Subject: Re: Open Source shareware?
From: Simon Cozens <simon@netthink.co.uk>
Date: Mon, 16 Sep 2002 12:03:13 +0100

Rich Morin:
> should be free.  In fact, he contends that proprietary documentation is
> a problem, because it discourages potential authors from writing free
> documentation.  (Hope I'm not misinterpreting you, Richard :-).

Just like the availability of closed source software discourages potential
programmers from writing free software? No, I don't think so.

I can't think of any project whose documentation has been harmed by the
existence of an O'Reilly book, and in fact the only books I can think of are
for projects which have damned good documentation already.

I believe there's an evolution law of free software. Actually, I believe there
are quite a few evolution laws of free software, but here's the only one I'm
going to preach about in this sermon: if it's necessary to produce a free
version of something, *someone will do it*. 

If you need a free Unix, someone will write a free Unix, AT&T or no AT&T. If
you need a free documentation set, someone will write a free documentation
set, O'Reilly book or no O'Reilly book. Why has one happened but not the
other? Here's why I think it is:

For programmers, writing software is fun. It's actually enjoyable to produce a
free version of something you "can't" have because it's proprietary. Why do
people write free software? Because it's either necessary to have a
free version, (whether pragmatically - we need a free version of this software 
because there isn't a commercial one we can actually use - or dogmatically -
because we believe that everything should be free) or it's fun to do.

Documentation is different. For most programmers, writing documentation isn't
fun. So the question is, is it necessary to have a free version? If there's a
reasonably-priced book available in a shop, it's probably not pragmatically
necessary. That only leaves dogmatic necessity. And that's pretty weak - the
only people who are really interested in dogmatic necessity are those who
spend more time playing politicians than they would writing documentation
anyway. 

It's all very well for people to complain that there's no free documentation
for project X, but if they cared that much about it, nobody's stopping them
from solving it.

-- 
"Irrigation of the land with seawater desalinated by fusion power is ancient.
It's called 'rain'."
-- Michael McClary, in alt.fusion