Metaprogramming and Free Availability of Sources

Kirk Wylie
Thu, 01 Jul 1999 09:46:20 -0700

At 11:35 PM 6/29/99 -0300, Rafael Kaufmann wrote:
> wrote:
>> okay, i'll agree with you on one thing: users _should_ be allowed to
>> see the source code to their software. however, this does not justify
>> punishment of software-writers for not releasing their source code.
>> on the other hand, it does justify trying to _persuade_ software-writers
>> to release their source code, perhaps through the market by choosing other
>> software that does comes with source code.
>> note that i am not completely satisfied with our current intellectual
>> system. i certainly wish we didn't have copyright, patent, and trademark
>> laws; however, as for a software-writer's choice to offer his source-code,
>> i don't think we need government intervention. remember, you don't have
>> to use software without source code if you don't want to...
>I agree, especially on the last point; I'm a rational self-governist,
>and strongly despise anything that smells of government interventionism.
>Nonetheless, in a perfect world the high-quality Free Software would be
>widely accepted (because of quality, user freedom and price) to the
>detriment of proprietary blowware; but the FUD and propaganda as spread
>by the large Big Brother-ish companies (I'm not going to name any names)
>have great mindshare effect, and thus exert [sic] much more power on the
>marketplace right now. So it's necessary that some action be taken to
>change that - not government intervention, but maybe some kind of
>awareness campaign akin to what ESR et. al. are doing with the OSI.

But what about the case where it doesn't? What about the case where Free
Software has failed to provide a tool that non-programmers want, or where
the Free Software alternative isn't as preferred as the closed-source
alternative? I know that in an idealized world this might not be the case,
but the fact is that it will be the case for at least some program as long
as Free and Non-Free software exists at the same time.

Consider the tools that have been the largest successes in Free Software
(note that they are not the ONLY successes, but rather the ones which have
been the most accepted by the public and most exceeded the quality of their
closed counterparts): many (though most certainly not all) of them have
been developed by developers, for developers. There are cases today, and
will be cases in the future, where there is no Free Software to solve a
particular problem that users have, and exhorting them to write it
themselves is useless if they are one of the 99% of humanity who have no
idea how to read source code, much less write it. And users should neither
be expected nor required to understand or write any piece of software they

Or the situations where a non-Free application is superior to a Free
application in the minds of the users of that software (note that I'm
ignoring IT-focused FUD, as well as critical analysis by software engineers
when those engineers are not users; I consider solely the opinions of the
users of that application): do we deny users the right to use that
alternative? If not, then we will never be in a perfectly Free Software world.

I ultimately am in favor of allowing anyone to distribute any software in
whatever form he or she wants, so long as he or she (or they) is the
primary author of that software, with source or without. But if you're
willing to accept that scenario, as some are not, then you have to be
willing to accept that there will be situations where people choose to use
closed-source applications, regardless of the reasons, even if they know
that on a conceptual and engineering level that solution will not be as
good, in the long term, as a Free solution. In other words, while your
arguments about FUD and propaganda may be true about certain situations in
the present day, it doesn't mean that it will be true forever, or that when
it is not closed-source software will disappear into the ether.

Kirk Wylie