…Only become less

Some more “paid less” quotes:

RMS: “Get another job! … f*ck the speed issue, get paid less and be ethical.”

RMS: “Probably programming will not be as lucrative on the new basis as it is now”

The GPL is especially harmful against aspiring software developers. With BSD, you can take it, make it better, and sell it. Not with the GPL. (yes, you can sell it, but soon you will compete against a free as in beer modified version of your own program) For a small company, the best way to make money is selling licenses, the whole “make money through services” works best with big companies.

Quote from “Why you should use a BSD style license for your Open Source Project“:

A less publicized and unintended use of the GPL is that it is very favorable to large companies that want to undercut software companies. In other words, the GPL is well suited for use as a marketing weapon, potentially reducing overall economic benefit and contributing to monopolistic behavior.

How many micro-ISVs or small game developers are there who use the GPL? Almost none. Stallman’s license is designed to prevent the creation of new wealthy people, who made their fortune with software:


“Stallman detests wealth. That’s why, upon entering the William H. Gates Building at MIT, he often turns to Gates’s name on the wall and gives him the finger, vigorously, really shoving it up there. (When I observed this, he recruited me, a couple of graduate students, and a man I took to be a Korean tourist to do the same.) “

There is a background story to his demands that programmers should be a low social caste. Many people know about the printer story, and think this is how GNU started. That’s not the whole story.

This post is very long and consists mostly of quotes from other articles, but the background is important to understand Stallman really.



In the early 1980s, two Cambridge firms rose up and began offering the AI Lab hackers serious money. The first, Symbolics, was started by a former AI Lab administrator named Russell Noftsker. The other was Lisp Machine Inc. (LMI), founded by a hacker god named Richard Greenblatt. MIT struck a deal with both companies allowing them use of a programming language that the AI Lab had developed. But Symbolics eventually demanded that MIT not share its improvements to the code with LMI, and the university capitulated. Outraged by what he saw as a predatory move, Stallman clipped off Symbolics’ communications link to the lab, then reportedly threatened to wrap himself in dynamite and walk into the company’s offices (Stallman calls this absolutely untrue). He then decided to seek a different””but potentially as effective””punishment: He would reverse engineer Symbolics’ precious code, creating a version that performed all the needed functions while avoiding copyright infringement. He would hand this prize over to LMI for free, making Symbolics’ program worthless. “I thought of it as war,” Stallman says””a war that pitted him against roughly a dozen of the best programmers MIT had produced.

Stallman worked round the clock, sleeping when he dropped, then springing up to work some more. He matched the Symbolics code feature for feature, day after grueling day, for two entire years. The Symbolics programmers were astounded to be out-hacked by one guy; Noftsker, the company’s president, was furious. “He calls it reverse engineering,” he said of Stallman in a book called Hackers. “We call it theft.”

“I don’t know if I won,” Stallman says. “But I didn’t lose.”


Quote end





The Lisp machine was able to execute instructions about as fast as those other machines, but each instruction ”” a car instruction would do data typechecking ”” so when you tried to get the car of a number in a compiled program, it would give you an immediate error. We built the machine and had a Lisp operating system for it. It was written almost entirely in Lisp, the only exceptions being parts written in the microcode. People became interested in manufacturing them, which meant they should start a company.

There were two different ideas about what this company should be like. Greenblatt wanted to start what he called a “hacker” company. This meant it would be a company run by hackers and would operate in a way conducive to hackers. Another goal was to maintain the AI Lab culture (1). Unfortunately, Greenblatt didn’t have any business experience, so other people in the Lisp machine group said they doubted whether he could succeed. They thought that his plan to avoid outside investment wouldn’t work.

Why did he want to avoid outside investment? Because when a company has outside investors, they take control and they don’t let you have any scruples. And eventually, if you have any scruples, they also replace you as the manager.

