Stallman on handing over GNU Emacs . . . and its future

The message posted Friday, Feb. 22 on emacs-devel by Richard Stallman was cryptic: "Stefan and Yidong offered to take over, so I am willing to hand over Emacs development to them."

Just like that: 32 years after bringing the GNU Emacs text editor into the developer world, Stallman is relinquishing his role as its maintainer. The following day, I e-mailed him a few questions about his decision and the future of Emacs, which he graciously agreed to answer after first eliciting from me this Stallmanesque pledge:

I’ll answer your questions if you promise me that the story will avoid a couple of frequent errors.

One common error is referring to a free operating system as "Linux." That system is basically GNU; Linux is actually the kernel, one program in the system. Calling the whole system "Linux" means giving the system’s principal developer none of the credit. Read more explanation here

Would you please agree to distinguish consistently in your article between Linux, the kernel, and GNU/Linux, the entire system? Since GNU Emacs is part of GNU, this is directly relevant.

The other common error is labeling me, GNU, GNU/Linux, or the GNU GPL with the term "Open Source." That is the slogan adopted in 1998 by people who reject the philosophy of the Free Software Movement. They have the right to promote their views, but we would like to be associated with our views, not theirs. Read more explanation here.   

My response to your questions, based on the ideals of the Free Software Movement, would be very different from what a supporter of Open Source would say.

Could you please agree to refer to this work as Free Software in your article, and not as Open Source? In particular, please don’t describe GNU Emacs as "Open Source."

In this case, I had only a few questions and they all pertained to Richard Stallman and GNU Emacs, so I’d agree to call the work synchronized swimming in the interest of getting answers. Sunday dinnertime, having been assured of my intended compliance, he answered:

Why give up maintaining Emacs now?

I find I am too busy with other work to give Emacs maintenance the attention it deserves. I’ve been considering handing the maintainership over to others for most of a year.

Are you doing this reluctantly? Or eagerly?

I feel nostalgia, but not very strongly.

Pardon my unfamiliarity with them, but who are Stefan and Yidong?

Stefan Monnier and Chong Yidong are two of the main Emacs developers of recent years.

What do you see as the future of Emacs?

I would like to see it extended to operate as a word processor, editing formatted text.

Thirty-two years is a long time to devote to anything. Any parting thoughts?

I have not spent 32 years working on Emacs, and I’m not quite "parting."

Since I first wrote GNU Emacs in 1984, I have not been the maintainer all the time. In fact, three other people have been the maintainer of GNU Emacs at various times. Gerd Moellman was the maintainer for about four years, until a while after the release of Emacs 21. During that time he implemented display of variable-width text. He decided to stop, so I took up the maintainership again.

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