Savannah rejects a project because it uses GPL
Alfred M. Szmidt
ams at gnu.org
Wed Feb 15 19:40:09 UTC 2006
Eloquently written, but I disagree with several points (suprise! :-)
> FDL licensed documentation isn't non-free software, it isn't even
> free software. It is documentation.
Here we differ. There are just different definitions of what
software means. But this does not change the fact that freedom
matters. There are of course different forms of freedom needed for
So that one has a starting point on how you base your reasoning: How
do you define software?
Now variable names we better forget and look at comments, they are
clearly documentation in every sense I can think of.
I disagree strongly with this. Comments describe the code operation,
documentation describes the whole program's operation with no/little
knowledge of thei nternals of the program. Comments are exactly
`comments', small reminders for the programmer to know why something
is written in this particular way. Think of it as small notes in the
margin of a book.
When one writes comments, on almost always has no intention for anyone
other than the `initiated' to read them, and are scattered all over
the place often using cryptic notations and what not.
Now, there are types of `comments' which are meant for use in
documentation, the most notable example I can think of is doc-strings
in Lisp, where you document what the function does in the body of it,
so it can be extracted into say a manual, or read by the end user.
The main difference between comments and documentation is really to
whom they are directed. Comments are directed for the person who is
editing the actual code, and documentation is for the person wishing
to learn about it.
Or at least not those forms of pseudocode in the documentation that
are more speech than pseudocode (Good finding any criterium for
separating). And then there are not only compilers, but
interpreters, where you may have restrictions on the size. You
might want to remove all comments (and all invariant secions those
documentation contained, as we all know, documentation does not
need the same freedoms, *cough*) to put it on some
bootfloppy. Well, all comments except that one descriping the boot
parameters people may need there. So do I have to rewrite that
comment under a free license?
Since a comment isn't documentation, no. :-)
But software is not only the source code with its comments, it need
more things to work (even though one may say those things are not
part of the software, as it is no program and thus not software by
some definitions): one needs labels for some ui elements, catalogs
with translations of those, if it is a gui also icons, contents of
help- tags popping up, perhaps even some animations showing what
the program does. Those form a integral part of the program, and
being able to change the program logics but not those ui elements
is annoying, as if forcing to separate them, as some variant may
want to embed the icons or help texts within the source. Thus those
things should clearly have all the freedoms attached to them the
program code has.
I don't know if it is that clear. I'd be ok if a recording of a song
was verbatim only in a program.
Let's look from the other side. Common (well, still quite common,
call me a bit old fashioned if you like) forms to write
documentation are systems hardly to distinguish from programing
languages by people grown up with "ms word". While I personally
seldom write in postscript due to its lack for German umlauts, I
regulary use groff or LateX, with non-trivial formatting "programs"
in them, sometimes separated in a good semantic mark-up style,
sometimes tightly interwoven with the actual texts. Do those
formatting/text-processing programs within the documentation's
source need different freedoms than other programs?
I wouldn't call troff/latex files for `program source. They all spit
out a static file, one could compare it to a file with values in it,
that you give to a program, which then spits out a fractal image. Is
the file with the values, just numbers, source code? Or even a
program? Of course not. A LaTeX/groff file is more akin to a very
long parameter list (this is stretching it a bit, but that is what it
So there is documentation within programs, and there are programs
within documentation, and many things hard to distinguish. And many
things shifting between those. Take a documentation of some
interface, add some machine parsable tags to generate headers file
from it, which freedoms do you need?
Use, modify, copy. All of which the licenses from the FSF allow.
So there are many reasons to not make a distinguish between all
those bits contained in an OS by some undefinable criterias
wheather they cause the creation of something the CPU interprets
(machine code) or to be interpreted by something interpreted by the
CPU (scripts) one the one side, and things interpreted by something
interpreted by the CPU (images, texts, ...).
This is the eniterly wrong way to look at it. This message is just a
stream of bits that get interpeted in one way or another. Does this
mean that you should have any right to modify what I have written into
saying something that I have not? Ofcourse not. Yet, all the `bits' I
used can be understood by an interpeter if I reorder them enough.
Does this mean that what I have written is a program? No. Does this
mean that other rights apply? Obviously.
You are (correct me if I am wrong) basing your argument that if one
cannot make clear distinction between data and data, then it all
should be treated the same way. This really makes no sense... It is
trivial to clearly see the difference between documentation, a program
and a poem.
Although many people today believe the documentation is not part of
If you would have written `part of the program distribution image',
then I'd agree. But since I think that documentation is clearly not
software, I cannot agree.
But I think this is mostly caused by the bad habit of propietary
program distribution without source, as I tried to describe above
that source and documentation are some entity, and if you are a
mere consumer without the potential to construct, program and
documentation tend to be seen as seperate entitites.
I don't know, most old systems came with both source code and a truck
But even if you prefer to not call anything that is documentation
software, all the things stored on computers to make them operate
and to make humans able to operate them, should be free.
I'd like to hear the definiton of `free' here. Since we are
discussing the GFDL, I should note that the GFDL doesn't prohibit how
you operate your computer. Neither does a copy of the GNU Manifesto
which cannot be modifed.
Programs, should obviously be free (software, just to be clear what
freedoms I mean), since they actually change the operation of the
> Nor is FDL-licensed documentation removed, it is _moved_ to the
> non-free section. Which is part of Debian, desite whatever
> claims people will make.
Well, here we come back to names and definitions. The Debian
project are many people, which non-free stuff is clearly not part.
Sorry, but `non-free' is part of the Debian project.
Debian GNU/Linux (main) is 100% free software, yes. But Debian as a
whole is not, and not even Debian GNU/Linux as a whole. Since
non-free is part of the Debian project.
But Debian does not promise those will be free, but that it will
create a 100% free operating system, which it really tries.
I'd like to know what `free' means in your vocubalary. You have
switched between `free software' and `free', it seems to me that they
are the say for you.
On the other hand it is just practical to keep the Debian promise
and the Debian distribution pure.
This is simply a false claim, and is easy to disprove:
ftp.debian.org/.../non-free. Debian has repatedly broken this
There is no pressure to knowlingly include or keep non-free stuff,
so people do not easily get caught, finding themselves depending on
stuff they do not have allowance to use the way they want. (Didn't
that ututo-e distributed by ftp.gnu.org not contain some non-free
graphic card drivers some time ago?)
I think you really should stop trying get on the moral high ground,
Debian has consitently distributed non-free software since I started
using it which was in the `bo' era. That you then try to accuse
someone for a something which is a simple error, or misjudgment, is
simply saddening. We all make them, Debian on the other hand
_explicitly_ allows non-free software in its distribution (that you,
and other Debian developer, simply try to redefine what constitues the
system just to justify the inclusion of non-free software is far worse
than by error including non-free software).
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