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Free as in Freedom [Paperback]: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software [Hardcover]

Sam Williams
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

11 Mar 2002 0596002874 978-0596002879 1

Free as in Freedom interweaves biographical snapshots of GNU project founder Richard Stallman with the political, social and economic history of the free software movement. It examines Stallman's unique personality and how that personality has been at turns a driving force and a drawback in terms of the movement's overall success.Free as in Freedom examines one man's 20-year attempt to codify and communicate the ethics of 1970s era "hacking" culture in such a way that later generations might easily share and build upon the knowledge of their computing forebears. The book documents Stallman's personal evolution from teenage misfit to prescient adult hacker to political leader and examines how that evolution has shaped the free software movement. Like Alan Greenspan in the financial sector, Richard Stallman has assumed the role of tribal elder within the hacking community, a community that bills itself as anarchic and averse to central leadership or authority. How did this paradox come about? Free as in Freedom provides an answer. It also looks at how the latest twists and turns in the software marketplace have diminished Stallman's leadership role in some areas while augmenting it in others.Finally, Free as in Freedom examines both Stallman and the free software movement from historical viewpoint. Will future generations see Stallman as a genius or crackpot? The answer to that question depends partly on which side of the free software debate the reader currently stands and partly upon the reader's own outlook for the future. 100 years from now, when terms such as "computer," "operating system" and perhaps even "software" itself seem hopelessly quaint, will Richard Stallman's particular vision of freedom still resonate, or will it have taken its place alongside other utopian concepts on the 'ash-heap of history?'

Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (11 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0596002874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0596002879
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 14.7 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 630,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"....A worthwhile read for its chronicle of an important part of the free software movement as well as into Stallman as a person...." -- Jende Huang, Washington Computer User, Jun 2002

"'s a good summary of one of the software world's most eminent men. ..." -- Dave Symonds, Computer Science Undergraduate Society, May 2002

A good and important work. I recommend it. -- Joe Barr, Linux World, August 26, 2002

A mesmerizing biography of one of the most influential people in computer science. -- Ben Rothke,, March 2002

A nuanced, detailed picture of Stallman that includes much that will be new even to close followers of the free-software movement. -- Andrew Leonard,, April 2, 2002

His philosophy and work has surely secured him a legacy as a man who has altered the way we look at software. -- Jende Huang, Washington Computer USer, Jun 2002

If you are interested in the open source movement, likely you'll want to read this book. It's interesting, challenging, and easy to follow. -- George Woolley, Oakland Perl Mongers, Feb 2003

The biogrpahy is a must read if you are to understand hte origin of Linux and free Software. --

The book is a great read for geeks, enlightening us on our heritage. --

This is a book that moves with economy through the life of the world's most famous hacker. -- Marc Rotenberg, EPIC, April 2002

From the Publisher

Free as in Freedom interweaves biographical snapshots of GNU project founder Richard Stallman with the political, social and economic history of the free software movement. It examines Stallman's unique personality and how that personality has been at turns a driving force and a drawback in terms of the movement's overall success.

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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Free as in Freedom is a generally sympathetic but far from hagiographic biography of Richard Stallman, inspiration of the free software movement. While much of the material in it will be familiar to anyone actively involved with free software, there are, as Williams claims, "facts and quotes in here that one won't find in any Slashdot story or Google search". It is also an entertaining and accessible study, which I finished within a day of my review copy arriving.
Williams begins with the famous jamming printer and Stallman's encounter with a non-disclosure agreement that prevented him writing reporting software for it. He then jumps forwards to a speech given by Stallman in 2001, responding to attacks by Microsoft on the GNU GPL. Having used these episodes to introduce Stallman and explain the basic idea of free software, the rest of the work continues in a similar vein, mixing historical chapters with ones describing Williams' own meetings with Stallman.
Chapter three describes Stallman's childhood as a prodigy; chapter four his experiences at Harvard and MIT; chapter six the MIT AI Lab and the Emacs "commune"; chapter seven the death of the MIT hacker community and the first announcement of the GNU Project; chapter nine the GNU GPL; chapter ten the appearance of Linux and debates over GNU/Linux; and chapter eleven the coining of the term "open source" and the arguments over that. These contain quotes by everyone from Stallman's mother to the leading lights of free software, as well as plenty by Stallman himself. The narrative never strays too far from its subject, but becomes inextricably interwoven with the broader history and politics of free software and sometimes digresses to cover key figures and events with which Stallman wasn't directly involved.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great biography of a very influential hacker! 26 Feb 2003
Its a very imformative, easy to read, and often amusing look at the life of this clever and driven hacker who's work has led to the increasing acceptance and quality of free software today. Many may not agree with all his ideas, but few doubt his genius. Recommended for both those with a good understanding of free software, and those with little prior knowledge. Great stuff!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and well-written 21 Mar 2005
The book contains a brief biography (so far) and an overview of the beliefs of Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation. It contains interesting tidbits and provides an outsider's view on this quirky but undoubtedly highly influential individual. If you are interested in learning more about the person who kick started the free software phenomenon, which is
now transforming the computing world, you should get this book. If you are more interested in the man's ideas, there are other books out there, most notably "Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman".
The book is also available free online under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), so you can download it at no cost if you so wish.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Misunderstood zealot 16 Dec 2002
By Mr. George Johnson VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I basically bought this book looking for information about where Linux came from, what I recieved was an education about what free open standard software development is all about and why its so important to one man. I got a good understanding about why Richard Stallman is such a driven man. The book hardly mentions Linux but concentrates primarily on what drives Stallman to keep going, and live the software developers equivalent of a rock star's life. Constantly travelling, preaching to small audiences of converts, never having time to think about lifes other problems, never time to settle. It also seems to paint a picture of a man, who although so closely tied into technology, doesn't seem to want to rely on it, to get his message through to his audience, often travelling thousands of miles just to talk to 200 people in a school gym. You also get a sense of the shear size of the struggle he his facing in his efforts, trying to make people aware that there are alternatives, its not Stallmans mission to detail them, but to make sure you know they are there. Whenever I now see Stallman's name mentioned in media articles, I now feel I have a better idea about why his will and passion sometimes blind him to peoples feelings. If you have any interest in the free software movement, positive or negative, you should obtain this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Love him or hate him - it's a good read 9 April 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I can't imagine this book being of much interest to a non-computing type but as a supporter of free software I enjoyed it from the beginning. I saw RMS speak once and his talk was very inspirational. I could have expected this book to be 'fanboy' patting RMS on the back but it wasn't. The author delved into his life and did not shy from describing the criticisms levelled at RMS. The history of the GNU/GPL subject was great - the author has done the groundwork and obviously knows his stuff.
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