Another sign of the End Times: Free software guru Richard Stallman speaks at Microsoft HQ

Firebrand in town to give Redmond a GNU lease of life

Photo When a frantic group of paranormal researchers were trying to convince the Mayor of New York of the impending apocalypse depicted in the 1984 flick Ghostbusters, they described the situation as a disaster of Biblical proportions.

Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes! Volcanoes!
The dead rising from the grave!
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

They might also have warned of the dire possibility of Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman speaking at Microsoft.

It was a historical possibility at least, if not a likely one: Stallman launched the GNU Project, which led to the free software movement, in 1983, around the time Ghostbusters was being made, though his work at the time was not appreciated widely enough for the reference to make sense.

On Wednesday, it actually happened – Stallman spoke at Microsoft's corporate headquarters – and Alessandro Segala, product marketing manager of Open Source on Azure, recognized the event's apocalyptic portent: "If the world ends today, you know why."

Elsewhere on Twitter, the reaction was similar. Hell has finally frozen over, quipped IT and ops engineer Ralf Hermsen. There was even tongue-in-cheek speculation that an experiment at CERN has plunged the world into an alternate dimension.

Computer science professor Matt Blaze grasped the cinematic significance of Stallman's appearance immediately: "Is that a CC license on the slides?" he said via Twitter. "Cats and dogs living together."

Yes, the very same Richard Stallman who maintains a list of "Reasons not to use Microsoft" on his personal website, couldn't muster any reason not to speak there.

This despite a rather lengthy list of alleged Microsoft sins on the Free Software Foundation website. Here's an excerpt from a guest blog post from Mark Northfist, posted by free software developer Matt Lee from a decade ago: "Dinner with Microsoft is like dinner with Hannibal Lecter, it might provide you with many a stimulating and intellectual conversation, but, you have to ask yourself, what was their real motivation in inviting you over?"

Bare knuckle fight, photo via Shutterstock

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The Register is curious about that, so we attempted to contact Stallman via email, after the Free Software Foundation told us no one there could explain the situation. We don't expect to hear back immediately. Microsoft also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Perhaps times are different now. Microsoft, which once referred to the GPL as a cancer, has put the Linux kernel into Windows. And Stallman, who in the past has expressed views some find controversial, really hasn't railed against Microsoft directly in years.

Would that it were so simple: Stallman still appears to still have concerns about Redmond. Microsoft AI researcher Greg Yang posted a quote from Stallman's presentation: "Satya's book made me realize Microsoft is a great company...if you ignore what they are doing to the freedom of users...unfortunately this is very important"

Microsoft software engineer Pedro Paulo described the presentation as consistent with Stallman's philosophy for the past 30 years, and noted that he had a few requests for the company, such as pushing GitHub to make developers more aware of software license compliance, encouraging hardware vendors to publish kit specs and making it easier to bypass Secure Boot. ®

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