Should Rockets Have Only Free Software? Free Software and Appliances

by Richard Stallman

Could there be a rocket that is totally free software? Should we demand that SpaceX liberate the software in its satellite launching rockets? I don’t think the person who asked me this was serious, but answering that question may illuminate similar issues about the sorts of products people really buy today.

As far as I know, software as such is not capable of generating thrust. A rocket is necessarily principally a physical device. But it may include computerized control and telemetry systems, and thus software.

If someone offered to sell me a rocket, I would treat it like any other appliance. Consider, for instance, a thermostat. If it contains software to be modified, all the software in it needs to be free. If, however, the software in it need not ever be altered, and it communicates only through some limited interface, such as buttons on the control panel, a TV remote control, or a USB interface with a fixed set of commands, I would not consider it crucial to know what is inside the thermostat: whether it contains a special-purpose chip, or a processor running code, makes no direct difference to me as user. If it does contain code, it might as well have a special chip instead, so I don’t need to care which it is.

I would object if that thermostat sent someone data about my activities, regardless of how that was

— source

Nullius in verba


Copyright versus Community in the Age of Computer Networks

I’ve been in New Zealand for a couple of weeks, and in the North Island it was raining most of the time. Now I know why they call gumboots “Wellingtons”. And then I saw somebody who was making chairs and tables out of ponga wood, and he called it fern-iture. Then we took the ferry to get here, and as soon as we got off, people started mocking and insulting us; but there were no hard feelings, they just wanted to make us really feel Picton.

The reason people usually invite me to give speeches is because of my work on free software. This is not a talk about free software; this talk answers the question whether the ideas of free software extend to other kinds of works. But in order for that to make sense, I’d better tell you briefly what free software means.

Free software is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech”, not “free beer”. Free software is software that respects the user’s freedom, and there are four specific freedoms that the user deserves always to have.

Freedom 0 is the freedom to run the program as you wish.
Freedom 1 is the freedom to study the source code of the program and change it to make the program do what you wish.
Freedom 2 is the freedom to help your neighbour; that is, the freedom to redistribute copies of the program, exact copies when you wish.
And Freedom 3 is the freedom to contribute to your community. That’s the freedom to publish your modified versions when you wish.

— source | Richard Stallman

Nullius in verba