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An Ode to Richard Stallman

By Stephen
Adler

Editor’s note: This article is available in an enhanced
version at this
URL

I recently attended the New York Software Summit held at the
Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in NYC. This was a joint
conference sponsored by the New York Software Industry Association
(www.nysia.org) and the world
Wide Web Artists Consortium (www.wwwac.org). I, being a subscriber to
the LXNY mailing list (www.lxny.org), was informed of this event
by Jay Sulzberger, who was moderating a panel titled “The Free
Software Movement, Open Source, and the Coming Free Market in
OSes”. I found the subject of this panel to be rather close to my
heart, but being a 70 mile commute into NYC for me, I thought I
would pass it up. I read the rest of Jay’s announcing e-mail and
saw two words which would eventually changed my mind. Richard
Stallman. He was going to be on the panel and as it turned out,
this was too much of an incentive for me to pass up. What follows
is probably too much text to describe the event, but then, I’m
drawn to the subject and I can’t help myself. So please forgive my
indulgence.


Day -1) It was a busy day for me. Rather a busy week for that
matter. I have just started working on this new experiment called
PHENIX, which is supposed
to take data in 6 months. The experiment is 5 million dollars
short, and with the engineering run coming up in 6 months, things
are rather hectic. I remembered Jay’s email about the software
summit and pulled it up. I was still in my debating phase as to
whether I should go or not (event though I knew Richard Stallman
was going to be there) and with my current work load, I was
starting to lean towards not going. I read through Jay’s latest
announcement and realized that the closing date for registering for
the conference was today, at noon. It was 11:50am!!!! Oh God, I had
to make a decision NOW. This was hard. The arguments were flying
around my head. “The timing system must be worked on.” “Richard
Stallman.” “It’s a critical component of this detector and rather
late.” “Richard Stallman.” “I worked all day yesterday and this
morning on the system with two engineers at my side and we made a
lot of progress.” “Richard Stallman.” “I would get a lot done
tomorrow by keeping up the momentum on this project.” “Richard
Stallman.” “The run is only 6 months away.” “Richard Stallman.”
“Well, the run is 180 days away, one day off is less than a 1%
effect.” “Richard Stallman.” “Screw the timing system I’m
going….”

So I grabbed the phone, and called one of the two numbers. It
was busy. I call the other number, I got a recording to leave a
message. (It is now 11:58am.) I left a message saying that I wanted
to register. I then pulled up their registration web page. It was
still active. I quickly filled it out, hit the submit button and
some reassuring text appears saying that I have been registered. I
know information technology better than that and decided to call
again. (It’s now 12:02pm.) I was able to get through and told the
lady that I had just registered on the web and I wanted to get some
kind of confirmation that my registration went through. She told me
this could not be done for reasons which were too involved to go
into now. Oh well, I did my best. I continued working on the timing
system that afternoon.

By early evening I went back to my office and I got a phone call
from a one Bruce Bernstein, who asks me if I’m his cousin. Bruce is
the main organizer of this summit and his cousin is Stephen Adler,
a particle physicist who works at the Institute of Advance Study in
Princeton NJ. It turns out that there are two Stephen Adlers in
High Energy and Nuclear Physics. This guy from Princeton and me.
And Bruce is this other Stephen Adler’s cousin. There are some
cosmological forces going on here which confirm that I really
should go to this summit. It was good that he called because I
explained to him my rush to register for this conference at noon
today. He say’s “You registered on the web right?” “Correct,” I
reply. He say’s “What? You don’t trust the web?” I didn’t want to
reply to that. I did get what I wanted, verbal confirmation of
sorts, from the summit organizer no less, that I was registered. I
was ready to go.


Day 0) Up at 5:20 am. I wanted to catch the 6:25am LIRR into
Penn Station. My commuting routine is working better. (See my
article on Fall Internet
World 98
for details.) I got to the train station with my new
notebook in hand, with time to buy a bagel, coffee and catch a seat
on the 6:25am express to Penn. My intent was to jot down some
thoughts, as I was riding into the city, on my new notebook. But
there was a problem. You can’t type on your notebook, drink coffee
and eat your bagel at the same time. I’ll get this commuting thing
right some day. The typing had to wait. I ate my bagel and drank my
coffee, then fired up my notebook to jot down some notes. This was
more of an experiment to see how well one can use a notebook on
crowded trains. (The guy to my left decided to sleep in such a
position as to pin my left elbow, making it rather challenging to
type. I managed.)

The train arrived on time. I got that NYC effect when I burst
out onto 7th avenue from Penn Station, on my way to the FIT. It was
7:30am, the air was clean and cool, and the city was waking up.
Crowds were picking up on 7th avenue. That NYC hustle and bustle is
something I can’t get enough of. I headed for the Fashion Institute
of Technology down 7th av. I have such a hard time with this
Institute. I’m having a harder time trying to relate the software
summit with Fashion. Hmmm… Maybe there will be some gorgeous
models walking around in some high tech fashioned clothes. Think of
this as your Ph.D thesis project. Cindy Crawford wrapped in a
production batch of .8 micron pitch Intel wafers. I would take a
picture of that and try to explain it to my wife later.

