Richard Stallman

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"The hacker ethic refers to the feelings of right and wrong, to the ethical ideas this community of people had -- that knowledge should be shared with other people who can benefit from it, and that important resources should be utilized rather than wasted." - Richard Stallman, MEME 2.04, 1996.

The "last of the true hackers", Richard Matthew Stallman was born in New York City in 1953.  He joined the group of hackers at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (AI Lab) in 1971.

In 1984, Stallman started the influential GNU project to develop a free operating system called GNU.  GNU is compatible with Unix, and the name GNU stands for "GNU's Not Unix", to emphasize that it is like Unix but not Unix.  Today millions of people use a version of GNU, though often referring to it as Linux, which is actually the name of the operating system kernel, published under the GNU General Public License (as are many of the other software packages usually distributed with the Linux kernel).

Stallman resigned from the MIT AI Lab to start GNU, so that MIT would not be able to claim the copyright on the GNU software, but the university was kind enough to let him use their computers.  In 1985, Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation as a tax-exempt charity for development of free software.  Interestingly, much of the FSF funding comes from the sale of CDROM's containing copies of the FSF software.

His first license formalization was the Emacs General Public License in 1988, followed in 1989 by the GNU General Public License (GPL), the first Free Open Source Software license, freeing anyone to use, change, and distribute the software, as long as they included any modifications under the same license.  This well thought out value generation engine is used in a wide range of software from operating systems to games, and more than half of FOSS uses some version of it.

Stallman also developed some very sophisticated and useful software, including the GNU EMACS text editor, GNU symbolic debugger (GDB), and GNU C compiler.

Stallman has received the following awards and distinctions among others:

  • 1991 -- Grace Hopper Award from the Association for Computing Machinery, for development of the first Emacs editor in the 1970s.
  • 1990 -- MacArthur Foundation fellowship, and $240,000 genius grant
  • 1996 -- Honorary doctorate from the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden.
  • 1998 -- Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer award, shared with Linus Torvalds
  • 1999 -- Yuri Rubinski Award.
  • 2001 -- Honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow.
  • 2001 -- Takeda Award for Social/Economic Betterment, shared with Torvalds and Ken Sakamura.
  • 2002 -- Elected to the US National Academy of Engineering.