Subject: Free books (was Re: The merger: a user's perspective)
From: "Bradley M. Kuhn" <bkuhn@ebb.org>
Date: Fri, 19 Nov 1999 09:07:55 -0500

Reply-To: 
In-Reply-To: <38344299.D80B81D7@oreilly.com>
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Tim O'Reilly wrote:
> > Please add Programming Perl to your mental list of the list of books that
> > this has happened with - the online perldoc documentation is largely based
> > on the contents of that book.  Yes, there was some argument at one point
> > about how free that documentation is, but the Debian project managed to
> > amiably sort out their differences with the Perl developers so *I* consider
> > it free.
 
> Oh, I agree with that completely. And I've mentioned it many times in my
> arguments with Richard. Programming Perl is in fact my ideal model for how
> free documentation and commercial books should interact.

One of the problems here, and the reason that my project
(http://www.ebb.org/PickingUpPerl) exists is because the perldoc
documentation is *not* formatted nor written as a real tutorial [0], but
rather as reference documentation.

The O'Reilly Perl books are *tutorial* in nature, and the online
documentation is *reference*.  We need to keep this in mind---I thank
O'Reilly for funding Tom, Randal, and Larry to help the reference
documentation, but the truth is that there are still limits on its
usefulness.  The Average Newbie (TM) can't run perldoc and become a good
Perl programmer.

(Indeed, when I was a Perl newbie, I borrowed _Programming Perl_, 1st
 Edition from my dad.  I couldn't have learned from the online docs.
 Brilliant people can (I know Kragen did :), but the normal folks need
 tutorial documentation.)

> I'm always glad to provide material that's useful for providing online
> documentation for a product (which is Richard's appeal as to why
> documentation should be free), but I believe that saying that everything
> that goes into a commercial book should be available under GPL takes a
> further step.

I agree.  I hope, though, it's a step we take someday.  I hope O'Reilly is
part of that step, too.

BTW, the FSF (and RMS) do not encourage documentation be under the GPL
(although RMS has said it's no tragedy if it is).  However, the GPL is
really designed for software, and thus is over-kill for documentation.  The
FSF plans to release a Free Documentation License RSN.  Before this, they
used a simple permission statement.  Online publishing, in part, has made
these sort of permission statements problematic.


(Sorry if this is drifting off-topic....)

[0] This has been changing a bit since the release of _Programming Perl_,
    2nd edition, but is largely still true.

-- 
         -  bkuhn@ebb.org  -  Bradley M. Kuhn  -  bkuhn@gnu.org  -
                          http://www.ebb.org/bkuhn