would be breaking the law and facing criminal penalties.

With two fresh interviews under my belt, I didn't see
any way to write the book without resorting to the new
material. I quickly set up a trip to New York to meet
with my agent and with Tracy to see if there was a
compromise solution.

When I flew to New York, I met my agent, Henning
Guttman. It was our first face-to-face meeting, and
Henning seemed pessimistic about our chances of forcing
a compromise, at least on the publisher's end. The
large, established publishing houses already viewed the
e-book format with enough suspicion and weren't in the
mood to experiment with copyright language that made it
easier for readers to avoid payment. As an agent who
specialized in technology books, however, Henning was
intrigued by the novel nature of my predicament. I told
him about the two interviews I'd already gathered and
the promise not to publish the book in a way that made
Stallman "look like a hypocrite." Agreeing that I was
in an ethical bind, Henning suggested we make that our
negotiating point.

Barring that, Henning said, we could always take the
carrot-and-stick approach. The carrot would be the
publicity that came with publishing an e-book that
honored the hacker community's internal ethics. The
stick would be the risks associated with publishing an
e-book that didn't. Nine months before Dmitri Skylarov
became an Internet cause celebre, we knew it was only a
matter of time before an enterprising programmer
revealed how to hack e-books. We also knew that a major
publishing house releasing an encryption-protected
e-book on Richard M. Stallman was the software
equivalent of putting "Steal This E-Book" on the cover.

After my meeting with Henning, I put a call into
Stallman. Hoping to make the carrot more enticing, I
discussed a number of potential compromises. What if
the publisher released the book's content under a split
license, something similar to what Sun Microsystems had
done with Open Office, the free software desktop
applications suite? The publisher could then release
commercial versions of the e-book under a normal
format, taking advantage of all the bells and whistles
that went with the e-book software, while releasing the
copyable version under a less aesthetically pleasing
HTML format.

Stallman told me he didn't mind the split-license idea,
but he did dislike the idea of making the freely
copyable version inferior to the restricted version.
Besides, he said, the idea was too cumbersome. Split
licenses worked in the case of Sun's Open Office only
because he had no control over the decision making. In
this case, Stallman said, he did have a way to control
the outcome. He could refuse to cooperate.

I made a few more suggestions with little effect. About
the only thing I could get out of Stallman was a
concession that the e-book's copyright restrict all
forms of file sharing to "noncommercial redistribution."

Before I signed off, Stallman suggested I tell the
publisher that I'd promised Stallman that the work
would be free. I told Stallman I couldn't agree to that
statement but that I did view the book as unfinishable
without his cooperation. Seemingly satisfied, Stallman
hung up with his usual sign-off line: "Happy hacking."

Henning and I met with Tracy the next day. Tracy said
her company was willing to publish copyable excerpts in
a unencrypted format but would limit the excerpts to
500 words. Henning informed her that this wouldn't be
enough for me to get around my ethical obligation to
Stallman. Tracy mentioned her own company's contractual
obligation to online vendors such as Amazon.com. Even
if the company decided to open up its e-book content
this one time, it faced the risk of its partners
calling it a breach of contract. Barring a change of
heart in the executive suite or on the part of
Stallman, the decision was up to me. I could use the
interviews and go against my earlier agreement with
Stallman, or I could plead journalistic ethics and back
out of the verbal agreement to do the book.

Following the meeting, my agent and I relocated to a
pub on Third Ave. I used his cell phone to call
Stallman, leaving a message when nobody answered.
Henning left for a moment, giving me time to collect my
thoughts. When he returned, he was holding up the cell phone.

"It's Stallman," Henning said.

The conversation got off badly from the start. I
relayed Tracy's comment about the publisher's
contractual obligations.

"So," Stallman said bluntly. "Why should I give a damn
about their contractual obligations?"

Because asking a major publishing house to risk a legal
battle with its vendors over a 30,000 word e-book is a
tall order, I suggested.

