Born (1953-03-16) March 16, 1953 (age 60)
New York City,United States
Nationality American
Other names rms, St. iGNUcius (avatar)
Alma mater Harvard University,Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Occupation President of the Free software Foundation
Known for Free Software movement,GNU,Emacs


Richard Matthew Stallman is a software developer and software freedom activist. He campaigns for the freedom to use, study, distribute and modify software; software that ensures these freedoms legally (via its license) is termed free software . He distinguishes his efforts in the free software movement from those of the  open source movement and emphasizes that his position is about freedom and ethics. Stallman opposes proprietary software , that is, software which denies those freedoms through software license agreements,non-disclosure agreements,activation keys,dongles,copy restriction,Tivoization and other such hardware restrictions,proprietary formats and binary executables without source code and thus forces its users into a role of dependence and even addiction on its supplier. He objects to the use of binary blobs in open source projects such Linux Foundation Linux kreneland advocates Linux-libre as an alternative.


Born in 1953, he attended Harvard starting in 1970 and graduated in 1974 with a Bachelor of Arts in physics. From September 1974 to June 1975 he was a graduate student in physics at MIT.

He worked at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT from 1971 to 1984, learning operating system development by doing it, except for the year he was a graduate student. He wrote the first extensible Emacs text editor there in 1976, and developed the AI technique of dependency-directed backtracking, also known as truth maintenance.

In 1983 Stallman announced the project to develop the GNU operating system, a Unix-like operating system meant to be entirely free software, and has been the project’s leader ever since. With that announcement he also launched the Free Software Movement.

Stallman began working on this project on January 5, 1984, resigning from MIT employment in order to do so. In October 1985 he started the Free Software Foundation, of which he is president as a full-time volunteer.

The GNU/Linux system, which is a variant of GNU that also uses the kernel Linux developed by Linus Torvalds, are used in tens or hundreds of millions of computers, and are now preinstalled in computers available in retail stores. However, the distributors of these systems often disregard the ideas of freedom which make free software important, and even include nonfree software in those system.

That is why, since the mid-1990s, Stallman has spent most of his time in political advocacy for free software, and spreading the ethical ideas of the movement, as well as campaigning against both software patents and dangerous extension of copyright laws. Before that, Stallman developed a number of widely used software components of the GNU system, the GNU Compiler Collection, the GNU symbolic debugger (gdb), GNU Emacs, and various other programs for the GNU operating system.

Stallman pioneered the concept of copyleft, and is the main author of the GNU General Public License, the most widely used free software license, which implements copyleft.

Stallman gives speeches frequently about free software and related topics. Common speech titles include “The GNU Operating System and the Free Software movement”, “The Dangers of Software Patents”, and “Copyright and Community in the Age of the Computer Networks”. A fourth common topic consists of explaining the changes in version 3 of the GNU General Public License, which was released in June 2007. Another topic is “A Free Digital Society”, which treats several different threats to the freedom of computer users today.

In 1999, Stallman called for development of a free on-line encyclopedia through the means of inviting the public to contribute articles.


Stallman’s writings on free software issues can be found in Free Software, Free Society (GNU Press). He has received the following awards:

  • 1986: Honorary life time membership in the Chalmers Computer Society
  • 1990: Receives a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship
  • 1990: The Association for Computing Machinery’s Grace Murray Hopper Award “For pioneering work in the development of the extensible editor EMACS (Editing Macros).”
  • 1996: Honorary doctorate from Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology
  • 1998: Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer award
  • 1999: Yuri Rubinsky Memorial Award
  • 2001: The Takeda Techno-Entrepreneurship Award for Social/Economic Well-Being
  • 2001: Honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow
  • 2002: United States National Academy of Engineering membership
  • 2003: Honorary doctorate from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • 2003: Honorary professorship from the Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería del Perú
  • 2004: Honorary doctorate from the Universidad Nacional de Salta, in Argentina
  • 2004: Honorary professorship from the Universidad Tecnológica del Perú
  • 2005: Fundazione Pistoletto prize
  • 2007: Honorary professorship from the Universidad Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, in Peru
  • 2007: First Premio Iternacional Extremadura al Conocimiento Libre
  • 2007: Honorary doctorate from the Universidad de Los Angeles de Chimbote, in Peru
  • 2007: Honorary doctorate from the University of Pavia
  • 2008: Honorary doctorate from the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo, in Peru
  • 2009: Honorary doctor of science degree from Lakehead University in Canada
  • 2011: Honorary doctorate from the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, in Argentina
  • 2012: Honorary professorship from the Universidad César Vallejo de Trujillo, in Peru
  • 2012: Honorary doctorate from the Universidad Latinoamericana Cima de Tacna, in Peru
  • 2012: Honorary doctorate from the Universidad José Faustino Sanchez Carrió, in Peru.

