Skip Links

Stallman relinquishing reins of GNU Emacs after 32 years

By Paul McNamara on Sat, 02/23/08 - 8:30am.

After more than three decades of work, the message from Richard Stallman, creator of the GNU Emacs text editor and keeper of its flame since 1976, couldn't possibly have been more matter of fact:


From:  Richard Stallman

Subject:  Re: Looking for a new Emacs maintainer or team

Date:  Fri, 22 Feb 2008 17:57:22 -0500


Stefan and Yidong offered to take over, so I am willing to hand over Emacs development to them.

(Monday update: Stallman elaborates.)

That's it. No fanfare from the often controversial, widely revered president of the Free Software Foundation. No word on when the transition will take place, or if it's already happened.

Stefan and Yidong are Stefan Monnier, an assistant professor at the University of Montreal, and Chong Yidong, described here as an "Emacs hacker and graduate student in theoretical condensed matter physics at MIT."

A slice of the history, from Wikipedia:

The original EMACS was a set of Editor MACroS for the TECO editor written in 1976 by Richard Stallman, initially together with Guy L. Steele, Jr..[2][3][4] It was inspired by the ideas of TECMAC and TMACS, a pair of TECO-macro editors written by Steele, Dave Moon, Richard Greenblatt, Charles Frankston, and others.[5] Many versions of Emacs have appeared over the years, but two are now commonly used: GNU Emacs, started by Stallman in 1984 and maintained by him until 2008, and XEmacs, a fork of GNU Emacs started in 1991 that has remained mostly compatible. Both use a powerful extension language, Emacs Lisp, that allows them to handle tasks ranging from writing and compiling computer programs to browsing the web.

In Unix culture, Emacs is one of the two main contenders in the traditional editor wars, the other being vi.

Stallman has long been a controversial character, of course, and not everyone bows in his presence. But in open-source developer circles he is revered by many.

Reaction to his decision on emacs-eval and elsewhere has been predictably slack-jawed:

From Dan Nicolaescu: "Thank you for the many years in service! … Congratulation Stefan and Chong!"

From Mike Mattie: "Emacs is one for the history books. Congratulations, RMS, if it is not premature."

Paul Michael Reilly: "Wow! That has to be one of the most understated email messages I've seen in ~30 years of receiving email, most of it using Rmail. Best of luck to you. And for all that Emacs has meant to me, I still owe you an immeasurable debt for your contributions, Richard, which I look forward to seeing continued in other arenas.

Thank you so much."

And from a wise guy at Reddit: "Wow. I guess he got a response to his personal ad."

This morning I e-mailed Stallman a few questions in hope of fleshing out his cryptic note announcing the changing of the guard. Received this auto-reply:

"I am not on vacation, but I am at the end of a long time delay.  I am located somewhere on Earth, but as far as responding to email is concerned, I appear to be well outside the solar system."

Will let you know when he returns.

Welcome regulars and passersby. Here are a few more recent Buzzblog items. And, if you'd like to receive Buzzblog via e-mail newsletter, here's where to sign up.

Call "retail renting" what it is: short-term theft.

Confessions of a Caller-ID spoofer.

Google renames the Persian Gulf. pummeled into darkness.

Get $500 just for going on a job interview. (No, really.)

My brother's brush with Vespa bandits.

Top 10 Buzzblog posts for '07: Verizon's there, of course, along with Gates, Wikipedia and the guy who lost a girlfriend to Blackberry's blackout.

8 can't-miss tech predictions ... for 1998