Maybe /. needs to come up with a logo for fashion when the
students from FIT post the latest gossip news on fashion
technology? I should go easy on this institute. It is hosting this
summit and Richard Stallman will grace its halls with his presence.
Once I get there, my notion of what fashion technology is
confirmed. I didn’t see Cindy Crawford dressed up in .8 micron
pitch wafers, but I did see displays of leading edge fashion. A
true convergence of fashion with modern art. I’m not sure where the
technology fits in, but what the heck, its NYC. There was a rather
avant-garde display in the lobby of one building which I wanted to
take a picture of, but a rather gruff guard wouldn’t let me. So be
it.

I found the registration center which was in the lobby of
building A. I went to look for my badge, and it was not there. They
told me to go to the problem desk. The line at the problem desk was
just as long as the line to get your badge. The lady at the problem
desk looked and me and said “Sorry, I can’t find your name
anywhere. You must register with a personal check.” “I have no
check and I registered on your web site, check again” I demanded.
Another shuffle through some hand written pages of “last minute”
registrants and no Stephen Adler. Just then Bruce shows up.
“Stephen Adler?”, he looks at me. “I saw Stephen Adler on a list
somewhere” he conjectures. “Just write him a badge” he orders the
problem desk lady. And so it goes, the free software Gods implanted
an image of my name on a list somewhere in Bruce’s brain last
night, and thus I get my hand written badge, reading “Stephen
Adler, B .and. L”. This is my ticket in, and I don’t care if it
should read, “Stephen Adler, BNL”. That’s BNL for Brookhaven National Laboratory. It has a
rather Fortran look and I figure it must be a joke by the same free
software Gods who got me to attend this meeting. (Physicists tend
to write too much Fortran code anyway.)

The summit was organized around the following format. Two
parallel breakfast sessions, one for the NYSIA and one for the
WWWAC. Two morning parallel tracks, a lunch with key note address,
one afternoon parallel track, and a plenary with a keynote panel at
the end. Stallman was going to be on the 11:15-12:30 panel on free
software and the keynote plenary panel at 3:30-4:45.

I took off up to the 6th floor to attend the NYSIA breakfast
panel. The first of two keynote speakers was Steve Malanga. His
topic was trying to analyze the city of New York and why it didn’t
have more of a software industry. The talk was rather boring and
bureaucratic. Lots of charts showing job growth over time, how NYC
was able to gain back the number of jobs it lost during the last
recession, etc. He was trying to point out that there is a big
software industry in NYC but under a different name. Wall Street.
(i.e. Wall Street recent hires account for a large technology
sector.) Around me were about 100 people, and I had one of two
notebooks there. An indication of the backward technology culture
of NYC. The 6th floor, where they were having this panel, was the
dining area of a cafeteria. There were long tables with white
tablecloths and plastic chairs in the room. The architecture of the
place gave it a bit of a 1970’s look and feel. When I got there,
the panel had started and I was proudly pulling out my notebook.
The problem now was the tablecloth. I had set down my coffee cup on
the table, and baglet to its side. (As in a little 2 inch bagel.
Why not, applets, servlets, baglets, what’s the difference.) The
chairs were one against another so as I tried to get into my chair,
the domino affect caused the two chairs to my right to push up
against someone else’s chair. I then sat down and as I pulled my
notebook out of my bag, this shifted the table cloth around and
almost spilled my coffee on my notebook, ugg….

Food and notebooks in tight places don’t mix. Eat your food and
then deal with your notebook. Or get a firm table, firm chair, no
table cloth and keep your coffee as far away from you notebook as
you can reach. I have this recurring nightmare of spilling coffee
all over my notebook. It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of
time. In any case, let me get back to the talk. It was boring, so I
left to the Java breakfast. The Java breakfast was better. The
speaker, David Gee, works for IBM and is passionate about Java. He
said so in his talk. One interesting note from his talk was that he
claimed that NT systems were up 97% of the time. I’m not sure if
this was a good or a bad thing, but the number was clearly pasted
on one of his .ppt pages. Then there were things which bothered me
about his talk. He was over selling java. He kept talking about how
he wanted to have all information accessible to him at all times,
where ever he was in the world. And he kept using the airline
industry as his best example. He wanted to know those important
things like; What is the model of the plane he was going to fly on?
What is the seating layout on the plane, so that he wouldn’t get a
seat where the window wasn’t just so. What was the latest stock
quote for e-bay? And he wanted to get all this information from his
notebook plugged into the RJ45 outlet in his hotel bathroom. This
type of over trivialization of information technology tends to kill
the application you’re trying to sell. This guy then pops up a .ppt
page with a picture of a shrink wrapped java development package on
the screen. He says “I am not plugging or selling this product….”
and then rattles off a full list of the features of this software
package. With that bit of hypocrasy, I packed up my notebook and
headed out.

