No it’s not this Dos Equis dude. In my view the most interesting man I’ve heard about lately is arguably Richard M.Stallman – or RMS as he is known in the IT community worldwide.

I will not publish Mr. Stallman’s photo here because he cares deeply about his privacy. You can Google or Bing him if you want.

Richard Stallman started the Free Software Foundation in the 1980s with the goal of making a Unix-like operating system that was free – and in the sense of freedom from restrictions, rather than free of charge. Think free speech, not free beer – libris not gratis. The name for this new operating system was GNU. He and his colleagues had completed a fair number of the necessary programs by the early 90s but they were still missing the Kernel – the program that interacts between the user programs and the hardware itself. RMS and his co-workers had a kernel program in mind – it’s called The Hurd. Their design  – while elegant and sophisticated – was very hard to debug, and as a result took years longer to get operational. Even in 2016 The Hurd hasn’t achieved “production” quality although it works OK in virtual computing.

So what happened with the rest of GNU? Well, in the early 1990s Linus Torvalds produced a working Kernel program that ran on PCs. He made it available via the Internet, and a number of folks “discovered” the GNU tools and patched them into Linus’s kernel. The result?  RMS would like us to call it GNU/Linux but most of the world just chooses the name Linux. The rest is history.

GNU/Linux is a worldwide success and GNU/Hurd is still in the lab. And I’m sure deep down this really grates on Richard Stallman,

One should never minimize the contributions of RMS and his co-workers. In addition to contributing most of the GNU/Linux software tools, they wrote the GNU Public Licence – which outlines the rights and responsibilities of any user of GNU (free) software. The Linux kernel is also licensed under the GPL. The net effect was to energize a worldwide collaboration in software development which has taken Linux to another level.

Free software development soon led to the concept of Open Source. Open Source is a bit more pragmatic approach which uses the collaborative development process of Free Software but allows for the use of non-free (proprietary) bits like MP3 music compression, and video card drivers. This goes far beyond the scope of Richard Stallman’s work, he doesn’t agree with it and he gets really ticked off if people call him the father of Open Source development.

What is most interesting about RMS though is not his substantial contributions to the GNU Project (and by extension GNU/Linux) but his philosophy. To RMS software development using the Free Software model is a way of life, a community building exercise, something worth putting your name on and devoting your life’s work to. It’s rare to come across such a Don Quixote in the IT world. I respect and admire him.

Need you ask what he thinks of Apple, Amazon or Donald Trump?