An Ode to Richard Stallman

(Or Minutes to the NYSIA/WWWAC Software Summit)

By Stephen Adler

This is the abridged version. Click here for the unabridged version.

Due to the length of this article, I've setup a table of contents which will help you navigate the text.

Table of Contents
Getting to NYC
The Summit
Digital Music Panel
Free Software Panel (RMS content starts here.)
Grand Finale (RMS speaks here too)

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.

Getting to NYC

I got up at 5:20 am to catch the 6:25am LIRR into Penn Station. I would spend the day in NYC at the Fashion Institute of Technology where I was going to meet Richard Stallman for the first time and hear him speak on two panels. The day before, I managed to register at the last minute. I was worried that my registration didn't go through but since I did have a chance to talk to Bruce Bernstein, the organizer of the NYSIA software summit, who assured me that my web registration should be ok, I decided to just go and deal with registration screw ups, (if any), at the summit.

My commuting routine was working better for me on this trip into NYC. (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. 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 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.

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

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 spent the morning at both breakfast panels. I heard Steve Malanga talk about the state of NYC's economy over the past 10 years at the NYSIA breakfast panel and David Gee talk about his passion for Java at the WWWAC breakfast panel. The only thing that really stuck in my head about these breakfast panel discussions, was that I almost spilled coffee all over my notebook. The NYSIA breakfast panel was held in the 6th floor, in a cafeteria dining room. The room was filled with long tables with white tablecloths and plastic chairs. 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 set my coffee cup down 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 two adjacent chairs to push up against a woman's chair to my right. I apologized for distracting her from the talk. I then sat down and 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. I spent most of my time during the breakfast panel, keeping a vigilant eye on my coffee cup.

After the breakfast panels, the first track of parallel panels was going to begin. I chose to attend the digital music one. A couple of days ago, one of my colleagues had told me about mp3.com and I realized that the music industry was going to be turned on its head within a year. Thus my interest in attending this panel.

Digital Music Panel

There were 4 panelists on the digital music panel. 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 download 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. 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 with sites like mp3.com 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.

Free Software Panel

The free software panel was being held in building C and I was in building A. So off I go in search of building C. I find Jay Sulzberger along the way. Jay Sulzberger is the moderator of the Free Software panel and we walked together as we looked for building C, its third floor and room C324 where the panel was going to be held. 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 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 set up 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 set up 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 classroom 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 set up 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 person passing by, 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 meantime, 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 I had a chance to introduce myself and thank him for all the good he has done for the free software movement. I hung around for a while and then decided it was time for lunch. Lunch was included in the registration fee and I wasn't 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, plastic containers, and plastic utensils. As I got there, everyone had already eaten and the keynote speaker was starting to deliberate. He is 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 set up 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...

Grand Finale

After lunch was the 3rd parallel track. I killed time by going to the CORBA talk, but was basically waiting for the last panel discussion to start. After the CORBA talk, I headed for a large auditorium in building C where this final panel would take place. Along the way I saw one of these avant-gaurd displays of high tech fashion. I stopped to take a picture and there was a woman their, probably a student, who told me that it was forbidden to do so. The displays were copywrited. I gave her a startled look and she returned a smile. It was joke. I guess I take this copywrite stuff a bit too seriously.

The panel took place in this large 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 hurd kernel maybe? It was a calm before the storm.

Bruce Bernstien 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 download 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 century 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!!!)


Click here to read some e-mails which I've received. This includes one from Richard Stallman who read this article.