[conspire] What's wrong with "FLOSS" (was: Penguin Day - Demysitify FLOSS for Nonprofits)

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Tue Apr 19 10:49:48 PDT 2005

Quoting William R Ward (bill at wards.net):

> Richard Stallman is a genius in a lot of ways, but marketing was never
> one of them.  Which is exactly why "free software" languished in the
> obscurity of academia for at least a decade before "open source" came
> along and started being understood by the mainstream.

Well said.  Just to underline that point, here's my write-up for IDG of
one of Eric Raymond's talks, where he spoke to that point:

> Compromise is important, and I think Richard needs to do it more.

You know, Richard is in many ways a walking advertisement for the
advantages of _not_ compromising -- when you have a long-term goal whose
achievement requires dogged long-term effort over decades.

I hope this e-mail (below) still holds interest.  I've substituted
[company] for the corporate name in question, that Richard visited.
I wrote it when I was chief sysadmin for a major Linux firm that shall
go nameless.  "spam-l" was the general-announcements mailing list for
the company.

Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999 21:48:52 -0700
From: Rick Moen
To: spam-l@[company].com
Subject: About Richard M. Stallman, Friday's guest speaker
X-Mailer: Mutt 0.93.2

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man
persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all
progress depends on the unreasonable man."
                                               -George Bernard Shaw

Tomorrow, those of us in the San Francisco office will hear from a man
who changed the world.  Our visiting speaker, Richard M. Stallman ("RMS"),
is one of the great Unreasonable Men of all time.  This note is an
attempt to explain _why_ you should listen to him.

This is important to mention because you might be tempted to ignore him.

What you'll see is a scruffy-looking forty-year-old with the sort of
untamed beard you'd expect from the Biblical prophets -- and occasional
personal oddities that might distract you from what he's saying.  And
he carries on about his odd thoughts concerning software and freedom.
And he gets very cranky about several everyday words and figures of
speech that you take for granted.  Not an impressive sight.  And yet
he's an honoured guest everywhere he goes.


Because starting in 1984, he literally created the ideas, social
mechanisms, and much of the key computer programs that make open-source
software[1] work.  Before then, Linux[2] not only didn't exist, but
the _ideas_ behind it wouldn't have even occurred to anyone.

Further, his (and his foundation's) software work is literally the
foundation of just about everybody else's:  He wrote (or caused to be
written) many of the key software tools that made everyone else's
accomplishments possible.  He pretty much built the free software world,
nearly single-handed.

He invented the IDEA of [company].  Think about that.

He did this by being unreasonable.  And very, very determined.  He
refuses to sign non-disclosure agreements -- or to use any proprietary
software[3], not even Netscape Navigator for Linux.  And admonishes
people for calling our operating system "Linux" rather than "GNU".
And wants them to say "bootlegging" instead of "piracy".
Because he feels one way of doing things is right, and the other wrong.         
He'll tell you why he thinks that -- and you might even agree.
I say he was _unreasonable_ because he refused to accept the way the            
software world was (in his view) degrading in 1984 -- and invented a            
way of making it change back the way he preferred it.  And it worked.
And he'll tell you about that, so I won't have to.

If you're willing to look past Richard Stallman being a very, very odd
person, with no public-relations firm to tell him how to sell himself,
but with a towering amount of hard-earned credibility, listen to the            

-- Rick M.

[1] _Don't_ say "open source" to his face.  It's "free software".  Same         
stuff, different emphasis.  Just trust me on this one.

[2]  Again, no joke, but what you call a Linux system is largely key            
software from Stallman's GNU Project.  RMS wants people to acknowledge          
the latter by calling the OS "GNU/Linux".  It's an uphill battle for

[3] Another important distinction:  _Commercial_ software is by definition      
any software that is sold.  _Proprietary_ software is software that is          
not available under a free-software licence.  The Debian distribution,
for example, is commercial in that you can buy or sell it, but has no           
proprietary components.

> "Gesundheit" doesn't mean "God bless you," so the story wouldn't make
> sense.

(My apologies for attributing this explanation to Christian, rather than
to you.)

> Richard is truly responsible for a lot of important stuff.  But he
> isn't Mohammed - you can't take everything he ever said or wrote as
> absolute.

Even Mohammed jokingly said that "If the mountain will not come to
Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain."  

(Well, actually, that's just the slightly mangled version that came down
to us English-speakers via Francis Bacon's essays.  The actual legend
goes that when the founder of Islam was asked to give proofs of his
teaching, he ordered Mount Safa to come to him. When the mountain did
not comply, Mohammed raised his hands toward heaven and said, "God is
merciful. Had it obeyed my words, it would have fallen on us to our
destruction. I will therefore go to the mountain and thank God that he
has had mercy on a stiff-necked generation."  A little longer, but also
interesting, I think, in showing that the man knew how to deal with a
tough audience.)

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