Richard Matthew Stallman (commonly referred to by his initials RMS) is a central figure in the free software movement. His major accomplishments as a programmer include the text-editor Emacs, the compiler GCC, and the debugger GDB, under the rubric of the GNU Project. But he is of greatest influence for establishing the moral, political, and legal framework for the free software movement, as an alternative to proprietary software development and distribution.
In 1971, as a freshman at Harvard University, Stallman became a hacker at the MIT AI Laboratory. In the 1980s, the hacker culture which was Stallman's life began to dissolve under the pressure of the commercialization of the software industry. In particular, other AI Lab hackers founded the company Symbolics, which actively attempted to replace the free software in the Lab with its own proprietary software. For two years, from 1983 to 1985, Stallman single-handedly duplicated the efforts of the Symbolics programmers to prevent them from gaining a monopoly on the Lab's computers. By that time, however, he was the last of his generation of hackers at the Lab. He was asked to sign non-disclosure agreements and perform other actions he considered betrayals of his principles. In 1986, Stallman published the GNU Manifesto, which asserted his intentions and motivations for creating a free alternative to the Unix operating system, which he dubbed GNU (GNU's Not Unix). Soon after he incorporated the non-profit Free Software Foundation to coordinate the effort. He invented the concept of copyleft which was embodied in the GNU General Public License (commonly known as the "GPL") in 1989. Most of the GNU system, except for the kernel, was completed at about the same time. In 1991, Linus Torvalds released the Linux kernel under the GPL, creating a complete and operational GNU system, the GNU/Linux (generally referred to as simply Linux) operating system.
Richard Stallman's political and moral motivations have made him a controversial figure. Many influential programmers who agree with the concept of sharing code disagree with Stallman's moral stance, personal philosophy, or the language he has used to describe his positions. One result of these disputes was the establishment of an alternative to the free software movement, namely open source.
Stallman has received numerous prizes and awards for his work, amongst them a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 1990, the Association for Computing Machinery's Grace Hopper Award of 1991 for his work on the original Emacs editor, an honorary doctorate from Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology in 1996, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer award in 1998, the Yuri Rubinski memorial award in 1999, and the 2001 Takeda award.