"Don't you see?" Stallman said. "That's exactly why I'm
doing this. I want a signal victory. I want them to
make a choice between freedom and business as usual."

As the words "signal victory" echoed in my head, I felt
my attention wander momentarily to the passing foot
traffic on the sidewalk. Coming into the bar, I had
been pleased to notice that the location was less than
half a block away from the street corner memorialized
in the 1976 Ramones song, "53rd and 3rd," a song I
always enjoyed playing in my days as a musician. Like
the perpetually frustrated street hustler depicted in
that song, I could feel things falling apart as quickly
as they had come together. The irony was palpable.
After weeks of gleefully recording other people's
laments, I found myself in the position of trying to
pull off the rarest of feats: a Richard Stallman compromise.

When I continued hemming and hawing, pleading the
publisher's position and revealing my growing sympathy
for it, Stallman, like an animal smelling blood, attacked.

"So that's it? You're just going to screw me? You're
just going to bend to their will?"

I brought up the issue of a dual-copyright again.

"You mean license," Stallman said curtly.

"Yeah, license. Copyright. Whatever," I said, feeling
suddenly like a wounded tuna trailing a rich plume of
plasma in the water.

"Aw, why didn't you just fucking do what I told you to
do!" he shouted.

I must have been arguing on behalf of the publisher to
the very end, because in my notes I managed to save a
final Stallman chestnut: "I don't care. What they're
doing is evil. I can't support evil. Good-bye."

As soon as I put the phone down, my agent slid a
freshly poured Guinness to me. "I figured you might
need this," he said with a laugh. "I could see you
shaking there towards the end."

I was indeed shaking. The shaking wouldn't stop until
the Guinness was more than halfway gone. It felt weird,
hearing myself characterized as an emissary of "evil."
It felt weirder still, knowing that three months
before, I was sitting in an Oakland apartment trying to
come up with my next story idea. Now, I was sitting in
a part of the world I'd only known through rock songs,
taking meetings with publishing executives and drinking
beer with an agent I'd never even laid eyes on until
the day before. It was all too surreal, like watching
my life reflected back as a movie montage.

About that time, my internal absurdity meter kicked in.
The initial shaking gave way to convulsions of
laughter. To my agent, I must have looked like a
another fragile author undergoing an untimely emotional
breakdown. To me, I was just starting to appreciate the
cynical beauty of my situation. Deal or no deal, I
already had the makings of a pretty good story. It was
only a matter of finding a place to tell it. When my
laughing convulsions finally subsided, I held up my
drink in a toast.

"Welcome to the front lines, my friend," I said,
clinking pints with my agent. "Might as well enjoy it."

If this story really were a play, here's where it would
take a momentary, romantic interlude. Disheartened by
the tense nature of our meeting, Tracy invited Henning
and I to go out for drinks with her and some of her
coworkers. We left the bar on Third Ave., headed down
to the East Village, and caught up with Tracy and her friends.

Once there, I spoke with Tracy, careful to avoid shop
talk. Our conversation was pleasant, relaxed. Before
parting, we agreed to meet the next night. Once again,
the conversation was pleasant, so pleasant that the
Stallman e-book became almost a distant memory.

When I got back to Oakland, I called around to various
journalist friends and acquaintances. I recounted my
predicament. Most upbraided me for giving up too much
ground to Stallman in the preinterview negotiation. A
former j-school professor suggested I ignore Stallman's
"hypocrite" comment and just write the story. Reporters
who knew of Stallman's media-savviness expressed
sympathy but uniformly offered the same response: it's
your call.

I decided to put the book on the back burner. Even with
the interviews, I wasn't making much progress. Besides,
it gave me a chance to speak with Tracy without running
things past Henning first. By Christmas we had traded
visits: she flying out to the west coast once, me
flying out to New York a second time. The day before
New Year's Eve, I proposed. Deciding which coast to
live on, I picked New York. By February, I packed up my
laptop computer and all my research notes related to
the Stallman biography, and we winged our way to JFK
Airport. Tracy and I were married on May 11. So much
for failed book deals.

During the summer, I began to contemplate turning my
interview notes into a magazine article. Ethically, I
felt in the clear doing so, since the original
interview terms said nothing about traditional print
media. To be honest, I also felt a bit more comfortable
writing about Stallman after eight months of radio
silence. Since our telephone conversation in September,
I'd only received two emails from Stallman. Both
chastised me for using "Linux" instead of "GNU/Linux"
in a pair of articles for the web magazine Upside
Today. Aside from that, I had enjoyed the silence. In
June, about a week after the New York University
speech, I took a crack at writing a 5,000-word
magazine-length story about Stallman. This time, the
words flowed. The distance had helped restore my lost
sense of emotional perspective, I suppose.

In July, a full year after the original email from
Tracy, I got a call from Henning. He told me that
O'Reilly & Associates, a publishing house out of
Sebastopol, California, was interested in the running
the Stallman story as a biography. The news pleased me.
Of all the publishing houses in the world, O'Reilly,
the same company that had published Eric Raymond's The
Cathedral and the Bazaar, seemed the most sensitive to
the issues that had killed the earlier e-book. As a
reporter, I had relied heavily on the O'Reilly book
Open Sources as a historical reference. I also knew
that various chapters of the book, including a chapter
written by Stallman, had been published with copyright
notices that permitted redistribution. Such knowledge
would come in handy if the issue of electronic
publication ever came up again.

Sure enough, the issue did come up. I learned through
Henning that O'Reilly intended to publish the biography
both as a book and as part of its new Safari Tech Books
Online subscription service. The Safari user license
would involve special restrictions,1 Henning warned,
but O'Reilly was willing to allow for a copyright that
permitted users to copy and share and the book's text
regardless of medium. Basically, as author, I had the
choice between two licenses: the Open Publication
License or the GNU Free Documentation License.

I checked out the contents and background of each
license. The Open Publication License (OPL)See "The Open Publication License:
Draft v1.0" (June 8, 1999).

http://opencontent.org/openpub/
 gives readers the right to reproduce and distribute a
work, in whole or in part, in any medium "physical or
electronic," provided the copied work retains the Open
Publication License. It also permits modification of a
work, provided certain conditions are met. Finally, the
Open Publication License includes a number of options,
which, if selected by the author, can limit the
creation of "substantively modified" versions or
book-form derivatives without prior author approval.

The GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL),See "The GNU Free Documentation
License: Version 1.1"
(March, 2000).

http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html
 meanwhile, permits the copying and distribution of a
document in any medium, provided the resulting work
carries the same license. It also permits the
modification of a document provided certain conditions.
Unlike the OPL, however, it does not give authors the
option to restrict certain modifications. It also does
not give authors the right to reject modifications that
might result in a competitive book product. It does
require certain forms of front- and back-cover
information if a party other than the copyright holder
wishes to publish more than 100 copies of a protected
work, however.

In the course of researching the licenses, I also made
sure to visit the GNU Project web page titled "Various
Licenses and Comments About Them."See
http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/license-list.html  On that page, I
found a Stallman critique of the Open Publication
License. Stallman's critique related to the creation of
modified works and the ability of an author to select
either one of the OPL's options to restrict
modification. If an author didn't want to select either
option, it was better to use the GFDL instead, Stallman
noted, since it minimized the risk of the nonselected
options popping up in modified versions of a document.

The importance of modification in both licenses was a
reflection of their original purpose-namely, to give
software-manual owners a chance to improve their
manuals and publicize those improvements to the rest of
the community. Since my book wasn't a manual, I had
little concern about the modification clause in either
license. My only concern was giving users the freedom
to exchange copies of the book or make copies of the
content, the same freedom they would have enjoyed if
they purchased a hardcover book. Deeming either license
suitable for this purpose, I signed the O'Reilly
contract when it came to me.

Still, the notion of unrestricted modification
intrigued me. In my early negotiations with Tracy, I
had pitched the merits of a GPL-style license for the
e-book's content. At worst, I said, the license would
guarantee a lot of positive publicity for the e-book.
At best, it would encourage readers to participate in
the book-writing process. As an author, I was willing
to let other people amend my work just so long as my
name always got top billing. Besides, it might even be
interesting to watch the book evolve. I pictured later
editions looking much like online versions of the
Talmud, my original text in a central column surrounded
by illuminating, third-party commentary in the margins.

My idea drew inspiration from Project Xanadu
(http://www.xanadu.com/), the legendary software
concept originally conceived by Ted Nelson in 1960.
During the O'Reilly Open Source Conference in 1999, I
had seen the first demonstration of the project's open
source offshoot Udanax and had been wowed by the
result. In one demonstration sequence, Udanax displayed
a parent document and a derivative work in a similar
two-column, plain-text format. With a click of the
button, the program introduced lines linking each
sentence in the parent to its conceptual offshoot in
the derivative. An e-book biography of Richard M.
Stallman didn't have to be Udanax-enabled, but given
such technological possibilities, why not give users a
chance to play around?Anybody willing to "port" this book over to Udanax, the
free software version of Xanadu, will receive
enthusiastic support from me. To find out more about
this intriguing technology, visit

http://www.udanax.com/.

When Laurie Petrycki, my editor at O'Reilly, gave me a
choice between the OPL or the GFDL, I indulged the
fantasy once again. By September of 2001, the month I
signed the contract, e-books had become almost a dead
topic. Many publishing houses, Tracy's included, were
shutting down their e-book imprints for lack of
interest. I had to wonder. If these companies had
treated e-books not as a form of publication but as a
form of community building, would those imprints have survived?

After I signed the contract, I notified Stallman that
the book project was back on. I mentioned the choice
O'Reilly was giving me between the Open Publication
License and the GNU Free Documentation License. I told
him I was leaning toward the OPL, if only for the fact
I saw no reason to give O'Reilly's competitors a chance
to print the same book under a different cover.
Stallman wrote back, arguing in favor of the GFDL,
noting that O'Reilly had already used it several times
in the past. Despite the events of the past year, I
suggested a deal. I would choose the GFDL if it gave me
the possibility to do more interviews and if Stallman
agreed to help O'Reilly publicize the book. Stallman
agreed to participate in more interviews but said that
his participation in publicity-related events would
depend on the content of the book. Viewing this as only
fair, I set up an interview for December 17, 2001 in Cambridge.

I set up the interview to coincide with a business trip
my wife Tracy was taking to Boston. Two days before
leaving, Tracy suggested I invite Stallman out to dinner.

"After all," she said, "he is the one who brought us together."

I sent an email to Stallman, who promptly sent a return
email accepting the offer. When I drove up to Boston
the next day, I met Tracy at her hotel and hopped the T
to head over to MIT. When we got to Tech Square, I
found Stallman in the middle of a conversation just as
we knocked on the door.

"I hope you don't mind," he said, pulling the door open
far enough so that Tracy and I could just barely hear
Stallman's conversational counterpart. It was a
youngish woman, mid-20s I'd say, named Sarah.

"I took the liberty of inviting somebody else to have
dinner with us," Stallman said, matter-of-factly,
giving me the same cat-like smile he gave me back in
that Palo Alto restaurant.

To be honest, I wasn't too surprised. The news that
Stallman had a new female friend had reached me a few
weeks before, courtesy of Stallman's mother. "In fact,
they both went to Japan last month when Richard went
over to accept the Takeda Award," Lippman told me at
the time.Alas, I didn't find out about the Takeda Foundation's
decision to award Stallman, along with Linus Torvalds
and Ken Sakamura, with its first-ever award for
"Techno-Entrepreneurial Achievement for Social/Economic
Well-Being" until after Stallman had made the trip to
Japan to accept the award. For more information about
the award and its accompanying $1 million prize, visit
the Takeda site, http://www.takeda-foundation.jp/.

On the way over to the restaurant, I learned the
circumstances of Sarah and Richard's first meeting.
Interestingly, the circumstances were very familiar.
Working on her own fictional book, Sarah said she heard
about Stallman and what an interesting character he
was. She promptly decided to create a character in her
book on Stallman and, in the interests of researching
the character, set up an interview with Stallman.
Things quickly went from there. The two had been dating
since the beginning of 2001, she said.

"I really admired the way Richard built up an entire
political movement to address an issue of profound
personal concern," Sarah said, explaining her
attraction to Stallman.

My wife immediately threw back the question: "What was
the issue?"

"Crushing loneliness."

During dinner, I let the women do the talking and spent
most of the time trying to detect clues as to whether
the last 12 months had softened Stallman in any
significant way. I didn't see anything to suggest they
had. Although more flirtatious than I remembered-a
flirtatiousness spoiled somewhat by the number of times
Stallman's eyes seemed to fixate on my wife's
chest-Stallman retained the same general level of
prickliness. At one point, my wife uttered an emphatic
"God forbid" only to receive a typical Stallman rebuke.

"I hate to break it to you, but there is no God,"
Stallman said.

Afterwards, when the dinner was complete and Sarah had
departed, Stallman seemed to let his guard down a
little. As we walked to a nearby bookstore, he admitted
that the last 12 months had dramatically changed his
outlook on life. "I thought I was going to be alone
forever," he said. "I'm glad I was wrong."

Before parting, Stallman handed me his "pleasure card,"
a business card listing Stallman's address, phone
number, and favorite pastimes ("sharing good books,
good food and exotic music and dance") so that I might
set up a final interview.

<Graphic file:/home/craigm/books/free_ep10.png>


Stallman's "pleasure" card, handed to me the night of
our dinner.

The next day, over another meal of dim sum, Stallman
seemed even more lovestruck than the night before.
Recalling his debates with Currier House dorm maters
over the benefits and drawbacks of an immortality
serum, Stallman expressed hope that scientists might
some day come up with the key to immortality. "Now that
I'm finally starting to have happiness in my life, I
want to have more," he said.

When I mentioned Sarah's "crushing loneliness" comment,
Stallman failed to see a connection between loneliness
on a physical or spiritual level and loneliness on a
hacker level. "The impulse to share code is about
friendship but friendship at a much lower level," he
said. Later, however, when the subject came up again,
Stallman did admit that loneliness, or the fear of
perpetual loneliness, had played a major role in
fueling his determination during the earliest days of
the GNU Project.

"My fascination with computers was not a consequence of
anything else," he said. "I wouldn't have been less
fascinated with computers if I had been popular and all
the women flocked to me. However, it's certainly true
the experience of feeling I didn't have a home, finding
one and losing it, finding another and having it
destroyed, affected me deeply. The one I lost was the
dorm. The one that was destroyed was the AI Lab. The
precariousness of not having any kind of home or
community was very powerful. It made me want to fight
to get it back."

After the interview, I couldn't help but feel a certain
sense of emotional symmetry. Hearing Sarah describe
what attracted her to Stallman and hearing Stallman
himself describe the emotions that prompted him to take
up the free software cause, I was reminded of my own
reasons for writing this book. Since July, 2000, I have
learned to appreciate both the seductive and the
repellent sides of the Richard Stallman persona. Like
Eben Moglen before me, I feel that dismissing that
persona as epiphenomenal or distracting in relation to
the overall free software movement would be a grievous
mistake. In many ways the two are so mutually defining
as to be indistinguishable.

While I'm sure not every reader feels the same level of
affinity for Stallman-indeed, after reading this book,
some might feel zero affinity-I'm sure most will agree.
Few individuals offer as singular a human portrait as
Richard M. Stallman. It is my sincere hope that, with
this initial portrait complete and with the help of the
GFDL, others will feel a similar urge to add their own
perspective to that portrait.