The title of this post is pretty indicative of the tone and content of this post. If you worship at the altar of Richard Stallman and promote all things Stallmanesque then I contend you are not likely to enjoy the rest of this post.

How to be a Jerk in Just 102 Words

First, I’ll let you read what Richard Stallman decided needed to be said in response to the death of Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.

As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, “I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone.” Nobody deserves to have to die – not Jobs, not Mr. Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs’ malign influence on people’s computing.

Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.

Where to begin? Mr. Stallman, you clearly have strong feelings about the free software movement, I get that. Clearly you can get a lot more mileage by being caustic than sweet, particularly when you still feel you need to generate traction in the mainstream. But your attempt at riding one man’s popularity into his grave in order to promote an agenda while maligning his contributions seems designed solely to backfire and alienate you from anyone aside from your most devoted fans.

I am not alone in finding your statement repugnant and disrespectful, no matter how you might attempt to soften your stance (i.e. “Nobody deserves to have to die”). Even those who might agree with your stance on free software appear to be taken aback by your (call it what it is) callous, opportunistic abuse of another man’s death. You seem to oppose corporate entities making hay off the work of others, yet even some of Apple’s biggest competitors refrained from stepping on this moment. Whatever goal you might have hoped for, you have only shown yourself to be petty and bitter and unwilling to grant that another person’s life might have offered worth to the world in spite of your opposition to their principles.

And How to be Wrong, Too

And let’s take a look at those principles, shall we? You dislike that Jobs promoted a device which is “designed to sever fools from their freedom”. So glad to see you take a shot at the living. I think you miss the point. If Mr. Jobs were still alive and asked if he designed the iPhone or any other Apple device to be in some way less free, I imagine he would have said that wasn’t the point, that in fact most people do not care. His goals were simply orthogonal to freedom, in the sense of which you speak. It wasn’t on his radar. The freedom Mr. Jobs espoused was the freedom not to be bound by the limitations of poor design. Of complexities which distract the user from creating. Of dealing with tools which never saw the word “No”.

I find myself forced to admit you have made positive contributions in your efforts to push the free software agenda. But I find it shocking that you can be so oblivious to the positive influence Steve Jobs had on the world. I am not the type to build someone up beyond where they deserve to be, but you have to admit that inasmuch as your drive and determination has pushed a movement, Mr. Jobs’ drive and determination has pushed industries (plural), and has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to do more to create and produce and communicate.

And my final point on the matter… put up or shut up, Mr. Stallman. The mass appeal of Apple products does not lie purely in marketing muscle. They are appealing specifically because they are well designed, highly polished and focused on what consumers need. They simply work. More importantly they get out of the way to do so. While there are well designed free software products which can make a similar claim, the most common refrain of casual users is that when compared to non-free solutions, functionality is either missing, poorly designed or difficult to understand. In short, the tool gets in the way of the worker. Perhaps if the movement which you champion so vehemently (and yet are serving so poorly with this sort of vitriol) was more capable of producing software that serves the user more effectively, you might gain some leverage. Until then, deal with the fact that most people are not interested in what you are pushing. And try to learn what it means to actually respect another’s accomplishments rather than attempting to tarnish someone’s image in order to further your own cause.