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a lurker's thoughts on "software"

There's been a lot of discussion on this list about the definition of
the word "software", with much heat generated.  This is a (probably
futile) attempt to calm things down.

It seems clear to me that there really are at least two widely held
definitions of software.  Some people, when they see the word
"software", think "computer programs"; others think "any information
that is encoded electronically" (definition from Joe Moore).

Please, don't assume that people whose definition differs from yours are
just making up their definition so that the Social Contract and DFSG
have the meaning they want.  Be aware that no amount of argument, no
quoting of "authoritative" dictionaries, is likely to change what people
"really believe" the definition is.

Recently it was pointed out that "tabled" means essentially opposite
things in British and American English.  Rather than getting into a huge
flame war about the "true" meaning of "tabled", with reference to
legislation, dictionaries, etc., people just avoided the word.  It would
be nice if we could do the same for "software", but since the word is
used within the Social Contract and DFSG, we cannot.

Rather than arguing about the true meaning of "software" (which tends to
degenerate into "software means X"/"does not"/"does too"/"does not"), if
we must have a discussion, it should be on the topic of "The meaning of
'software' in the Social Contract and DFSG".

However, I don't see the point in even continuing that discussion until
somebody comes up with both (A) a reasonable way to distinguish computer
programs from non-programs and (B) a revision of the DFSG to apply to
non-programs, along with a good explanation of why the revised version
is more appropriate for non-programs than the original.  (I've seen
people say, essentially, that there's no point discussing (B) without
having (A), and others say there's no point discussing (A) without
having (B).  I agree with all these people; there's no point discussing
(A) or (B) unless we have a reasonable proposal for (A) and (B).)

I personally have no expectation that (A) or (B) is possible, so I'm
perfectly happy with the status quo, where documentation and other
non-programs are held to the DFSG.

Disclaimers: I am not a Debian Developer.  I am not subscribed to this
list; I read it via the web archives.  If you particularly want a timely
response from me, you should Cc: me.

Carl Witty

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