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March 11, 2002

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software

Sebastopol, CA--Why would Microsoft executives lie awake at night worrying about the antics of a long-haired, renegade hacker named Richard Stallman? Why do some of the smartest programmers on the planet revere this man as "St. Ignucius"? And how did a stubborn, precocious boy obsessed with creating the perfect model rocket grow up to play David to the software industry's Goliath? A new book, Free as in Freedom, (Sam Williams, O'Reilly, US $22.95) traces Stallman's evolution from gifted, solitary child to teen outcast to revered and reviled crusader.

As the leader of the free software movement, Stallman is one of the most influential and controversial personalities in hacker culture today. Through extensive interviews with Stallman, his family, and fellow hackers, author Sam Williams has created an intimate portrait of this freedom fighter.

No one is apathetic about Stallman, the controversial founder of the Free Software Foundation (FSF). A brilliant coder, MacArthur "genius grant" recipient, and self-described borderline autistic, he single-handedly launched the movement that threatens to beat Microsoft by radically changing the rules of the software game.

To Stallman, free software--"free as in speech, not beer"--is a moral imperative. From the moment he encountered "unfree" printer software in 1980, he has dedicated his life to ridding the world of proprietary code. Equipped with a messianic zeal, world-class programming chops, and a fair measure of geek charisma, he set out to enlist every last programmer in his crusade for freedom.

"Nobody but Richard could have had the patience, and the stubbornness, and the will to build something this big," says Williams. "There are other people writing free software, but he's the one that made it an issue. He's the one that provided the initial gravitation that everybody else could gather around."

This provocative chronicle offers fans and foes alike perspective on this inscrutable high-tech Robin Hood--as well as new understanding of the issues that promise to shape the future of the software industry.

"Richard has developed a coherent philosophy that has forced all of us to reexamine our ideas of how software is produced, of what intellectual property means, and what the software community actually represents."
--Ed Schonberg, Professor, NYU Computer Science Department

"Stallman's ideals will define our future--if we are lucky."
--Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School and author of "Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace"

"I think if you want to understand Richard Stallman the human being, you really need to see all of the parts as a consistent whole. All those personal eccentricities that people see as obstacles to getting to know Stallman, really are Stallman: Richard's strong sense of personal frustration, his enormous sense of principles, his ethical commitment, his inability to compromise, especially on issues he considers fundamental. These are all the very reasons Richard did what he did when he did."
--Eben Moglen, Professor of Law, Columbia University Law School and legal counsel to The FSF

"He was special. A clear thinker and a clear designer."
--Gerald Sussman, MIT faculty member and former A.I. Lab researcher

"We were all geeks and nerds, but he was unusually poorly adjusted. He was also smart as sh*t. I've known a lot of smart people, but I think he was the smartest person I've ever known."
--Dan Chess, Mathematics Professor, Hunter College, and fellow math prodigy

"Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put three man-years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product, and distributing it for free?"
--Bill Gates in his "Open Letter to Hobbyists"

"I saw in Richard the stereotypical hacker type. We don't have much of them in Helsinki."
--Linus Torvalds, seeing Richard for the first time in 1990

"Richard was the first to take up what is now a very important battle...He was an early, lone voice warning of how the concept of software intellectual property could undermine, rather than support, the programmer."
--Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium

"Unquestionably one of the great seminal figures of hacker culture."
--Eric Raymond, author of "The Cathedral and the Bazaar"

"A long overdue book on a fascinating person who, by sheer force of character, has changed how the world looks at technology."
--Bob Young, Co-Founder, Red Hat, Inc.

"Happy hacking, folks."
--Richard M. Stallman

Online Resources:

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software
By Sam Williams
March 2002
0-596-00287-4, Order Number: 2874
240 pages, $22.95 US $34.95 CA
order@oreilly.com
(800) 998-9938; (707) 827-7000

About O'Reilly

O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption by amplifying "faint signals" from the alpha geeks who are creating the future. An active participant in the technology community, the company has a long history of advocacy, meme-making, and evangelism.

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