Richard Stallman is the father of the Free Software movement who now spends “most of his time in political advocacy for free software, and spreading the ethical ideas of the movement, as well as campaigning against both software patents and dangerous extension of copyright laws.”
Richard Matthew Stallman is a software developer and software freedom activist. Born in 1953, he attended Harvard starting in 1970 and graduated in 1974 with a Bachelor of Arts in physics. From September 1974 to June 1975 he was a graduate student in physics at MIT.
He worked at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT from 1971 to 1984, learning operating system development by doing it, except for the year he was a graduate student. He wrote the first extensible Emacs text editor there in 1976, and developed the AI technique of dependency-directed backtracking, also known as truth maintenance.
In 1983 Stallman announced the project to develop the GNU operating system, a Unix-like operating system meant to be entirely free software, and has been the project’s leader ever since. With that announcement he also launched the Free Software Movement.
Stallman began working on this project on January 5, 1984, resigning from MIT employment in order to do so. In October 1985 he started the Free Software Foundation, of which he is president as a full-time volunteer. Stallman 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, are used in tens or hundreds of millions of computers, and are now preinstalled in computers available in retail stores. However, the distributors of these systems often disregard the ideas of freedom which make free software important, and even include nonfree software in those systems.
That is why, since the mid-1990s, Stallman has spent most of his time in political advocacy for free software, and spreading the ethical ideas of the movement, as well as campaigning against both software patents and dangerous extension of copyright laws.
In 1985, Stallman published the GNU Manifesto, which outlined his motivation for creating a free operating system called GNU, which would be compatible with Unix.
The name GNU is a recursive acronym for “GNU’s Not Unix.”
Soon after, he started a nonprofit corporation called the Free Software Foundation to employ free software programmers and provide a legal infrastructure for the free software movement.
Stallman is the nonsalaried president of the FSF, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in Massachusetts.
Stallman popularized the concept of copyleft, a legal mechanism to protect the modification and redistribution rights for free software.
It was first implemented in the GNU Emacs General Public License, and in 1989 the first program-independent GNU General Public License (GPL) was released.
By then, much of the GNU system had been completed.
Richard Stallman’s snappy TEDx presentation is well worth watching if you want to understand the concepts of Free Software and the Four Freedoms.
Richard Stallman’s presentation on the The Danger of Software Patents [starting at 2 minutes 15 seconds into the video] is a far more laid back affair which [if you have the time and inclination] is very educational.