The first track of parallel sessions was going to begin soon,
and I chose to attend the digital music one. One of my colleagues
had told me about mp3.com a couple of days ago and I realized that
the music industry was going to be turned on its head within a
year. It turned out to be where the NYSIA breakfast panel was held.
So back up the elevator I went to get an ear full of digital music
talk.

There were 4 panelists. Nick DiGiacomo, a consultant, Michael
Robertson of mp3.com, Howard M. Singer a2b music, Dick Wingate,
liquid audio. The discussion was good. I was planning on just
attending this panel for a short while and then go off to other
panels and talks, but the discussion was so good and of relevance
to our life on the Internet that I stuck it out. The deal with
digital music is the following. The bandwidth and compression
algorithms have converged such as to allow the free availability of
CD quality music over the Internet. This is very much to the tune
of open sourced software about 10 years ago, but now the general
public is getting into the act. The problem; a large, powerful,
wealthy establishment is fighting very hard to control its market
and preserve the status quo. Three of the panelists, the guy from
a2b music, the guy from liquid audio and the consultant are clearly
trying to work with the industry. They talked on and on about how
to restrict content. On the other hand, Mike Robertson from mp3.com
made a very brave statement. He said that talking about security
was like talking about morality. You cannot talk against it. But he
continues to say that it is impossible to try to restrict the
distribution of music. He then says that freedom over content will
rule the market. Talk about security is nonsense and driven by the
oligarchy protecting their business model which is music
distribution via CD. The audience applauds. (The only applause
during this session.) What I got from this session is clear. Battle
lines are forming on the distribution of digital music over the
Internet front. On one side you have you, me and the artist, on the
other side you have the rich and powerful establishment. The
establishment is working hard to introduce “security” into the
distribution of music content. “Security” only deals with how one
can restrict access to the content. It has nothing to do encrypting
the music itself. (I’m not sure how you would restrict access
without encrypting the music itself.) This was emphasized by the
consultant. This will be done by adding restriction signatures to
the music. For example, a two day license for a song would work
such that you down load the music, your hardware gizmo or software
applet plays it for two days and then plays it no more. The control
of who and for how long one can listen to the music is under
control of the artist, or so says the industry consultant. Reading
his lips, I hear, the music is controlled by those who sell it,
those being the establishment. And it’s clear that the
establishment is starting to wake up to the fact that distribution
of music over the Internet could very well destroy their whole
business model, and them with it. MP3.com is on the road to
changing this. It has a 50-50 deal with the artist for what ever is
sold over their web site. And the artists keeps ownership of their
work. Right now, when a band cuts a record, the music is then owned
by the recording company and belongs to the band no more. The band
then gets about a 20% cut of the sales. Also, a band must sell more
than 250,000 CD’s in order not to get dumped. These are very large
obstacles for bands to overcome in order to get their music heard
by the general public. And guess what, the new music I hear over
the radio and on MTV all sounds the same. To me, this is a clear
fallout of the restricted access musicians have to the general
public, set up by the music industry. But the Internet and web
sites like mp3.com will change all that. Another point made by the
Mike Robertson from mp3.com, the record industry is not going broke
with the current method of music distribution via CD. It is making
lots of money. So to them, it is important to maintain this status
quo. Clearly, the Internet has the power to change all that. Other
side issues which were discussed were audio formats. a2b and liquid
audio were all hot about their standards, those being closed ones.
The guy from mp3.com commented that open standards win on the
Internet and I’m sure time will bear this out. There was more to
the discussion which I cannot remember and I failed to write down
in my notes, but it was a good prelude to the next session I was
going to attend, the free software panel.


The free software panel was being held in building C and I was
in building A. So down to the lobby I go in search of building C,
somewhere on the campus of this Fashion Institute of Technology. In
the lobby, I find Jay Sulzberger at the problem desk. It looks like
web registration technology failed him as well. Jay is the
moderator for the free software panel and who also invited me to be
a panelist on another panel held last fall for one of the LXNY
meetings. The subject of that panel was something like free
software in your business. It was my first chance to talk about my
work to a non-physicist audience and I jumped at the chance, even
thought the subject was not physics. I figured I used enough free
software in my work that I would be able to fit that topic in
somehow, amongst my aerial photo transparencies of high energy
physics laboratories across the nation and the world. So, as
implied in what I just said, I have already met Jay. I waited for
him as he finished up with his problem at the problem desk, (web
based registration technologies, hmmm….) This gave me a chance to
walk with him over to building C in search of the class room where
this free software panel was to take place. On the way we chatted
about something, I can’t remember if it was quantum computers, free
software or his admitting to being a gun nut, as is someone else
who is an acquaintance of ours.

