Book Review: Free as in Freedom

December 1, 2011


I was hoping to get to this earlier, but I was preoccupied with converting posts up tthrough November into ebook format. That should remind me not to wait until there are fifteen posts to backup. Anyway, on November 29th, I finished a new book I had purchased Barnes & Noble. Today, I am going to review that book, which is called Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software by Sam Williams.

The book is a biography of Richard Stallman and talks about his life and accomplishments. However, just like Steve Jobs' biography, if focuses more on his accomplishments and the history of the Open Source movement, which Stallman might want me to call Free Software movement instead, so hopefully Stallman does not come to review and complain about this. The book mainly focuses on Stallman's accomplishments.

I enjoyed the book and learned more about the group known as hackers. Now days, we all think hackers are people that break into systems, whether the target hired them or not. This explains why many computer-related college courses use the terms white hat hacker, gray hat hacker, and black hat hacker. However, the book paints a different picture. It says that hackers were programmers. Companies sent people at places like MIT prototype product that they would improve. Also according to the book, once companies stopped relying on hackers, there was the birth of proprietary software and NDAs. In addition to some new information, there were things that made me laugh. One example was when the narrator and Stallman were in traffic Stallman went off in a tirade. I am not going to say exactly what he said or did, but it is like one of those guys who are funnier angry than he is calm. Another example was when Stallman was a kid, he solved a puzzle that his mother was having trouble solving, when she thought he could not. On another occasion, he was giving speech and made comments about the Church of EMACS. Finally, I kind of laughed about his comment of him and Torvalds in a Stars Wars-themed shirt. The book provided new information and a few laughs.

As I only got the ebook version, I am not sure that I can come up with a whole lot bad that would definitely take down work. The grammar was not that bad. My main issue in grammar and punctuation was spacing. Some sentences did not even appear to have even a single space between them. The print edition may not suffer from this problem, but I cannot say, as I did not purchase a print edition. My guess is probably how the ebook was made. My second problem with the work is citations. I really enjoyed seeing things cited and all, but I think that kind of stuff should just be placed at the very end. It just makes sense for citation to be at the end of the book, especially since footnotes practically do not exist, as of yet in reflowable ebooks, such as EPUB. The citations used it text could then just link to that page, assuming anchor links are used. My last problem is the Table of Contents. It is just a list of items that are not even links or appropriately put together to allow the reading application to display it. It is like if I want to search for my place, I have to advance to the next page or go back to the previous page just to get where I need to be. This is also most likely due to how it was created. There are issues in space, citation usage, and the table of contents, but nothing that really takes done the books quality too much, just makes it not worth it to pay for the ebook, through Barnes & Noble at least.

Despite the issues with the ebook, I really enjoyed the humor and found the statements interesting. I really recommend this book to people who have an interest in computers, technology, and FOSS. For everyone else, I would suggest you skip it, as it seems to mainly focus on FOSS topics and history. If you get this title in electronic format, I urge you just to download the ebook from Project Gutenberg for free, since that is what my copy ended up being anyway, which explains some of my issues.

Without Stallman, There probably would not have been an open source movement, not would the GPL, or any other open source license exist. Unlike what I said about Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, there probably would not have been anyone to start the Open Source movement, as the book stated that not very many people, aside from Stallman cared enough to make a stand.

What is your opinion of the book? Do you agree or disagree with me? Did I get anything wrong? Feel free to comment.

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