Early years

Stallman was born to Alice Lippman and Daniel Stallman, in 1953 in New York City. His first experience with computers was at the IBM New York Scientific Center when he was in high school. He was hired for the summer to write a numerical analysis program in Fortran. He completed the task after a couple of weeks and spent the rest of the summer writing a text editor in APL. Stallman spent the summer after his high-school graduation writing another program, a preprocessor for the PL/I programming language on the IBM System/360.

During this time, Stallman was also a volunteer laboratory assistant in the biology department at Rockefeller University. Although he was already moving toward a career in mathematics or physics, his teaching professor at Rockefeller thought he would have a future as a biologist.

As a first-year student at Harvard University, Stallman was known for his strong performance in Math 55. In 1971 he became a programmer at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and became a regular in the hacker community, where he was usually known by his initials, rms (which was the name of his computer accounts). Stallman was graduated from Harvard magna cum laude earning an AB in Physics in 1974.

Stallman enrolled as a graduate student at MIT, but then ended his pursuit of a doctorate in physics to focus on his programming at the MIT AI Laboratory.

While a graduate student at MIT, Stallman published a paper with Gerald Jay Sussman on an AI truth maintenance system, called dependency-directed backtracking. This paper was an early work on the problem of intelligent backtracking in constraint satisfaction problems. As of 2003, the technique Stallman and Sussman introduced is still the most general and powerful form of intelligent backtracking.The technique of constraint recording, wherein partial results of a search are recorded for later reuse, was also introduced in this paper.

As a hacker in MIT’s AI laboratory, Stallman worked on software projects such as TECO, Emacs, and the Lisp machine operating system. He would become an ardent critic of restricted computer access in the lab, which at that time was funded primarily by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. When MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) installed a password control system in 1977, Stallman found a way to decrypt the passwords and sent users messages containing their decoded password, with a suggestion to change it to the empty string (that is, no password) instead, to re-enable anonymous access to the systems. Around 20% of the users followed his advice at the time, although passwords ultimately prevailed. Stallman boasted of the success of his campaign for many years afterward.

 Decline of MIT hacker culture

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the hacker culture that Stallman thrived on began to fragment. To prevent software from being used on their competitors’ computers, most manufacturers stopped distributing source code and began using copyright and restrictive software licenses to limit or prohibit copying and redistribution. Such proprietary software had existed before, and it became apparent that it would become the norm. This shift in the legal characteristics of software can be regarded as a consequence triggered by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, as stated by Stallman’s MIT fellow Brewster Kahle

When Brian Reid in 1979 placed time bombs in the Scribe markup language and word processing system to restrict unlicensed access to the software, Stallman proclaimed it “a crime against humanity.” He clarified, years later, that it is blocking the user’s freedom that he believes is a crime, not the issue of charging for the software.

In 1980, Stallman and some other hackers at the AI Lab were refused access to the source code for the software of a newly installed laser printer, the Xerox 9700. Stallman had modified the software for the Lab’s previous laser printer (the XGP, Xerographic Printer), so it electronically messaged a user when the person’s job was printed, and would message all logged-in users waiting for print jobs if the printer was jammed. Not being able to add these features to the new printer was a major inconvenience, as the printer was on a different floor from most of the users. This experience convinced Stallman of people’s need to be free to modify the software they use.[2

Richard Greenblatt, a fellow AI Lab hacker, founded Lisp Machines, Inc. (LMI) to market Lisp machines, which he and Tom Knight designed at the lab. Greenblatt rejected outside investment, believing that the proceeds from the construction and sale of a few machines could be profitably reinvested in the growth of the company. In contrast, the other hackers felt that the venture capital-funded approach was better. As no agreement could be reached, hackers from the latter camp founded Symbolics, with the aid of Russ Noftsker, an AI Lab administrator. Symbolics recruited most of the remaining hackers including notable hacker Bill Gosper, who then left the AI Lab. Symbolics also forced Greenblatt to resign by citing MIT policies. While both companies delivered proprietary software, Stallman believed that LMI, unlike Symbolics, had tried to avoid hurting the lab’s community. For two years, from 1982 to the end of 1983, Stallman worked by himself to clone the output of the Symbolics programmers, with the aim of preventing them from gaining a monopoly on the lab’s computers.