So Greenblatt had the idea that he would find a customer who would pay in advance to buy the parts. They would build machines and deliver them; with profits from those parts, they would then be able to buy parts for a few more machines, sell those and then buy parts for a larger number of machines, and so on. The other people in the group thought that this couldn’t possibly work.

Greenblatt then recruited Russell Noftsker, the man who had hired me, who had subsequently left the AI Lab and created a successful company. Russell was believed to have an aptitude for business. He demonstrated this aptitude for business by saying to the other people in the group, “Let’s ditch Greenblatt, forget his ideas, and we’ll make another company.” Stabbing in the back, clearly a real businessman. Those people decided they would form a company called Symbolics. They would get outside investment, not have scruples, and do everything possible to win.

But Greenblatt didn’t give up. He and the few people loyal to him decided to start Lisp Machines Inc. anyway and go ahead with their plans. And what do you know, they succeeded! They got the first customer and were paid in advance. They built machines and sold them, and built more machines and more machines. They actually succeeded even though they didn’t have the help of most of the people in the group. Symbolics also got off to a successful start, so you had two competing Lisp machine companies. When Symbolics saw that LMI was not going to fall flat on its face, they started looking for ways to destroy it.

Thus, the abandonment of our lab was followed by “war” in our lab. The abandonment happened when Symbolics hired away all the hackers, except me and the few who worked at LMI part-time. Then they invoked a rule and eliminated people who worked part-time for MIT, so they had to leave entirely, which left only me. The AI lab was now helpless. And MIT had made a very foolish arrangement with these two companies. It was a three-way contract where both companies licensed the use of Lisp machine system sources. These companies were required to let MIT use their changes. But it didn’t say in the contract that MIT was entitled to put them into the MIT Lisp machine systems that both companies had licensed. Nobody had envisioned that the AI lab’s hacker group would be wiped out, but it was.

So Symbolics came up with a plan (4). They said to the lab, “We will continue making our changes to the system available for you to use, but you can’t put it into the MIT Lisp machine system. Instead, we’ll give you access to Symbolics’ Lisp machine system, and you can run it, but that’s all you can do.”

This, in effect, meant that they demanded that we had to choose a side, and use either the MIT version of the system or the Symbolics version. Whichever choice we made determined which system our improvements went to. If we worked on and improved the Symbolics version, we would be supporting Symbolics alone. If we used and improved the MIT version of the system, we would be doing work available to both companies, but Symbolics saw that we would be supporting LMI because we would be helping them continue to exist. So we were not allowed to be neutral anymore.

Up until that point, I hadn’t taken the side of either company, although it made me miserable to see what had happened to our community and the software. But now, Symbolics had forced the issue. So, in an effort to help keep Lisp Machines Inc. going (2) ”” I began duplicating all of the improvements Symbolics had made to the Lisp machine system. I wrote the equivalent improvements again myself (i.e., the code was my own).

After a while (3), I came to the conclusion that it would be best if I didn’t even look at their code. When they made a beta announcement that gave the release notes, I would see what the features were and then implement them. By the time they had a real release, I did too.

In this way, for two years, I prevented them from wiping out Lisp Machines Incorporated, and the two companies went on. But, I didn’t want to spend years and years punishing someone, just thwarting an evil deed. I figured they had been punished pretty thoroughly because they were stuck with competition that was not leaving or going to disappear(6). Meanwhile, it was time to start building a new community to replace the one that their actions and others had wiped out.

The Lisp community in the 70s was not limited to the MIT AI Lab, and the hackers were not all at MIT. The war that Symbolics started was what wiped out MIT, but there were other events going on then. There were people giving up on cooperation and together, this wiped out the community and there wasn’t much left.

Once I stopped punishing Symbolics, I had to figure out what to do next. I had to make a free operating system, that was clear ”” the only way that people could work together and share was with a free operating system.