We found building C, we found the 3rd floor and room C324, the
room where Richard Stallman was to grace us with his presence.
Richard Stallman was not there when Jay and I showed up. The rest
of the panel and about 20 people who made up the audience were
there. The class room was wide and setup in such a way that the
desks were close to where the speakers stood to address the class.
The desks were these long tables with a black hard surface table
top, no tablecloths. These tables were certified notebook friendly.
The chairs were high and rather comfortable. They kept you at
attention as you sat in them. I got a chair two rows back from
where the speakers were to address the audience, centered in the
room. I wanted to be in the center of this room in order to absorb
all that was to transpire. I setup my notebook, popped open the
netscape browser editor window, and Jay came over to continue his
talk about quantum computers. I think this was just an excuse to
come over and checkout what kind of software I was running on my
notebook, since I noticed his subtle glance towards my notebook
screen as he leaned over to tell me about NMR probes, coffee cups,
statistical mechanics and how engineers can make work what
physicists dream up. (Which is true, sometimes…)

Things start to settle down in the classroom. I notice that most
of the people who made up the audience for this panel discussion
are guys like you and me. We don’t wear formal clothes. We have a
solidity and ruggedness in our manner. Jay definitely is heavy on
the ruggedness side. We have thoughts to be shared and passion in
our hearts about the work we pursue in our daily lives. But to
counter balance this atmosphere of technology pioneers, there were
about 3 or 4 guys who sat together towards my right in the back
corner of the class room. These guys stood out. They were formally
dressed, each one. They have a fragility to their manner. It’s
different with these guys. They obviously have thoughts to be
shared, I can’t really account for the passion in the heart, but
they do have something the rest of us don’t. Money in the wallet.
Lots of money in the wallet. These guys are “the establishment” and
will play a very interesting role in the events to unfold.

So there I sit, waiting for the panel discussion to start, Jay
is outside trying to give away free software to anyone who walks by
the class room door, and we are all waiting for Richard Stallman to
show up, so that we can start this damn thing. Jay has now scared
off half a dozen people who were unfortunate enough to have walked
by the door, and has given up waiting for Richard. Jay begins. He
tells us a story about how the free software movement started with
Richard. Back some time ago at the MIT software labs, Richard was
trying to print to some ding dong printer and couldn’t. There was a
software bug which stood between him and his printout. Richard
wanted to solve the problem by getting the source code and fixing
it. He couldn’t, the source code was not available and more
important, could not be made available because the company who sold
MIT the printer would not hand over the code. The code was locked
up behind legal doors and Stallman was not going to be able to
solve this problem. Thus the beginning of the free software
movement which has evolved into what we know today. With that story
told, he introduced the panelers who were present. Jesse Erlbaum, a
man who wrote or uses object oriented perl extensions, Elliotte
Rusty Harold who is an XML expert, Jim Russell from IBM, who is “a
herder of serious cats”, and Dave Shields, also from IBM who would
talk a bit about Jikes. Jesse, the perl guy and the XML guy went
first in introducing themselves. The first one talked about how he
couldn’t do his work without source code available software. The
second guy talked about how XML will be a replacement for a lot of
file formats including RTF. One of the big problems with word
processing is that for all practical purposes, file formats are not
convertible thus forcing you to buy the software in order to read
the file. An MS business model no doubt. XML will fix all that.
Then went the two guys from IBM. The first one talks about Jikes,
how IBM was able to release the source code to the Internet (but
under a restricted license agreement which I’ll go into later), and
the /. effect. Once Jikes was released, there was a post to
slashdot about it and the Jikes upload site experienced that /.
effect. The Jikes project went from #5 on the IBM upload list to #2
in two weeks. He showed a nice plot of the integrated number of
downloads of Jikes for different platforms. It looks like the
windows version was released first. 15 days later, the linux one
was released and about 5 days after that, it over took the windows
binary upload count. IBM now has hard concrete data to show the
linux does count! The second IBM guy, Jim Russell, talked about how
it was not so difficult to convince higher management at IBM, that
it made good business sense to release the source code to something
like Jikes, and thus earning Jay’s title of “herder of serious
cats”.

At some point during these introduction talks, Richard Stallman
walks into the room. I get to see the man for the first time in
flesh and blood. He stands about 5 foot 5 inches, has long black
hair and a beard. He carries a cloth bag in which, as I later
learned, he keeps a notebook, amongst other personal objects. He
would melt right into any university setting, (or high energy
physics laboratory for that matter). He starts to clown around with
Jay. He starts making horn signs above his head from behind, as Jay
continues to read his introductory remarks for the next
panelist.