Stallman argues that software users should have the freedom to share with their neighbor and to be able to study and make changes to the software that they use. He maintains that attempts by proprietary software vendors to prohibit these acts are antisocial and unethical. The phrase “software wants to be free” is often incorrectly attributed to him, and Stallman argues that this is a misstatement of his philosophy.] He argues that freedom is vital for the sake of users and society as a moral value, and not merely for pragmatic reasons such as possibly developing technically superior software.

In February 1984, Stallman quit his job at MIT to work full-time on the GNU project, which he had announced in September 1983.

 GNU project

Main article: GNU Project


Stallman announced the plan for the GNU operating system in September 1983 on several ARPANET mailing lists and USENET.

Stallman started the project on his own and describes: “As an operating system developer, I had the right skills for this job. So even though I could not take success for granted, I realized that I was elected to do the job. I chose to make the system compatible with Unix so that it would be portable, and so that Unix users could easily switch to it.”

In 1985, Stallman published the GNU Manifesto, which outlined his motivation for creating a free operating system called GNU, which would be compatible with Unix. The name GNU is a recursive acronym for “GNU’s Not Unix.” Soon after, he started a nonprofit corporation called the Free Software Foundation to employ free software programmers and provide a legal infrastructure for the free software movement. Stallman is the nonsalaried president of the FSF, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in Massachusetts. Stallman popularized the concept of copyleft, a legal mechanism to protect the modification and redistribution rights for free softwae. It was first implemented in the GNU Emacs General Public License, and in 1989 the first program-independent GNU General Public License (GPL) was released. By then, much of the GNU system had been completed.

Stallman was responsible for contributing many necessary tools, including a text editor (Emacs), compiler (GCC), debugger (gdb), and a build automator (gmake). The notable exception was a kernel. In 1990, members of the GNU project began a kernel called GNU Hurd, which has yet to achieve the maturity level required for widespread use.

In 1991, Linus Torvalds, a Finnish student, used the GNU development tools to produce the Linux kernel. The existing programs from the GNU project were readily ported to run on the resultant platform. (Most sources use the name Linux to refer to the general-purpose operating system thus formed. This has been a longstanding naming controversy in the free software community. Stallman argues that not using GNU in the name of the operating system unfairly disparages the value of the GNU project and harms the sustainability of the free software movement by breaking the link between the software and the free software philosophy of the GNU project.)



Stallman’s influences on hacker culture include the name POSIX and the Emacs editor. On UNIX systems, GNU Emacs’s popularity rivaled that of another editor vi, spawning an editor war. Stallman’s take on this was to canonize himself as St. IGNUcius of the Church of Emacs and acknowledge that “vi vi vi is the editor of the beast,” while “using a free version of vi is not a sin; it is a penance”. Around 1992, developers at Lucid Inc. doing their own work on Emacs clashed with Stallman and ultimately forked the software into what would become XEmacs Technology journalist Andrew Leonard has characterized what he sees as Stallman’s uncompromising stubbornness as common among elite computer programmers:



Stallman has written many essays on software freedom and since the early 1990s has been an outspoken political campaigner for the free software movement. The speeches he has regularly given are titled The GNU project and the Free Software movement,The Dangers of Software Patents,[33] and Copyright and Community in the age of computer networks. In 2006 and 2007, during the eighteen month public consultation for the drafting of version 3 of the GNU General Public License, he added a fourth topic explaining the proposed changes.

Linus Torvalds has criticized Stallman for what he considers “black-and-white thinking” and bringing more harm than good to the free software community.

Stallman’s staunch advocacy for free software inspired the Virtual Richard M. Stallman (vrms), software that analyzes the packages currently installed on a Debian GNU/Linux system, and report those that are from the non-free tree. Stallman would disagree with parts of Debian’s definition of free software.