Symbolics at one point protested to MIT that my work, by thwarting their plan, had cost Symbolics a million dollars.
quote end

The interesting stuff:




Rebuttal to Stallman’s Story About The Formation of Symbolics and LMI

Richard Stallman has been telling a story about the origins of the Lisp machine companies, and the effects on the M.I.T. Artificial Intelligence Lab, for many years. He has published it in a book, and in a widely-referenced paper, which you can find at http://www.gnu.org/gnu/rms-lisp.html.

His account is highly biased, and in many places just plain wrong. Here’s my own perspective on what really happened.

Richard Greenblatt’s proposal for a Lisp machine company had two premises. First, there should be no outside investment. This would have been totally unrealistic: a company manufacturing computer hardware needs capital. Second, Greenblatt himself would be the CEO. The other members of the Lisp machine project were extremely dubious of Greenblatt’s ability to run a company. So Greenblatt and the others went their separate ways and set up two companies.

Stallman’s characterization of this as “backstabbing”, and that Symbolics decided not “not have scruples”, is pure hogwash. There was no backstabbing whatsoever. Symbolics was extremely scrupulous. Stallman’s characterization of Symbolics as “looking for ways to destroy” LMI is pure fantasy.

Stallman claims that Symbolics “hired away all the hackers” and that “the AI lab was now helpless” and “nobody had envisioned that the AI lab’s hacker group would be wiped out, but it was” and that Symbolics “wiped out MIT”. First of all, had there been only one Lisp machine company as Stallman would have preferred, exactly the same people would have left the AI lab. Secondly, Symbolics only hired four full-time and one part-time person from the AI lab (see below).

Stallman goes on to say: “So Symbolics came up with a plan. They said to the lab, ”˜We will continue making our changes to the system available for you to use, but you can’t put it into the MIT Lisp machine system. Instead, we’ll give you access to Symbolics’ Lisp machine system, and you can run it, but that’s all you can do.’” In other words, software that was developed at Symbolics was not given away for free to LMI. Is that so surprising? Anyway, that wasn’t Symbolics’s “plan”; it was part of the MIT licensing agreement, the very same one that LMI signed. LMI’s changes were all proprietary to LMI, too.

Next, he says: “After a while, I came to the conclusion that it would be best if I didn’t even look at their code. When they made a beta announcement that gave the release notes, I would see what the features were and then implement them. By the time they had a real release, I did too.” First of all, he really was looking at the Symbolics code; we caught him doing it several times. But secondly, even if he hadn’t, it’s a whole lot easier to copy what someone else has already designed than to design it yourself. What he copied were incremental improvements: a new editor command here, a new Lisp utility there. This was a very small fraction of the software development being done at Symbolics.

His characterization of this as “punishing” Symbolics is silly. What he did never made any difference to Symbolics. In real life, Symbolics was rarely competing with LMI for sales. LMI’s existence had very little to do with Symbolics’s bottom line.

And while I’m setting the record straight, the original (TECO-based) Emacs was created and designed by Guy L. Steele Jr. and David Moon. After they had it working, and it had become established as the standard text editor at the AI lab, Stallman took over its maintenance.

Here is the list of Symbolics founders. Note that Bruce Edwards and I had worked at the MIT AI Lab previously, but had already left to go to other jobs before Symbolics started. Henry Baker was not one of the “hackers” of which Stallman speaks.

Robert Adams (original CEO, California)
Russell Noftsker (CEO thereafter)
Minoru Tonai (CFO, California)
John Kulp (from MIT Plasma Physics Lab)
Tom Knight (from MIT AI Lab)
Jack Holloway (from MIT AI Lab)
David Moon (half-time as MIT AI Lab)
Dan Weinreb (from Lawrence Livermore Labs)
Howard Cannon (from MIT AI Lab)
Mike McMahon (from MIT AI Lab)
Jim Kulp (from IIASA, Vienna)
Bruce Edwards (from IIASA, Vienna)
Bernie Greenberg (from Honeywell CISL)
Clark Baker (from MIT LCS)
Chris Terman (from MIT LCS)
John Blankenbaker (hardware engineer, California)
Bob Williams (hardware engineer, California)
Bob South (hardware engineer, California)
Henry Baker (from MIT)
Dave Dyer (from USC ISI)

