17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
I bought this book at Hackers on Planet Earth 6, and then after reading it in the morning, had the double benefit of hearing the author as keynote speaker in the afternoon. He is everything the book's contents suggest, and more. The author is one of the original MIT hackers (pick up a used copy of Shirley Turkle's "My Second Self, Computers and the Human Spirit" and/or Steven Levy's "Hacker's" which the author himself recommends.
The author's brilliant bottom line is quite clear throughout the book: software copyright prevents people from improving or sharing the foundation for progress in the digital era.
The author's social-technical innovation, which appears now to be acquiring tsunami force around the world, and is manifested in the Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS) movement that is being nurtured by governments worldwide from Brazil to China to Israel to the United Kingdom to Norway, is to modify copyright to a term he credits to another, copyleft, meaning that copyright in the new definition grants ALL permissions EXCEPT the permission to RESTRICT the enhancement and sharing of the software.
The author is also very careful to define the term free as meaning freedom of movement and growth, not free of price. GNU, his invention, removes computational obstacles to competition, and levels the playing field for more important innovations. In his view, the core issue is not about price, but about eliminating restrictions to freedom of sharing and enhancement.
On page 37 he sums up his life's purpose: "Proprietary and secret software is the moral equivalent of runners having a fist fight (during the race)" -- they all lose.
The author carefully distinguishes between the free and open source software, citing the first as a movement with values, the second as a process.
His candidacy for a Nobel Prize is captured in the sentence on page 61, "Free software contributes to human knowledge, non-free software does not."
Across the book, a collection of essays put into a very well ordered (not necessarily chronological) form, this book is a history of GNU (not UNIX) by its creator and co-founder of the Free Software Foundation. It is replete with concise useful discussions of terms, conditions, and cultures relevant to the future of mankind as a thinking forward looking species.
Section two, on copyright, copyleft, and patents is very helpful, and likely to become a standard in the field as the public fires elected representatives who sell out to Mickey Mouse copyright extenders, and demands a return to the original Constitutional limitation of copyright as an artifact of government, not a natural right, focused on nurturing knowledge. It means mention that Lawrence Lessig (see my reviews of his books) writes the introduction--the two authors together, along with Cass Sunstein, may be the most important trio of thinkers with respect to the future of man in the context of science, copyright, risk, and software as a human global contributor to sanity.
The author's keynote address at HOPE 6 is discussed toward the end of the book, where he lists the Four Freedoms:
Freedom 0: Run a program as you wish, for any purpose you wish, not limited to any narrowly defined application.
Freedom 1: Help yourself by improving the program (which requires access to source code).
Freedom 2: Help your neighbor by sharing a copy of the program with them.
Freedom 3: Help community by sharing the improved copy at large.
There is no question in my mind but that this manifesto of a single man's life's work is as important as Tom Paine's Common Sense treatises. There is a war now emergent between the classes (US elites bribing foreign elites, both screwing their publics over for private gain), and between corporations and the people, corporations long having abused the independent legal personality that was granted to promote business, and ended up being a legal barrier to holding corporate managers accountable for grand theft and social irresponsibility.
Toward the end the author offers thoughtful suggestions on how to "drop out" of the proprietary software world, and his thinking resonates with "No Logo" and its recommendations on selective purchasing.
This book is not a technical book although it offers up many understandable insights to technical matters underlying the social philosophy of the author. It is not a legal book either, but offers important informed commentary vital to getting the law focused again on human progress. Finally, in no way does the book dismiss the importance of capitalism--the author clearly states that it is entirely appropriate to charge a fee for one's contributions--this is about the "how" not the "how much.
Absolutely superb collection of essays, extremely important to where we go in the future. The author is not only an original hacker, he represents hacking as it should be understood by the authorities (see my review of Bruce Sterling, Hackers at the Edge of the Electronic Frontier), and as I see them--as people who have the "right stuff" and are testing the edge, pushing the frontier. In a world of drones, these are the libertarian spirits that may well keep us out of perpetual prison.
For reference: DARPA's STRONG ANGEL program, empowered now by DoD Directive 3000.cc. specifically seeks to create a suite of collaborative sharing and analytic tools that can be provided free to any non-governmental organization and any state and local government. Support costs have to be shared. It is now understood at the highest levels of the US military that we cannot make peace without sharing all information in all languages all the time (my third book), and this is progress.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2008
`Free Software, Free Society', a short, yet poignant book by renowned software freedom activist Richard Stallman demonstrates the importance of free software in society, a movement in which he has actively participated since joining a software-sharing community at MIT in 1971. Since then, Stallman has both advocated the importance and raised awareness of free software, battling copyright and founding clever terms such as "copyleft" and even "free software" itself. His book first describes GNU (Gnu's Not Unix), a free adaptation of the Unix operating system that Stallman created to promote a community of cooperative hackers. He also makes certain to precisely define his terms; Stallman both explains free software is `free as in freedom', not in price, and also distinguishes between the seemingly synonymous words of `free' and `open'. Richard Stallman later introduces the concept of `copyleft' (a method which mandates that software obtained from the public domain be passed along for others to further copy or change it) and analyzes problems and misinterpretations of copyright, explaining, for example, how copyright is not a natural right guaranteed by the Constitution, but rather a government-imposed monopoly. Stallman ends the book with a collection of miscellaneous, but relevant topics, such as `words to avoid' and GNU licensing.
Overall, I found Free Software, Free Society both interesting and informative. As one might expect, Richard Stallman does not write like most authors. Instead of employing a `style that sells' (i.e. "decorating" the book with irrelevant information or references in order to appeal to the largest audience possible), Stallman writes what he believes, regardless of whether it fits public opinion. He is articulate, strong, and convincing: he has a clear goal of informing the reader of everything related to the free software movement, and he draws from his own experience to support his stand. Although the book maintains an informative style, it is not written for the technical savvy (and for the basic understanding Stallman assumes the reader has, there is a section in the beginning of the book that reviews the fundamentals of software and computers). Of course, this does, at times, make the book feel more like a student textbook, though I nevertheless remained interested throughout the entire text. In short, I would undoubtedly recommend Free Software, Free Society to anyone with even a remote interest in computers, the internet, or law.
on September 16, 2013
As someone quite new to the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software), I found this book highly informative and a fitting introduction to the FOSS philosophy for a newbie. It is a collection of essays written by the man himself, Richard Stallman, the father of the whole free software movement. He goes to great lengths to discuss the importance and impact of free software movement, the motives behind it, the creation of GNU GPL, together with some details on the history of GNU/FSF and adaptation of Linux, as well as his opinion on other intellectual property measures such as patents. Parts of his essays are a little too philosophical but a fun read nevertheless. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning the whole fuss about FOSS.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2008
Very good philosophy book on the reasons behind the free software movement. A very good read to understand Stallman, who after all, brought forth the Gnu project. Almost every computer has some piece of Gnu Public License software on it now, so it makes sense to read, even if you are a Windows or Macintosh person.