Manuals, software, programs (Re: Savannah rejects a project because it uses GPL)

Ben Finney ben at
Sun Feb 12 00:07:29 UTC 2006

On 12-Feb-2006, Alfred M. Szmidt wrote:
>    A computer can run a PostScript or LaTeX program; indeed, most of
>    them are practically unreadable by a human until a computer has
>    done so.
> But a computer cannot run the output that those generate (ps and
> latex should really be classifed as source code by the way, not as
> programs; a program, in the most strict sense is a set of
> instructions located in memory that is being executed, there are
> other definitions of what a program really is, but that is the one
> that is the most common) . If it could, then they would be programs
> indeed.

To be clear, are you saying that source code is *not* a program?

You have defined software as synonymous with programs, as I understand
it. If source code is not a program, is it not software?

If the preferred form for modification of a manual is not
human-readable, and is not a program, what is it? Software? A manual?
Something else -- if so, what?

>    Are these [PostScript and LaTeX] programs not software?
> Software and programs tend to be the same thing.

I'll take that as an answer of "all PostScript and LaTeX programs are
software"; if you don't believe that's true, I'd still like to know
your answer to that question.

How does this affect your definition of software? Is that definition
inclusive of something other than programs -- if so, what does it

>    Are these programs not FAQ documents or manuals?
> Since a computer cannot read them, they are not programs.

I presume you mean to distinguish the human-readable form from the
preferred form for modification (the source code) for the manual. Why
is one form "the manual" and the other not?

Is this distinction of forms of a work significant for the freedoms
that should accrue to each form of the work?

>    Some manuals are programs. Some are not. Neither case is uncommon
>    or strange.
> No manual is a program.  Can you show me a single one that I can
> actually run by a computer?  Or even a FAQ?

I define a program as being inclusive of the source code and the
executable form. Sometimes they are the same form.

I define a document as being inclusive of the source code and
human-readable form. Sometimes they are the same form.

I ask all these questions of category definitions, because it is on
the categorical labelling of different types of work, and different
forms of work, that you base your arguments for what freedoms should
apply to different things. Thus, understanding the definitions is
crucial to understanding your arguments.

 \     "Buy not what you want, but what you need; what you do not need |
  `\           is expensive at a penny."  -- Cato, 234-149 BC, Relique |
_o__)                                                                  |
Ben Finney <ben at>
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