Free as in Freedom

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Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software
Free as in Freedom.jpeg
The book cover, picturing Richard Stallman
AuthorSam Williams
CountryUnited States
PublisherO'Reilly Media
Publication date
March 1, 2002
LC ClassQA76.2.S73 W55 2002

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software (ISBN 0-596-00287-4) is a free book licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License about the life of Richard Stallman, written by Sam Williams and published by O'Reilly Media on March 1, 2002.

Williams conducted several interviews with Stallman during the writing of the book, as well as with classmates, colleagues of Stallman, and his mother. The book has received positive reviews.


The book is divided into a preface, thirteen chapters, an epilogue, three appendices and an index. A copy of the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) is included as Appendix C.[1]


Free as in Freedom was published under the GNU Free Documentation License version 1.1, which allows modification and redistribution of the text, photographs contained therein, as well as the cover: its texts, photograph and elements of design.[2]


Williams has written an article[3] about the process of writing FaiF, recording the license negotiations that led to this book being published under a free license. OnLamp also interviewed Williams in 2002 about the writing process.[4]

Standing on the shoulders of giants[edit]

In the book, Bob Young of Red Hat supports the free software movement by saying that it enables people to stand on the shoulders of giants. He also says that standing on the shoulders of giants is the opposite of reinventing the wheel.[5]

An excerpt from the book:

"In the western scientific tradition we stand on the shoulders of giants," says Young, echoing both Torvalds and Sir Isaac Newton before him. "In business, this translates to not having to reinvent wheels as we go along. The beauty of [the GPL] model is you put your code into the public domain. If you're an independent software vendor and you're trying to build some application and you need a modem-dialer, well, why reinvent modem dialers? You can just steal PPP off of Red Hat Linux and use that as the core of your modem-dialing tool. If you need a graphic tool set, you don't have to write your own graphic library. Just download GTK. Suddenly you have the ability to reuse the best of what went before. And suddenly your focus as an application vendor is less on software management and more on writing the applications specific to your customer's needs."[5]

Another excerpt from the book:

Integrating GCC improved the performance of Linux. It also raised issues. Although the GPL's "viral" powers didn't apply to the Linux kernel, Torvald's willingness to borrow GCC for the purposes of his own free software operating system indicated a certain obligation to let other users borrow back. As Torvalds would later put it: "I had hoisted myself up on the shoulders of giants." Not surprisingly, he began to think about what would happen when other people looked to him for similar support.[6]


Andrew Leonard in Salon complimented the amount of new information Williams reveals about Stallman, given the amount of material already published. He describes the book as a "nuanced, detailed picture of Stallman".[7] In Computer User, Jende Huang referred to the book as "straightforward" and wrote, "the juxtaposition of Stallman's public and private personae is the key to the book's appeal." He summarized that the book is "a worthwhile read for its chronicle of an important part of the free software movement, as well as its insight into Stallman as a person."[8] In Italian VITA, Bernardo Parrella described its "greatest merit" to be its "new perspective" on the issues at stake for Free Software and the computer industry as a whole, and its interweaving of Stallman's personal life and complex technical developments to be "gripping". He noted that the book is an important "real time" biography, full of references to other books, publications and web links, about a man who is misunderstood, and underestimated.[9] In a review for Sys-Con, Mike McCallister describes the book as an "easy introduction to Stallman's career and ideas, but at this length cannot go into great depth." He mentions one section as "very funny", but "all too-brief" coverage of another topic, or none at all (GNOME).[10]

Free as in Freedom 2.0[edit]

After reading Free as in Freedom in 2009, Richard Stallman made extensive revisions and annotations to the original text. As the book was published under the GFDL, it enabled Stallman to address factual errors and clarify some of the Williams's mistaken or incoherent statements, bringing in his first-hand experiences and technical expertise where appropriate. This new revised edition Free as in Freedom 2.0 was published by GNU Press in October 2010[11] and is available at FSF online shop and as a free PDF download. Sam Williams wrote a new foreword for the revised edition.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Williams, Sam (2002). Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade For Free Software. O'Reilly. pp. Table of Contents (vii). ISBN 0-596-00287-4.
  2. ^ Williams, Sam (2002). Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade For Free Software. O'Reilly. pp. Copyright page. ISBN 0-596-00287-4.
  3. ^ Williams, Sam (2002). "Chapter 14". Free as in Freedom. O'Reilly Media. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
  4. ^ Stewart, Bruce (February 28, 2002). "How Will History View Richard Stallman? - An interview with Sam Williams, author of Free as in Freedom". O'Reilly Media. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
  5. ^ a b Williams, Sam (2002). Free as in Freedom. O'Reilly Media. p. 151. Retrieved 2010-04-15. free as in freedom.
  6. ^ Williams, 2002 (print ed.) p. 138.
  7. ^ Leonard, Andrew (April 2, 2002). "Code free or die". Retrieved 2011-10-27.
  8. ^ Huang, Jende (June 2002). "Freedom fighter - Sam Williams' Free as in Freedom.". Computer User. Archived from the original on 2003-04-29. Retrieved 2011-10-27.
  9. ^ Parrella, Bernardo (May 27, 2002). "VITA. Richard Stallman: professione rivoluzionario". (in Italian). Vita Società Editoriale S.p.A. Archived from the original on February 18, 2013. Retrieved 2011-10-27. (Trans.)
  10. ^ McCallister, Mike (May 8, 2002). "A Profile of the Mad Prophet of Free Software". Ulitzer, Inc. Retrieved 2011-10-27.
  11. ^ "Free Software, Free Society: Second Edition". Oct 14, 2011.

External links[edit]