If you’ve read the blogosphere around GNU (Planet GNOME etc.) you’ve probably heard that some people are really upset about a comment by Richard M. Stallman about Steve Jobs’ death. RMS wrote “Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died” and continued with a requoted phrase said about a corrupt mayor: “I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m glad he’s gone.”
I’m not sure forking the FSF would solve any problems. Despite what RMS sometimes says, the FSF is broken in its foundations. From the very focused goal to build a completely free operating system called GNU the FSF transformed to ‘everything that vaguely adheres to our standards can call itself a GNU project and we’ll throw an occasional political manifesto on top of it all’.
The FSF doesn’t need a fork. Newer organizations already took over FSF’s former responsibilities: ‘Software Freedom Law Center’ does the majority of legal work. Linux provides the kernel and KDE and GNOME (officially still a GNU project but de facto without relation) provide the userspace tools.
As for RMS himself: I don’t think his political ideals are wrong or go too far. As even Apple itself once said: “people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”.
We shouldn’t compromise our ideals of Free Software or – in broader terms – free knowledge for everybody but IMO we don’t RMS any longer because we have more than just him now. People like SFLC’s Eben Moglen reflect more about what they are about to say.
IMO arguments for free software/knowledge weigh more when there is no crazy talk mixed in. It’s a plain fact that while Apple is hardly perfect from our perspective, Steve Jobs made Apple way more open than Apple under John Sculley, Michael Spindler, and Gil Amelio. Everything was proprietary. After Apple bought NeXT and effectively NeXT took over Apple’s operations, suddenly we had an Apple that contributes to GCC, releases its new NeXTStep-derived operating system’s core (Darwin) under a LGPL-like license, creates WebKit, maintains CUPS, and is the main driver of LLVM.
So to get back to the first paragraph: I’m glad we had Steve Jobs. Not only did his decisions result in improvements of FOSS itself, he helped to break the dominance of Windows and let people accept that there are alternatives that not only work as well as Windows but even surpass it.