Subject: Re: Open Source shareware?
From: Rich Morin <>
Date: Mon, 16 Sep 2002 02:22:48 -0700

At 4:16 PM +0900 9/16/02, Stephen J. Turnbull wrote:
>     RM> charge for documentation  Y    RMS contends that docs need to be free.
>That's not libre.  That's an attempt to restrict the usefulness
>(Freedom 0) of the software.
>On this, I agree whole-heartedly with RMS.  Remember, many SE
>organizations treat the manual as the spec, so it is an integral part
>of the "software itself."  In spirit, closed docs are similar to the
>Obfuscated C "guess what this does" category.  Admittedly, on the
>letter, it's hard to see how to require that "documentation" be free
>while allowing "textbooks" and "training materials" to be proprietary.

I should have been clearer about this, but I didn't want to go into too
much detail.  RMS contends that _all_ documentation for Free Software
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 :-).

Folks have been producing and selling proprietary documentation for Free
Software for a long time; the AW TeX books and the Griswold's Icon books
are just two examples.  My own take is that writing books takes a lot of
work and time; no bigger disincentive than that is needed to keep most
potential authors from entering the field.  But I agree with RMS that an
O'Reilly book on the topic might well reduces the chances of a free book
even further...

>Is RMS a customer of yours?  ;-)

Not that I know of, but we have been in contact a number of times over
the years.  Running "Prime Time Freeware" and trying not to run afoul of
the GPL sometimes took a bit of discussion and thought.  I also wrote an
article ("The Unreasonable Man") about RMS a few years back.

>As long as your judgement coincides with the customers', great!  And in
>fact, isn't that your basic point?  True, you don't say you've polled
>your potential market, but you _have_ done that kind of market research.

Actually, I try to use my best judgement, then convince the customer that
I have something s/he'll find useful.  I don't always succeed, but trying
to follow the market rather than lead it is stultifying (and boring :-).

Also, when it comes to things like libre software, my take is that Mac
users are about to get a really loud wake-up call as Open Source apps
start dropping into their lap(top)s.  Now if I could just figure out a
way to get the *BSD and Linux folks to realize that it's a good idea to
support the folks that provide _their_ toys...  Owell.

>     RM> I will note, however, that even from a strictly Open Source
>     RM> point of view, keeping some of the code proprietary may get in
>     RM> the way of community involvement.
>Well, it seems to me that aside from a few dedicated advocates (RMS
>being a prominent case), few people in "the community" are willing to
>do "the last 20%" (documentation, configuration, loading up databases
>of various kinds, etc) unless it's an automated part of getting what
>they want.  Eg, every question/bug report that gets archived with an
>answer on the Web becomes part of Google's Global FAQ.  OTOH, look at
>the speed with which "the community" has adopted Microsoft fonts, none
>of which are free.

As someone who makes his living doing this sort of "techno-clerical" work,
I'm all too aware of what volunteers will and will not (usually) do.  I do
think, however, that better infrastructure might elicit more help from the
user community.  Why, for example, should I have to run a separate program
just to send in a comment on a man page?  But I digress....

>So where "smart" means "handles lots of nitty gritty details" as
>opposed to "does cool stuff via an insightful algorithm", you're not
>going to get huge amounts of community involvement as compared to the
>financial self-support from closed-source add-ons.

Well, I'm hoping to avoid the "closed-source add-on" approach, but that's
more of a strategic decision than a moral one.  If my approach allows me
to pay the rent any buy the occasional toy, I'll be quite satisfied (:-).

>Everything above is IMHO, you may actually know better from
>experience.  ;-)

I have lots of experience; what I have earned from it is questionable.
Thanks, in any case, for your comments.

email:; phone: +1 650-873-7841    - my home page, resume, etc.   - The FreeBSD Browser, Meta Project, etc. - Prime Time Freeware's DOSSIER series     - Prime Time Freeware's Darwin Collection