This goes on for a bit and the audience is getting a real kick
out of it. Finally, Jay turns to see Richard, he freaks and this
kidding around ends. Jay continues with his introduction and
Richard starts to make himself at home in the classroom. Off go his
shoes, out comes his notebook, and he finds a quiet place under one
of the tables where he fires up his notebook and begins hacking at
some code or other. Jay continues with the introductions, the
panelist continue with their opening remarks and Richard is
oblivious to all this. He gets up from under the table, paces back
and forth around the entrance to the class room, (in his socks,)
getting ready to address his audience. It’s like he is doing mental
laps, warming up for the upcoming discussion on free software.
(Don’t forget, we have the establishment sitting in the back right
corner of the room. It’s going to be Richard vs the establishment.)
Jay finally gets around to re-introducing Stallman. Stallman starts
by saying that he is the president of the Free Software Foundation.
He continues by saying that he is not speaking about the “open
source” movement, and he does not care about making computers
easier to use. At this point, I sort of lose the specifics of what
he has said, (since my notes are rather jumbled) and I will try and
paraphrase what he said. Basically, his concern is on a global
social historical scale. The free software effort is about freedom,
not software which costs nothing. A freedom which goes beyond
source code and into the way we interact as a community. Free
software is a manifestation of this freedom and is an example of
it.

I think it’s best to see this in the opposite sense. When you
are encumbered with software which you cannot change, even if you
have the source code in front of you but are not allowed legally to
change and distribute the changes, then your personal, inherent
freedom has been taken from you. That same freedom the US
constitution gives you which is the right to life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness. Some other important points which Stallman
says during this discussion is that people confuse Linux with GNU.
Linux is only the kernel, and works in conjunction with all the
software on your PC. I would describe Linux has being the conductor
of a symphony. The musicians are all the apps we run, and GNU being
the concert hall itself, which with out one cannot have a concert.
(This is my metaphor, not Stallman’s, but I think Stallman was
trying to get this point across.) He does not like web sites which
are setup for the public good which run add banners. (I think he is
talking about sites like /., linux.org, etc.) And he pointed out
that he runs debian GNU/Linux on his notebook. (Which fits right in
with his persona.)

Stallman’s introductory remarks never really end. The more he
talks about the freedom of software development, very much on the
same plane as freedom of expression, the more the intensity of the
room discussion heats up. The best word to describe the rising
level of the intensity of the discussion is passion. And there was
lots of it. The passion level took a step function when the
“establishment” chimed in. The elder of this group asked the
question, what if MS opened up windows 98 source code under the
GPL? At this point in time Jay was out in the hallway offering free
software to some innocent passer by in the hallway, hears this,
jumps back into the classroom and exclaims, “What? Open Source
Windows!”, and just about collapses on the floor. The question
needed to be answered, the room goes silent and Jay takes the floor
to answer the question. The question being more broadly if MS would
continue to make money if Bill Gates GPL’ed the source code to
windows ’98. Jay’s answer is no. There is a free market economy
which you must deal with and in such an environment, Microsoft
would perish if it GPL’ed its OS source. He continues by
emphasizing that justice would be served and the company would die
a rightful death. (Jay also holds this sentiment for Apple.)
Stallman forces his way into the discussion; No, MS would be
redeemed if it GPL’s its source code. Jay has a fit. Jay exclaims
that MS and Apple should both die. MS would have to live through a
million cockroaches lives before it could be considered for a
redeemed life! But Stallman is adamant. MS would be redeemed if it
fully GPL’s its source. But Stallman if firm, MS cannot take half
steps and do something like IBM did with Jikes and just release the
source under a restricted license. Its full GPL or it’s worthless.
In the mean time, the guys in the establishment corner are trying
to force the issue that one cannot make money on software if you
release the source code. The back and forth on this subject goes
on, issues such as opening up file formats to help free up the
software industry rise and are batted around. Jay finally ends the
discussion since we have run out of time.

As the session ended, people broke up into smaller discussion
groups. I packed up my notebook and headed over to the group which
surrounded Richard. There was one female who had his attention at
the time. (I think there were 3 in the room.) She was a reporter of
sorts, from England, trying to get some private time with Richard
for an interview. He was all booked up and really wouldn’t give her
the time of day. I don’t know why, she was all in a tizzy to get
time with Stallman, and she was full of spunk too. (I think she
would have given Stallman a better writeup than I’m doing now…)
Some how the discussion started on Linux vs GNU and the confusion
there of. This gave me a chance to butt in and I asked Richard
about his kernel. “Yes, I have a kernel project called the
GNU/Hurd”. I knew about this project already, but I just wanted to
get a word in. “So what happened to it?”, I asked. He starts to
tell me about some of the key architectural features of his kernel
and clearly it was a big complicated implementation of a
distributed kernel. I guess any type of distributed kernel would be
complicated and thus it seems to have not made much progress. He
made a comment that he did find one guy who has actually tried to
run it. One of the “establishment” guys was there listening in on
this discussion. The conversation then turned to patents. I made a
comment that patents are there to protect the “investors” and not
really the inventor. Richard agreed with me. The guy from the
“establishment” tried to argue that patents are there to protect
the inventor and to help market the inventions so that the general
public can benefit from them. He continued, “if you could write
software which would cure cancer, then a patent on it would get the
cure out to the masses.” (I’m paraphrasing here…) My comment was
that in principle, this is what you would argue, but in practice,
the inventor gets a very small piece of it. Its the large
corporations and those who run them, who end up owning patents and
who get the profits from such patented inventions. I continued by
telling Richard that I, working for the Department of Energy,
signed a work contract which had a clause in it that said that all
my ideas would belong to the government. The federal government now
owns all the intellectual properly which comes out of my brain. And
if there are some kind of patent rights given to me, the lab makes
no effort in telling me what they are, since I have no idea if I
have any such rights. This must be the case with a lot of research
firms across the world; Lucent, IBM, etc. The discussion continued
further in terms of how we can try to protect ourselves from the
“establishment” abusing the patent system. Finally I stuck out my
hand and introduced myself to Richard and told him I wanted to
thank him for all the good he has done for the software community.
He shook my hand and then turned to this “establishment” guy who
was leaving and said that he was going to work as hard as he had
to, to defeat him. He said this in a raised, angry and attacking
voice. I was taken back by the strength in his conviction. It was
genuine though. I then wandered off to another small group, and
talked to Jim Russell. I introduced myself and asked the question,
“Why do we get so passionate about software?”. The idea being that,
those who write software and publish it on the Internet should do
so and that’s it. What’s all the fuss about? We talked a bit more
about distributing source code. I stuck around a bit after that,
but finally decided that I better get back over to building A and
get lunch. Lunch was included in the registration fee and I was not
about to miss out.

