This book helped me better understand the values and origin of the free software movement. Williams clearly depicted Stallman’s firm dedication to free software as an ethical issue, and I came to respect the consistency with which he has fought for his values.1
My own view on free software is a bit more nuanced. I believe that sharing information, including source code, is more beneficial to society than hoarding it for the sake of competition. However, I realize that we all need money to survive and that making a living developing free / open source software is incredibly difficult in our current economic system. As a result, I don’t really blame anyone for choosing to keep their code secret or for using proprietary software. I think finding ways to improve the system is much more productive than pressuring individual developers/users to make the (often quite large) sacrifices required to reject non-free software.
Content aside, I didn’t particularly love the book’s style. I read version 2.0, which contains many revisions made by Stallman himself. The edits, besides illustrating his rather nitpicky nature, made the accuracy of the whole book feel a bit questionable, at least to me – they cast Williams’ original writing in a bad light and sometimes felt sort of self-serving for Stallman.
I know that there’s been quite a bit of controversy surrounding Stallman in the last few years. I’m not informed enough to make any judgements about those issues, and this book review is neither an endorsement of nor an attack on his personal character or his eligibility to continue to be a leader in the free software community. ↩︎