[Date Prev][Date Next] [Thread Prev][Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Why documentation and programs should be treated alike (was Re: Unidentified subject!)



RMS wote:
>For the sake of avoiding confusion, please note that I use "software"
>in the meaning I believe is standard, referring to computer programs
>only.
This is not what I believe to be the standard meaning or the historically 
correct meaning, but thanks for avoiding confusion.

>The main difference between a program and documentation is that a
>program does something, while documentation is passive;

By this argument, source code to a program (of the sort which must be 
compiled to run) is not a program.  And can therefore, in your opinion be 
encumbered by unlimited numbers of Invariant Sections (presumably in 
'mandatory comments') while remaining free, as long as they can be removed 
from the actual executable binary, I suppose.  Correct?

Furthermore, a manual in any markup format (LaTeX, HTML, info, texinfo) is 
not passive: it does something, namely generating the actual manual in the 
intended-to-read format (printed, visible on screen in 'info' or 'mozilla', 
etc.)  So manuals in any markup format -- including all the GNU manuals -- 
are thus akin to programs, and should be judged by those criteria.  Correct?

This is far from a bright-line distinction.  It's such a fuzzy distinction 
that's it's probably not useful at all.

>Another difference is that distribution of programs on paper is
>rare, and not an important case to consider, whereas distribution of
>documentation on paper is a very important case.
OK, so this is an actual distinction.  I will concede that the clauses which 
apply *only* to distribution of printed copies may be defensible in this way.

>Another difference is that the you can see the words of the text in
>the manual, whereas you cannot see the source code in the executable
>of a program.
LaTeX markup vs. PostScript output?  Some stuff in the source code is visible 
in the 'final' version; other stuff isn't.  (Much the same is true with 
programs.)  Not a real difference.

>  For software, the danger is that the source won't be
>available at all.
The same danger *does* exist for manuals.  For instance, distributing only 
the postscript or 'dvi' version of a manual written in TeX.

>  For manuals, there is a real danger that the
>"source" will be in a format that free software cannot read, and thus
>useless.
The same danger *does* exist for programs, and happens often: a 'free' 
program written in an interpreted language with no free interpreter or 
translator is effectively non-free in exactly the same way.  Yet there is no 
similar clause in the GPL.

>  This is why we designed the requirement for "transparent"
>copies.
Which is very poorly drafted (it seems to effectively prohibit any source 
format which is not hand-written in a text editor), but not a fundamental 
point of disagreement.

>Another difference is that DRM systems to stop people from accessing
>documents are a real threat to our freedom, and we need to try to push
>against them in any way we can.
Not a difference.  They're being applied to programs too.

And from earlier in the message:
>I would rather ask why they should be the same, since they deal with 
>different situations.
I have explained this before, and I will repeat it.
Programs and program documentation are inherently linked; transfer between 
them is essential and basic.  Literate programming styles encourage 
documentation to be extracted directly from program source code, and 
documentation to be embedded directly in program source code.  Even when this 
is not done, documentation on a computer routinely has source code which is 
compiled into an 'executable' version, just like programs.  Every issue which 
has come up relating to freeness of programs has turned out to apply to 
documentation on a computer, and every issue relating to freeness of 
documentation on a computer has turned out to apply to programs.

--Nathanael



Reply to: