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Richard Stallman: Free Software — your freedom in computing

Dr. Richard Stallman

President, Free Software Foundation (,

Internet Hall-of-Famer (

Date: February 7th, 2019
Time:11am – 12:30pm
Place: Senate Chambers, Ross N940
Focus Session: LAS 3033, 12:30pm – 2:30pm


Richard Stallman will speak about the goals and philosophy of the Free Software Movement, and the status and history of the GNU operating system, which in combination with the kernel Linux is now used by tens of millions of users world-wide.


Richard Matthew Stallman leads the Free Software Movement, which shows how the usual non-free software subjects users to the unjust power of its developers, plus their spying and manipulation, and campaigns to replace it with free (freedom-respecting) software.

Stallman graduated Harvard in 1974 in physics. He worked at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab from 1971 to 1984, developing system software including the first extensible text editor Emacs (1976), plus the AI technique of dependency-directed backtracking, also known as truth maintenance (1975).

In 1983 Stallman launched the Free Software Movement by announcing the project to develop the GNU operating system,planned to consist entirely of free software (see Stallman began working on GNU on January 5, 1984, resigning from MIT employment in order to do so. In October 1985 he established the Free Software Foundation, of which he is president as a full-time volunteer.

Stallman invented the concept of copyleft, “Change it and redistribute it but don’t strip off this freedom,” and wrote (with lawyers) the GNU General Public License, which implements copyleft. This inspired Creative Commons.

Stallman personally developed a number of widely used software components of the GNU system: the GNU Compiler Collection,the GNU symbolic debugger (gdb)GNU Emacs, and various others.

The GNU/Linux system,which is a variant of GNU that also contains the kernel Linux developed by Linus Torvalds, is used in tens or hundreds of millions of computers. Alas, people often call the system “Linux”, giving the GNU Project none of the credit.

Their versions of GNU/Linux often disregard the ideas of freedom which make free software important, and even include nonfree software in those systems.

Nowadays, Stallman focuses on political advocacy for free software and its ethical ideas. He spends most of the year travelling to speak on topics such as “Free Software And Your Freedom” and “Copyright vs. Community in the Age of the Computer Networks”. Another topic is “A Free Digital Society”, which treats several different threats to the freedom of computer users today.

In1999, Stallman called for development of a free on-line encyclopedia through inviting the public to contribute articles. This idea helped inspire Wikipedia.

Stallman is officially a Visiting Scientist at MIT.

Free Software, Free Society is Stallman’s book of essays. His semi autobiography, Free as in Freedom, provides further biographical information.

Stallman has received many awards. Most notably among them are the ACM Grace Hopper Award and the ACM Software and Systems Award, a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award, and the Takeda Award for Social/Economic Betterment, as well as several doctorates honoris causa, and has been inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame. (For a full list of awards see