In 1999, Stallman called for development of a free on-line encyclopedia through the means of inviting the public to contribute articles. The resulting GNUPedia was eventually retired in favour of the emerging Wikipedia, which had similar aims and was enjoying greater success.

In Venezuela, Stallman has delivered public speeches and promoted the adoption of free software in the state’s oil company (PDVSA), in municipal government, and in the nation’s military. In meetings with Hugo Chávez and in public speeches, Stallman criticised some policies on television broadcasting, free speech rights, and privacy. Stallman was on the Advisory Council of Latin American television station teleSUR from its launch but resigned in February 2011, criticizing pro-Gaddafi propaganda during the Arab Spring.

In August 2006 at his meetings with the government of the Indian State of Kerala, he persuaded officials to discard proprietary software, such as Microsoft’s, at state-run schools. This has resulted in a landmark decision to switch all school computers in 12,500 high schools from Windows to a free software operating system.

Stallman has participated in protests about software patents, DRM, and proprietary software.

Protesting against proprietary software in April 2006, Stallman held a “Don’t buy from ATI, enemy of your freedom” placard at a speech by an ATI representative in the building where Stallman works, resulting in the police being called. ATI has since merged with AMD Corporation and has taken steps to make their hardware documentation available for use by the free software community.


Stallman’s only computer is a Lemote Yeeloong netbook (using the same company’s Loongson processor) which he chose because it can run with 100% free software even at the BIOS level, stating “freedom is my priority. I’ve campaigned for freedom since 1983, and I am not going to surrender that freedom for the sake of a more convenient computer.” Lemote is a joint venture of the Institute of Computing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, an institution of the State Council of China. Stallman’s Lemote was stolen from him in 2012.

Stallman has suggested that the United States government may encourage the use of software as a service because this would allow them to access users’ data without needing a search warrant.

Stallman extends his philosophy to E-books such as Amazon Kindle which prevent the copying of e-books. He feels that software and books should be free to copy, modify and and lend to others as traditional books are. His short story “The Right to Read” provides a picture of a dystopian future if the right to share books is impeded.

Stallman extends his philosophy to political issues and the largest part of his personal web site amounts to a daily political blog. He often mentions political issues as asides in his public speaking


Personal Life

Stallman has devoted the bulk of his life to political and software activism. Professing to care little for material wealth, he explains that “I’ve always lived cheaply … like a student, basically. And I like that, because it means that money is not telling me what to do.”

Until around 1998, his office at MIT’s AI Lab was also his residence. He was registered to vote from there. Nowadays he has a separate residence in Cambridge not far from MIT. His position as a research affiliate at MIT is unpaid.

In a footnote to an article he wrote in 1999, he says “As an atheist, I don’t follow any religious leaders, but I sometimes find I admire something one of them has said. Stallman often wears a button that reads “Impeach God”.

When asked about his influences, he replied that he admires Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, jr., Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Ralph Nader, and Dennis Kucinich, and commented as well: “I admire Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, even though I criticize some of the things that they did.” Stallman is a Green Party supporter, and a supporter of the National Initiative proposal.

In a lecture in Manchester, England on May 1, 2008, Stallman advocated paper voting over machine voting, insisting that there was a much beter chance of being able to do a recount correctly if there was a paper copy of the ballots.

Stallman enjoys a wide range of musical styles from the works of Conlon Nancarrow to folk; the Free Software Song takes the form of alternative words for the Bulgarian folk dance Sadi Moma. More recently he wrote a send-up of the Cuban folk song Guantanamera, about a prisoner in the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, and recorded it in Cuba with Cuban musicians. He also enjoys music by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones and Weird Al Yankovic.

Stallman is a fan of science fiction, including works by the author Greg Egan. He occasionally goes to science fiction conventions and wrote the Free Software Song while awaiting his turn to sing at a convention. He has written two science fiction stories, “The Right to Read” and “Jinnetic Engineering”.

Along with his native English, Stallman is also fluent enough in French and Spanish to deliver his two-hour speeches in those languages, and claims a “somewhat flawed” command of Indonesian. He has never married or had any children. He often carries around and plays the recorder.