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Interview with Richard Stallman: Free Software & Women

«A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away from here…» when copyright was alive … came a man and expanded his ethics through the use of technology: “freedom, democracy, human rights and development” But, what do women mean to the Free Software?

Richard Stallman
Today we speak to the man that defy the big software monopolies, the big companies and has given a revolutionary soul, a spirit of freedom to the way you can use your computer: Richard Stallman

Every woman should be free to share and change software, just as every man should be.

On desire of Richard Stallman the audio and video linked files are in Ogg’s format:

Audio
Video

Related Link: www.fsf.org/resources/formats/playogg

Richard, do we need gods, goddess and wisemen, jedi? ;-)

I hope you don’t need gods or goddesses, because all the evidence says there are none.

There are people who are more or less wise, and from whom we can learn various things. But don’t expect anyone to give you “the answer”, because there isn’t one.

We need people to dedicate themselves to fighting for freedom and justice. We need a lot more of them today. There’s no mystical “force” that will aid us, but in the free software community you can use the source.

It is somehow funny that it had to be a North American the one to promote and communicate of the most social -socialist, even- approach and that it is finally making inroads in Europe.

The Free Software Movement has something in common with Socialism: we encourage cooperation and sharing, and contribution to the community.
Proprietary software forbids sharing, keeping the users divided and helpless.

The Free Software Movement also has something in common with Capitalism: your copy of a free program is your property, and there is a free market for all sorts of support and services relating to free software. Most proprietary software says you cannot own a copy, and the developer has a monopoly on support.

But the best way to understand the Free Software Movement is in terms of human rights. It was inspired by the ideals of freedom that I learned as a child in the US. Unlike the US government, I really stand for them.


Are we Europeans more or less receptive to the ideas behind the Free Software?

The US media spread the idea that human nature is pure selfishness.
They also discourage people from applying their ideas of freedom to issues which affect business profits. This leads Americans to feel more comfortable with the amoral ideas of open source rather than the the ethical concerns of free software.

Some European countries have much more interest in free software than the US.
Spain and France are perhaps the strongest ones.

Let’s talk about women and technology in general. It looks like we have been always in the background. What is your experience working with women? How do you feel and sense the fight for women rights?

I don’t have any experience working with women in programming projects; I don’t think that any volunteered to work on Emacs or GCC.

I am strongly in favor of equal rights for women, and always have been. I think that I somehow escaped learning the ideas of “machismo”.
I never learned to think that women ought to be subordinate to men, so I never had to unlearn it.


If we look at the FLOSS study in 2006 (1) just 1´5% of women use Free Software, compared with a 28% of the other one (the “bad one” ;-) ) It must be we like to be bad girls… or are we missinformed? Are women taken into account in the philosophical movement of Free Software? Do they have a rol to play?

I can’t suggest any specific “role for women” in the Free Software Movement, because the very idea would be sexist. Why should we expect a person to have a particular role just on account of being female?

The ethical ideas of free software are gender-neutral. Human rights apply the same to everyone, both rich or poor, both male and female.
Every woman should be free to share and change software, just as every man should be.

Because of this, I don’t have much occasion to deal with questions about women’s rights in connection with the Free Software Movement.
Our fight is for everyone.

Right, though last year we read a very interesting article about this titled “Women do not exclude themselves, but are pro-actively excluded” (2) so, do we have to fight twice in Free Sofware communities as well?

Where men exclude women, women are justified in resisting the exclusion. I will try to help, if it happens in a place where I have some influence, and I see the details of how it occurs.

How many women are participants in the Free Software Foundation Board?

Everyone on the FSF board is male. The founders of the FSF were all male. This reflects the fact that the software field and the free software community are mostly male.

Are there any relevant women in the European Free Software Foundation? and at the GNU Project?

I don’t know whether any women are involved in FSF Europe, but there is a woman on the board of directors of FSF Latin America (3).

About the GNU Project, it is hard for me to tell, because GNU development is very decentralized. Every GNU package has a maintainer who is in charge of that package. Most maintainers recruit other contributors to help, but I usually only know the maintainers.

I know most of the maintainers only through email, which means that I don’t know whether they are male or female unless their names show me.
I just looked at the list: one maintainer is probably female, and a few others have names that might be male or female.

It is clear that the maintainers are nearly all male. This is not due to a preference on our part, it is because the people who volunteer to do these jobs are male.

Do you have an opinion about women groups such as the Debian Women or Ubuntu Women?

Sorry, I don’t know anything about those groups.

What I know about Debian and Ubuntu is that they both distribute non-free software.

The Debian developers say that the non-free software on Debian servers is not officially part of Debian, that the official Debian GNU/Linux operating system is entirely free software. But the non-free software is still being distributed and recommended by their servers.

Ubuntu, by contrast, offers to install non-free software without saying thare is anything wrong with it.

Apple has used (and contributed to) free software, included in the OS X operating system we use everyday, but do you think of Mac OS X as another of the “Bad ones”?

Some of the lower level parts of Mac OS are released as free software, but the interesting graphical parts are all proprietary.

If you want to be free, Mac OS is no better than Windows.

Looking at Apple iTunes and DRM actions, what will Richard Stallman ask Steve Jobs next?

I am not the one who plans these actions — FSF staff do that. I would expect there is DRM in the iPhone, so we will probably do something about that.

“Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them” is a comical advertising campaign from the feminist movement… Hope that free software comunities, as others computer users will change a little their mind too, reading your thougths… What slogan will you use to convince women using technology and maybe considering the use of free software? “My first time with GNU” could be one? :-)

That is prejudiced and violent, as if it was made up by someone with too much testosterone.

I’ve never tried to look for rhetoric specifically for women — or specifically for men. I talk about freedom and community.

I sometimes use an analogy that perhaps is clearer to more women than men: the analogy between programs and recipes. Just as recipe users (cooks, male or female) share and change recipes when they wish, software users should be free to share and change recipes. But I did not choose this specifically for women. I cook occasionally when I have time, and I do use recipes.

Perhaps you would know better than I how to explain our philosophy in a way that is clear to more women.

“Please try it if you want to”.

That’s how a lot of the Free Software Movement works. Most of the work is done by volunteers. So when people propose ideas, if we don’t see anything wrong with them, we respond “Please try it if you want to.”
Some of the people do try the ideas, and some of them succeed.

Richard, can you tell us your next projects (once the GPL3 is out)?

Most of my work doesn’t consist of projects — GPLv3 was an exception.
Most of the work is stuff that comes up every day. And it’s never finished.

One more thing… what computer (hardware) are you using actually?

I’m using an IBM laptop that is around 6 years old. We have not got newer machines because the newer ones have more treacherous computing support.

Thank you to Richard Stallman for his time for Todas.
Best wishes.

(1) (link: http://www.flosspols.org/deliverables/FLOSSPOLS-D16-Gender_Integrated_Report_of_Findings.pdf) (http://ubuntu-women.org/ )
(2) http://www.elpais.com/articulo/portada/Cambridge/denuncia/hostilidad/mujeres/sector/tecnologico/elpcibpor/20060720elpcibpor_2/Tes
(3) Fernanda G. Weiden is a system administrator and council member of Free Software Foundation Latin America. She is participant of Debian Women and Organiser of the Fórum Internacional Software Livre (FISL). She is founder of Women in Free Software Project in Brazil. She currently works for Google, Zurich. She was speaker at Wizards of OS 4 in Berlin.

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