I recently mentioned an interview I did with software pioneer and happy hacker Richard Stallman, when he was on a rare visit to the UK. The resulting piece has just been published as Richard Stallman on the road less travelled. The reference to Robert Frost’s poem was an attempt to sum up the way in which Stallman has always flown in the face of the mainstream. And his views on education are no different.
For the first time, Stallman outlined his views on the role of proprietary software use in schools and universities, which are less well known and could prove pretty controversial. One of the things we discussed involved commercialisation of software produced during the research process. He called on university research staff to actively resist moves to develop proprietary software during these projects, saying:
“Here is what every person developing software in a university must do when necessary. When the program is just vaguely starting to work, go to the administration [management] and say ‘If I can release this as free software, then I’ll finish it. Otherwise, I’ll just write a paper about it’ “.
Several years ago I had a job in computer-related technology transfer at a university and had a lot of day-to-day contact with the commercialisation and IP ‘protection’ staff. Although a lot of computer science researchers will agree with Stallman, I can’t see this going down too well with the IP department.