I got to the cafeteria where lunch was being served. Not bad,
they had real plates and silverware, unlike the BNL cafeteria which
now serves everything on paper plates or plastic containers, with
plastic utensils. As I got there, everyone had already eaten and
the keynote speaker was starting to deliberate. He NYC Comptroller
Alan Hevesi, talking about the woes of the software industry in
NYC. The city is in 9th place across the country when you measure
the software industry on a per-capita scale. Some of the comments
which stuck in my mind are the following. (I didn’t take notes on
my notebook since I wasn’t about to open it next to my chicken
lunch. There was the remainder of a large coffee spill on the table
cloth next to me. That could have been on the key board of my
notebook. Ahhhh….) NYC had to pay out $900,000,000 to the new
york stock exchange in tax exemptions to keep it from moving to NJ.
The speaker blamed that on those attending the summit since the
attendees had made it is so easy for anyone to setup an information
system anywhere to do their business. The EZpass system is a
wonderful piece of technology which allows traffic to flow past the
toll booths surrounding Manhattan. But, this means that the toll
collectors are out of a job. The speaker was quite sensitive to the
dangers of high tech information systems. In a few years, there
will be no more phone operators.

There will be one recording serving all business and those who
worked at those jobs answering phones will be looking for other
work. Another comment he made was that a new tax break was being
put on the books. Anyone in NYC who uses hardware to write
software, does not have to pay taxes when they purchase that
hardware. This statement caused a great round of applause. Another
comment the speaker said which I want to share is this. (It is
taken out of context but it stands on its own.) When the phone
system was being installed in Russia, Stalin gave orders not to
install phones in every home in Moscow. Stalin was afraid that he
would loose control over the exchange of information amongst the
citizens, if they had access to phones, and thus his control over
the citizenry and his hold on power. To me, this was a very
insightful comment about the power of information technology and
ties right in with another article I
wrote a couple of months ago.

And so the talk went. I had my fill of a tasty chicken dish,
listened to this guy go on about the lack of a recognized software
industry in NYC, and had a very nice view of some 1920’s looking
architecture outside the window I was facing. One last note on
lunch. To my right, I overheard some guy mention slashdot. As I
looked over, I saw this young guy, who was wearing a netscape pin
on his blue sports jacket. He was talking to an old guy, (60’s or
so, “establishment” looking guy) and told him that he checked out
slashdot about 4 times a day. This older guy, who had his back to
me, was writing something down on a business card. The URL of /. is
my guess. So there you have it, the young teaching the old on how
to survive in this Internet world…


After lunch was the 3rd parallel track. I went to the talk on
CORBA. I did so since I’ve just signed up to the ORBit mailing list
and I’m in the process of learning how to develop distributed
objects using IONA’s implementation of the CORBA standard. The talk
was given by an IBM’er Jason Woodward. He was excited about CORBA
technology and how IBM was using it in conjunction with Java. The
talk was laced with comments plugging IBM’s e-business solutions,
but if you ignored that, you got a rather general overview of
distributed object computing. He talked about the battle lines
being drawn between MS version of this application named COM and
CORBA/Java. The talk was given at such an abstract level that it
never answered my perennial question, where’s the ORB in CORBA?
(Being that I’m new to this distributed object thing, knowing which
software component does the ORBing is important to me. It all seems
to be hidden in “the implementation”.) In any case, I asked a
question at the end, (a rather loaded one) which was, “Is COM a
strict open standard and how will the open source movement,
implementing the CORBA standard, play out in the future of CORBA?”
He answered by saying COM is not an open standard, and open source
will do good things to CORBA. Just what I wanted the audience to
hear, especially since during his talk he gave the well worn
example of betamax vs VHS. Betamax being the proprietary standard
and VHS the open one. Thus the answer to my questions were seen in
a more compelling light. CORBA would win, MS would loose.

