The American programmer Richard Stallman had everything to succeed in the world of "traditional" computing and – probably – accumulate a fortune, like several of his contemporaries.
Graduated with honors from Harvard University, until 1984 he had a privileged position in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the emblematic Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
However, he unexpectedly decided to turn his life around and promote a more altruistic cause: free software , through the development of the GNU operating system and the creation of the Free Software Foundation .
A bright young man
Stallman was brilliant. While still a high school student, he got a job at the IBM Science Center to write a numerical analysis program and a text editor. The following year, he developed a preprocessor.
While in his first year as a physics student at Harvard, in 1971, he became a hacker at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where he worked by maintaining the Incompatible Time-sharing System (ITS), the internal operating system.
In addition, he was highly accomplished in Math 55, considered Harvard's most advanced undergraduate mathematics course.
In 1974, he graduated with honors. And when he was pursuing his Ph.D. in physics at MIT, he chose to focus on his work in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, thereby defining his future.
The incident that detonated free software
At the end of the sixties, companies stopped distributing the codes of their programs and began to privilege copyrights and licenses; to restrict copying, proprietary software was becoming part of the norm.
Stallman had already protested against that. But an incident in 1980 with a Xerox 9700 laser printer finally convinced him of the need to promote free software: He was denied access to source code, which they had previously been able to edit to simplify work at MIT.
In this way, on January 5, 1984, he resigned from his job at MIT, with the aim of developing a completely free operating system.
From their point of view, users should have the freedom to share, study, and make changes to the applications they use. With that vision, he promoted the GNU project, a recursive acronym for GNU's Not Unix (GNU is not Unix), in reference to AT & T's Unix operating system , one of the most popular of the time.
Later, he published the GNU Manifesto and founded the Free Software Foundation, a non-profit corporation called to employ free software programmers and provide a legal infrastructure for the movement.
Today, GNU is part of multiple free distribution operating systems that are based on its initial components, the most emblematic of all being GNU / Linux .