RMS interview

Alex Hudson home at alexhudson.com
Tue Jun 25 20:49:47 UTC 2002

Hi Rainer,

On Tue, 2002-06-25 at 20:38, Rainer Trusch wrote:
> I read this argument quite often and think it's pretty useless in
> a broader few. The vast majority of users can't programm and is still
> depending on someone else. On a business level you are more likely to
> have someone being capable to give you this control or you can hire
> someone. On a private level that doesn't work and you are one or
> another way "controlled" by someone else.

I'm afraid I don't agree with you :-) Programmability is one of the most
important features of any software, especially business software. What
is programming? It's everything from using a macro-recorder to capture a
series of operations with the mouse or keystrokes, to someone writing a
application from the ground-up and beyond. Every time the user gives the
computer a set of instructions to be followed at a later date, that's

The level of programming ability amongst business users is actually very
high. For people using software seriously - such as accountants and
their spreadsheets - they setup some of the most complex procedures you
can think of. 

I personally don't believe in this user vs. developer distinction. All
users are programmers, or have the potential to be programmers. People
have different skills, and people have developed their skills to
different levels, but essentially all serious users do some form of
programming. And they share this programming too - I know people who
regularly share spreadsheet macros with friends who work for other
companies. They're dealing in Free Software, except that they are not
aware of this fact, and haven't formalised it. It's utterly natural to
do that, too. They do it with webpages. They share clever JavaScript.
Users more advanced still write utilities with RAD tools, database
systems, all sorts. 

I truly believe one of the things that has made a certain popular office
suite so popular has been the database component. Drawing graphical apps
linked to data-aware components is an incredibly powerful technology,
because it's an enabling technology. Office suites are no longer things
you process documents in; they are development platforms - that, for a
business, is the big sell. And Free Software has many applications which
fulfil this role. Look at GnuE (http://www.gnuenterprise.org/), GUI
forms and data-aware components are already in there and working. Debian
volunteers have worked very hard on the packaging, and deploying a GnuE
application is fairly ropey but very possible. The more flexible the
platform - the more Free :) - the more it will appeal to business.
Forget TCO, forget ROI, at the end of the day everything costs pretty
much the same - that's competition. Free Software won't win because of
cost; it will win because it's more appealing.



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