The day was winding down, the 3rd set of parallel sessions was
over and now it was time for the grand finale. The keynote panel on
the future of the Internet/software industry in the next 5 years.
Richard was going to grace this panel. Needless to say, the panel
discussion turned into a passioned debate over free software. What
do you expect with Richard Stallman on the panel. The panel took
place in some big auditorium in building C. There was room for
about 500 people and I would say there were about 200 people there.
I got there about 10 minutes before it began. I spotted Richard
Stallman pacing around, getting ready to take us on. Later, I saw
him sitting alone behind the panelist table typing away on his
notebook. Taking advantage of some quiet time to hack at his herd
kernel maybe? It was a calm before the storm.

Bruce Berstien took the mike, called on every one to sit down so
that the panel could begin. He then introduced himself and
continued with an award presentation to Sheldon Silver, a speaker
of the New York State Assembly. Speaker Silver had the flu, so
Robin Schimminger, Chairman of the Assembly Commerce on Economic
Development took the award for him.

The plaque was to thank Sheldon Sliver for making it possible to
get this new hardware tax break onto the books. Bruce was very
proud of his award. It was a nice big shiny plaque. Robin, who took
the award, made some remarks which I can’t remember and left. Bruce
then introduced two moderators, who would lead the discussion, Tom
Watson and Jason Chervokas, co-founders of @NY.

The first one introduced the panel, Stallman, Jim Russell, the
same IBM’er who was also on the Free Software panel, John
Borthwick, someone associated with AOL and the development of ICQ
and finally Gerry Cohen, CEO of IBI, an “establishment” guy. (I’ll
explain later.) The second guy from @NY, starts the discussion by
asking a question to Richard. Richard ignores the question and
makes a comment criticizing the award given to speaker Silver for
the tax break. “Tax breaks are bad” and goes down some tangent
about how local and state governments screw the poor in order to
offer corporate welfare to the rich “establishment”. I guess you
had to be there to feel the embarrassment of the situation.
Stallman had no quandaries ripping apart this shining moment which
Bruce had polished up by giving away this plaque with great fan
fare. I have to give it to Richard. To him, there is no difference
in the phrases, “freedom in software” and “freedom of speech”. At
some point during this panel discussion, he comes right out and
says that he is a social activist, pursuing any avenue to advance
social justice and freedom. The gloves are off. The moderator takes
control over the discussion by asking questions to the other
panelist. The guy from IBM made a small speech in which he thanked
Richard Stallman for the work he has done in fostering the GNU
movement and all the good software which has come from it. My hat
goes off to IBM! He then continued to say that what IBM cares about
is delivering technology to its customers in a form that the
customers want. If this includes source code solutions, then that’s
what they will deliver. He mentioned that IBM had joined the
Appache effort, providing AFS support for linux (although I don’t
think AFS is open sourced.), the development of Jikes in a pseudo
source code distribution strategy etc. When it comes to the
plumbing of information technology systems, IBM does not care how
it gets built, fixed or distributed. Their goal is to provide
systems, service and solutions to those who ask for it. The guy
from AOL/ICQ during his open remarks talked about this ICQ product
which I’ve never heard of before. Its some kind of Internet
communication tool, a GUI version of the unix talk application
maybe? It relies on a server and freely distributed clients. The
amazing thing about this product is how widely it is used. At one
point they released a new version of their client and they got 1e6
downloads of the client in 3 weeks. 6e6 people are currently using
it. The guy talked about how they watch their xferlog files and see
the correlated accesses to their upload site. A whole city will
suddenly start to down load the software, a whole country would
follow. To me, this is a glimpse of future (current?) software
distribution for all companies doing business over the net. The
last guy to speak, Gerry of IBI, the “establishment” guy, was a
real piece. He controlled a very large company in NYC. The
unfortunate thing is that he really was not up to speed on what is
going on right now software wise over the Internet. He made one
classic mistake. He talked about what he didn’t know about. First
off, he did make a good point that besides new software efforts,
there was the whole backlog of old software systems which need to
be kept in place. Somewhere in the city of New York there is a
system which is in charge of cutting all the checks for NYC
workers. It’s old, and has to be maintained. This is obviously a
big job. But this was about the only useful comment he made to the
discussion. While the discussion raged about free software and tax
breaks, he made a comment that linux has only been around for 6
months. Richard and the audience jumped all over him for that. He
then asked the rhetorical question as to which of the two web
servers, Apache or Netscape, was better? (He asked this question
with a tone which implied that Netscape was the better server.) The
audience quickly jumped in and told him that Appache was faster and
more reliable. He then made the statement that customers want value
from their software. “When was the last time you heard a customer
walk into a software store asking for freedom?”. Clearly getting
back at Richards statement that free software stands for freedom
not $0 cost software. Finally he made the comment, “All this
software is so GNU! GNU, new, get it?…” Richard got pissed and
attacked him rightly so. Then there was this question from the
audience. “Who do you sue?” Richard fires back, “Do you sue someone
if the plumbing breaks in your build? No, you get it fixed.” The
guy who asked the question replied that he would fix the plumbing
and then sue someone for damages. To me, there is something wrong
with this type “free market economy”. The final comment which I
want to write which Richard Stallman said was that he was appalled
at states going around trying to under cut each other by offering
tax breaks to large corporations to induce them to leave one state
and settle in another. A comment from an “establishment” guy in the
audience was, “What’s wrong with that? Its a free market.” Richard
exclaims, “A free market in tax breaks? Oh GOD!” He then says that
states should form a union, go to the federal government and get it
to pass some laws forbidding this activity. He concludes this chain
of thought by saying, “The name of this union is called, the United
States of America.” That to me, Stallman is true patriot.

