School of Information Science - Hall of Fame

Richard M. Stallman
  • Richard M. Stallman
  • Born: March 16, 1953
  • Field: Computer science; free software
  • Focus: Started the Free Software movement. Founder of the GNU project, the Free Software Foundation, and the League for Programming Freedom.
  • Country: United States
  • Era: 1990 to present

Richard Stallman (also referred to by his initials, "RMS") is a gifted programmer who is best known for starting the Free Software movement as the embodiment of his philosophy that "software wants to be free." He strongly advocates, and essentially demands, the sharing of code without artificial hindrance of restrictions as a means of sharing knowledge and encouraging and bettering software and computer science. He is the founder of the GNU project, the Free Software Foundation, and the League for Programming Freedom.

Stallman's primary technical contributions stem from the GNU initiative, where GNU is a recursive acronym for "GNU's Not UNIX." The GNU project is responsible for a number of development tools and system libraries, including the GNU Emacs editor, the GNU C Compiler, and the GNU Debugger, all of which Stallman created personally. The GNU operating system, once referred to as Hurd, is a distant ancestor of Linux (or GNU/Linux, which is how Stallman would like to see it referred to based on its development with GNU tools and system libraries). [Editor's note: I can personally attest to the quality of the GNU Emacs editor, as I'm using it at the moment.)

A significant impact of the GNU project and the Free Software Foundation has been the concept of "copyleft," which encourages contributions and improvements to free software source code. The concept is enshrined in the GNU General Public License for software, an agreement that mandates the sharing and redistribution of improvements to software made available under GPL. While the bane of corporate America and a source of employment for countless corporate lawyers, the GPL has done much to foster and perpetuate Stallman's beliefs.

Stallman received a B.A. in physics from Harvard in 1974. He spent a number of years pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science from MIT, but resigned in 1984 before completing the degree requirements. He has been awarded three honorary doctoral degrees from European universities and survives on income from various fellowships and from speaking and teaching arrangements.

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