Subject: Source code becoming less important
From: Ian Lance Taylor <>
Date: 31 May 1999 14:31:47 -0400

You know, while we discuss source code licensing interminably, we
shouldn't forget that true libre software requires more than just
source code.  Libre software, as I understand it, also requires a
mechanism for changing the source code and running the changed

I would guess that these days most people's use of software is less in
general purpose computers than it is in various sorts of embedded
systems: automobiles, microwaves, VCRs, cell phones, pagers, etc.
Having the source code to my cell phone isn't much help if I have no
simple way to change the actual code that my cell phone is running.

I wonder if this will make the libre software argument steadily less
relevant.  If I can use my Palm Pilot to send and receive e-mail and
browse the web, and I can buy a cheap dedicated word processor (I
don't know that I can right now, but I could once, and perhaps I will
be able to again), then (assuming I'm not a computer programmer) why
do I need a general purpose computer?  And if I don't have a general
purpose computer, what good is source code going to do?

It's true that the argument about opening the hood of the car still
more or less applies.  However, doesn't it have a different feel when
you think about updating the software in your car or your cell phone?
Do you really expect the local car repair shop to repair your
automobile software?  Do people even bother to repair their cell
phones at all?