Richard Stallman’s dissenting view on Steve Jobs

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One can always depend on Richard M. Stallman for a provocative take on technology issues, and his response to the death of Steve Jobs delivers. Founder of the free software (or open source) movement and the very model of the modern major iconoclast, Stallman wrote the following eulogy to Jobs on his personal blog on Oct. 6 (it’s worth reading in its entirety):

Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.


As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, ‘I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone.’ Nobody deserves to have to die -- not Jobs, not Mr. Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs’ malign influence on people’s computing.

Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.

As one can surmise from that sendoff, Stallman’s and Jobs’ views on software as a business are diametrically opposed. A computer science pioneer and unpaid researcher at MIT, Stallman has militated against software patents and the anti-privacy features that are deeply embedded in today’s most popular mobile devices, Apple’s iPhone and iPad prominent among them. Apple’s sedulous control over the apps it markets to its customers similarly goes against the Stallman grain.

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

Stallman’s remarks have prompted an outpouring of indignation among the high-tech punditocracy, as though they were shocked at the rudeness of this famously outspoken activist’s refusal to join the mass adoration of Apple’s co-founder.

Yet Stallman’s critique of Jobs’ business model has merit. For all Jobs’ focus on user-friendly devices, Apple’s buttoned-down approach to its software and apps, along with the way its mobile devices facilitate violations of their users’ privacy, should be the subject of much broader concern. Stallman’s eulogy may get wide distribution because of its tone, but his underlying point about the digital world deserves to be heeded.



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--Michael Hiltzik