quote end





“The stated purpose of the GPL is to destroy all programming jobs which pay better than what is earned by a poorly paid university researcher or a starving graduate student…. And also to prevent new software companies from succeeding. This agenda dates back to the days when Stallman’s colleagues at the MIT AI Lab departed to form companies. Stallman, still quite young, was traumatized by the collapse of the “Nirvana” he had found at the Lab and vowed revenge, literally pursuing his former co-workers like a vengeful “ex.” Steven Levy gives an excellent account of this in the book “Hackers:”

“This was RMS’s opportunity for revenge…. Stallman had no illusions that his act would significantly improve the world at large. He had come to accept that the domain around the AI Lab had been permanently polluted. He was out to cause as much damage to the culprit as he could.”

Stallman first lashed out specifically at Symbolics — one of the spinoff companies — by personally attempting to create no-cost versions of all the software it produced. He later expanded his efforts, creating the GPL and the GNU Project.

Levy’s account is corroborated by an article and interview published in Forbes a few years ago:

“[Stallman] retaliated [against the computer scientists who left the MIT AI Lab to form Symbolics] by sabotaging his former colleagues’ sophisticated commercial programs for powerful computers, singlehandedly hacking up his own versions and giving them away. “They accused me of costing them millions of dollars,” he says. “I hope it’s true.””

In short, there is an overwhelming body of proof that the GPL is intended to be discriminatory against, and harmful to, programmers — in particular those who write commercial software products. And to destroy software companies via anticompetitive tactics.

quote end

Stallman’s image as freedom fighter, or some one who seriously fights big corporations is a red herring. Come on, the CEOs of corporations like IBM are not idiots. If the GPL would be indeed all that and more, would they back it?

Whatever happened with Symbolics (Stallman is not exactly trustful), this was his turning point. His explicit desire to put programmers financially into the mud, is because of that incident. That’s exactly why he mentions so many times that programmers should be paid less, and why he even wants to close other ways to generate money, like books and wants to BANN corporations with higher wages. GNU is the eternal revenge against all corporate programmers of the world. It’s not “freedom”, it’s revenge.

It’s not like he is really against the programming profession; it’s fine as long as the employees are low wage slaves.

Paying programmers less and treating them bad is exactly what big corporations like IBM don’t mind, too, this is why the FSF gets backed by them. To achieve a common goal, alliances can happen between two unlikely partners. History shows that. FOSS (the Stallmanite kind) creates a devaluization of the programming work force – the desired effect of both sides.


“Unite – Britain’s largest union – has warned IBM UK of a coming “backlash” from thousands of employees over its decision pull a prime pension plan out from under 28 per cent of its workforce.”

As I said, the biggest FOSS backers have the worst policies regarding their employees (with the exception of Google), while, ironically, Microsoft (the evil one) wins regulary the “Best employer” title. Of course, MS outsourced and cut jobs too, but not to such extend as most big FOSS backing companies. Interesting: The more MS embraces open source (hyper-drivers and other initiatives), the more jobs get cut.


3 responses to “…Only become less

  1. Pingback: The most effective terror weapon against its own work force | Penguin Day

  2. Thank you for quoting from my blog! However, speaking obviously as someone who has had serious conflict with Stallman’s ideas over time, I do not really beleive that he detests wealth. He detests Bill Gates, but that’s a very different thing. Whenever I have talked politics with him, I found that he was basically a libertarian and very much in favor of capitalism. He didn’t do the GNU stuff specifically with the intention of causing financial harm to all programmers in general. He does acknowledge that such may happen (see the quote ab0ve), but his motivations (given his view of reality!) really and truly are as he says in his writings and talks.

  3. Came across your blog post via bing the other day and absolutely find it irresistible. Continue this fantastic work.

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