Stallman at Brussels conference

By Paul Meller, IDG News Service |  Government

Stallman's 75 minute-long speech captivated the 500-strong audience. It mostly laid out his well-known views on why patents are inappropriate to software. Software design, he said, is fundamentally different from tangible physical design, which he agreed should be patentable.

First, there are no revolutionary leaps forward in software design, but incremental steps forward, building on previous ideas.

Second, software designers don't have to deal with the problems faced by working with matter. "Matter is perverse," Stallman said. "Engineers dealing with matter face a whole level of difficulty that we don't face."

Third, Stallman pointed out that unlike designers of physical things "software designers don't need a factory to produce their ideas. "We just press 'copy'," he said.

The message was deadly serious, but the delivery was true to Stallman form: he kicked off his sneakers at the start and conducted the session in blue socks and brown slacks with a sopranino recorder (a flute-like musical instrument) sticking out of his right pocket and a crinkled burgundy polo shirt that stretched over his round belly. His long, curly hair swayed to and fro as he gesticulated generously with his arms to make his point.

He ended the speech on a humorous note by introducing St IGNUcius, his reverend alter ego. He reached for a plastic supermarket bag on the desk beside him and produced a black embroidered poncho and an old computer disc platter. He slipped the poncho over his head and attached the platter to the crown of his head, halo-like, and recited: "There is no system but GNU, and Linux is one of its kernels. Sainthood in the Church of Emacs requires living a life of purity -- but in the Church of Emacs, this does not require celibacy. Being holy in our church means installing a wholly free operating system and not putting any non-free software on your computer. Join the Church of Emacs, and you too can be a saint!"

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