Free as in Freedom interweaves biographical snapshots of GNU project founder Richard Stallman with the political, social and economic history of the free software movement. It examines Stallman's unique personality and how that personality has been at turns a driving force and a drawback in terms of the movement's overall success.
Free as in Freedom examines one man's 20-year attempt to codify and communicate the ethics of 1970s era "hacking" culture in such a way that later generations might easily share and build upon the knowledge of their computing forebears. The book documents Stallman's personal evolution from teenage misfit to prescient adult hacker to political leader and examines how that evolution has shaped the free software movement. Like Alan Greenspan in the financial sector, Richard Stallman has assumed the role of tribal elder within the hacking community, a community that bills itself as anarchic and averse to central leadership or authority. How did this paradox come about? Free as in Freedom provides an answer. It also looks at how the latest twists and turns in the software marketplace have diminished Stallman's leadership role in some areas while augmenting it in others.
Finally, Free as in Freedom examines both Stallman and the free software movement from historical viewpoint. Will future generations see Stallman as a genius or crackpot? The answer to that question depends partly on which side of the free software debate the reader currently stands and partly upon the reader's own outlook for the future. 100 years from now, when terms such as "computer," "operating system" and perhaps even "software" itself seem hopelessly quaint, will Richard Stallman's particular vision of freedom still resonate, or will it have taken its place alongside other utopian concepts on the 'ash-heap of history?'
Sam Williams is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of O'Reilly's Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software. He has covered high-tech culture, specifically software development culture, for a number of Web sites. From 1998-2001, he wrote "Open Season," a weekly column on the open source software community for Upside Today. He also has conducted interviews for the Web site BeOpen.com. His first book, ARGUING A.I.: The Battle for Twenty-First Century Science, was published by Random House in January 2002. Free as in Freedom is his second book.