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Re: query from Georg Greve of GNU about Debian's opinion of the FDL

On Mon, 2003-04-14 at 11:00, Georg C. F. Greve wrote:
> In the special case that you seem to be referring to, which is as
> author of a specialized help GUI, you could of course jump to the
> relevant paragraphs/parts of the documentation directly.

Um, not without the same type of "intimate knowledge" required to link a
library into the application.  So why is it okay to display a help text
in a GUI but not to dynamically link a library?  Consider:

Dynamically loaded Library:
* Loaded from a separate file at run-time.
* Need entry points, names, and API.
* Contains information needed to make the software work; use may be
optional; output may be visible to the user.
* Need to know what the specific part of the library being called does
in order for it to be useful.

Context-Sensitive Help:
* Loaded from a separate file at run-time.
* Need entry points, section names, and formatting information.
* Contains information needed to make the software usable; use may be
optional; output definitely visible to the user.
* Need to know what the specific part of the documentation says in order
for it to be useful.

When you explain the differences, please cover why using the technical
means of hard-coding printf() statements in the source code would be
clearly unacceptable, whereas loading the text from a file at run-time
would be acceptable.  Then tell us why the same argument doesn't work
for dynamically loading libraries vs. copying the source code into the
source for the application.

> That would make the relevant information immediately accessible
> without requiring to hide or remove any part of the document. 
> Hiding or even removing parts of the documentation doesn't seem
> necessary for that and in general does not seem like a useful job for
> the author of a GUI.

Information overload is not a feature.  Thus Free software must be
condemned to carry whatever ill-conceived poorly-edited crap for
documentation that is given to it, all because the author of the
documentation must be treated as though s/he were bringing the Ten
Commandments from on high.  Why should I get a copy of the GNU Manifesto
when I request help on saving files?  All I wanted was to know how to
save a file; speaking for myself, I get hostile when I get such
blatantly off-topic crap instead of help, and I'm sympathetic to the
cause of Software Freedom.  I can't imagine how someone not already
sympathetic to Freedom in software would react.  

> The decision of what a user wants to read should be made by the user,
> not by the author of his or her software.

I agree.  So every time the user asks for help, let's make him scroll
through the entire text of the Bible first, so that the user can make
the decision to read it or not, and not be limited by the author of the
software.  Of course, we wouldn't want to be discriminatory, so let's
include the Torah and the Koran and .....  

Before you say that the Invariant Sections are different, keep in mind
that the license explicitly states that the only sections eligible to be
covered as Invariant Sections are off topic to begin with.  I think it's
really stupid to be enshrining off-topic material as something which
must be preserved forever.  Would your attitude be the same if the GNU
Emacs manual was distributed with some religious texts attached as the
Invariant Sections?  The Republican Party platform?  The Unabomber's
Manifesto?  Mein Kampf?  Something from Al-Qaeda?  All of the above, all
at once?  Anyone may add an Invariant Section; no-one may remove them. 
Thus, in the limit, every document under such a license will collapse
under its own weight.  See the FSF statement on the old BSD license for
why this is bad.

I've heard the argument about needing incentives for authors to write
documentation for Free software.  I don't buy it.  For one thing, that
argument should apply just as well to writing the software in the first
place.  For another, I don't see that there is any benefit to be gained
from "higher quality" documentation that isn't completely lost by the
loss of freedom -- and if there is such a benefit, why doesn't it apply
to software as well?
Stephen Ryan                                        Debian Linux 3.0
Technology Coordinator
Center for Educational Outcomes
at Dartmouth College

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