The discussion went over time by about 20 minutes. And it was
passionate. Poor Bruce hand to get up in the middle of it to defend
his award given to the city assembly speaker declaring that the tax
break was not new, but a “straighting out of the rules”, since all
manufacturing equipment bought in NYC pays no tax. Those well worn
issues of how one make money with open source technology were
batted back and forth and Richard always won the argument. Gerry,
IBI’s CEO, said at one point that SAP, the second largest software
company in the world, does not give away its software for free, and
it never will. SAP customers pay lots of money to buy their
software and don’t want it to be free. Richard responds by saying
that he is going to write a GPL’ed version of the software SAP
sells. It will take time, but there will be a freely, source code
distributeable version available sometime in the future. How can
you argue with that. As for the ICQ developer, Richard was going to
write an ICQ server equivalent and GPL it. This made John Borthwick
sit back in his chair and exhale. The fact is, Richard stands on
the moral high ground with his GNU Public License. And no one, mind
you, no one, can stand higher than him on this issue. He has taken
the freedom of source code distribution via GPL and has turned it
into a powerful venue to advance social justice. And the power
behind Richard’s morality is nothing other than the unhindered flow
of ideas over the Internet. Richard knows this, he mentioned
something about working together to make sure the commercialization
of the Internet does not hinder this freedom of information
exchange. This also ties in with the comment made at lunch about
how Stalin, who was the mid 20th centry Russian one man
establishment, was afraid of losing control over his citizens by
the installation of phones in Moscow.

The discussion finally ended. I went up on stage to see if I
could get in on some of the post panel discussion groups. I noticed
Richard was being sought after by another female journalist, this
time working for Wired. He was in the process of giving his card to
her and it seemed like this time he was going to grant an
interview. I had a hard time trying to get into any of the
conversations and figured that it was time to go home, which is
what I did. The rain awaited me, as I left building C of the
Fashion Institute of Technology. I quickly walked up 7th avenue to
catch the express back out to Ronkonkoma, my Long Island
destination. As I was on my way home, I stood in a crowed train
cabin, the windows fogging up due to the human density, as the
train rocked back and forth on its way east. This quiet time gave
me a chance to go over the day’s events. On thing is for certain.
The trip was well worth it. I thanked the free software gods for
tearing me away from the PHENIX timing system for one day. The
final panel discussion ended with the same question put to each of
the panelists. “Where do you see the Internet in 5 years?” To me,
this is the unanswerable question. No one knows. At the beginning
of this century, when new models of the atom were being developed
by Rutherford, Bohr and others, no one knew that their work would
lead to something as powerful and destructive as the nuclear
weapon. In the case of the forecasting “the Internet”, looking back
will not tell you where we are going or will end up. The only thing
we can do, is stay informed of what is going on now and work with
the new ideas which are presented to us by our peers. Those who do
this, will be the “Internet pioneers”. And what strikes me most, by
the discussions during the day, is that time and time again, the
“establishment” were not adapting to new ideas. IBM being the one
exception.
The recording industry is one example. Gerry, the CEO of IBI, who
mocked Stallman with his new/GNU joke and the suits in the audience
who wanted to know who they were going to sue, are all in for a big
fall. On the other hand, those who understand what it means to have
the freedom of modifying the source, have the future in their hands
and the Internet will be theirs for the taking.


Leagle stuff.

The content of this article belongs to Stephen Adler, the
author. You are free to distribute the content of this article in
part, or as a whole, so long as you acknowledge that the content
you distribute is that of the author. (In other words, don’t
plagiarize any part of this article!!!)


prologue

The following section is setup for readers comments sent in by
e-mail to me at [email protected]

The first e-mail is from Richard Stallman himself. He wants to
clarify some points I wrote in my article. Click
here for further details.

Luke writes in to say that has joined forces with the free
software movement and hopes to meet Richard some day.
Here is his e-mail.

Telsa has attened 3 conferences where Stallman spoke.
Here is Telsa’s e-mail.

Editor’s note: This article is available in an enhanced
version at this
URL