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Re: referencing non-free software

From: Ilya Shlyakhter
Subject: Re: referencing non-free software
Date: Tue, 9 Jan 2018 14:19:29 -0500

"We aren't preventing anyone from using non-free software" -- not
physically wresting it out of anyone's hands, sure; but by
deliberately refusing to mention beOrg in the Org mode manual, which
is the only place most users go to learn Org, we certainly are
preventing most users from considering beOrg.  All I'm suggesting is
that beOrg be mentioned in the same appendix as MobileOrg (  ), along with a
note saying "beOrg is currently non-free, we strongly recommend that
users avoid non-free software, here is a link to the FSF pages
explaining why".  How could this be reasonably seen by users as an
"endorsement" of the non-free beOrg, if we explicitly say we recommend
MobileOrg, and provide the beOrg reference only to give users all
relevant information?

"there is a practical value in being economical with words.
Documentation needs to be concise" -- I'm not suggesting that we
include the full FSF manifesto in the Org manual, just a reference to
it.  The MobileOrg section is already in an Appendix.   Adding a
footnote to the Appendix mentioning beOrg and linking to the FSF
manifesto would hardly lengthen the 300-page manual.

""A GNU program should not recommend, promote, or grant legitimacy to
the use of any non-free program."  I don't understand what "grant
legitimacy" means here.  "legitimate" means "conforming to the law or
to rules."  What rules is this talking about, exaclty?   If rules
means something like "FSF ethics code", then the caveat described
above would dispel any notion that beOrg meets FSF ethics or is being
recommended.  I've seen scientific software packages point to
competing solutions for the same problem; I never read that as a
recommendation, but as the author being confident in his own package
and putting the overall scientific enterprise above his own ego.

beOrg author said: " I may in the future look at a free software
license but only once it is in a more complete state and I've
determined how beorg will be self sustaining in terms of revenue.
There are some examples of apps which follow this model (such as Blink
shell)."  I'd guess that, were beOrg mentioned in the Org manual, its
usage would get to the "self sustaining" state much faster, so it's a
bit of a chicken-and-egg problem.  Btw, right now beOrg is free in the
app store, and accepts voluntary donations, so the  FSF's caricature
of non-free software authors' motivations (“I want to get rich
(usually described inaccurately as ‘making a living’)") hardly

I do see one strong argument against referencing a non-free program in
the manual: this could motivate the program's author to make it free.
But it does not seem dispositive.

The FSF guideline against "recommending or promoting" non-free
software is phrased as a guideline ("should", not "must"); and seems
limited to "recommending or promoting".  Is there flexibility in
practice, that would allow beOrg to be mentioned with an appropriate
caveat?  What is the FSF's response to the concern that not mentioning
competing software reduces the incentive to improve free software?
(And yes, I'm aware of ).

On Tue, Jan 9, 2018 at 1:25 PM, Alfred M. Szmidt <> wrote:
> We aren't preventing anyone from using non-free software (that would
> unethical!), we simply don't mention specific non-free software and
> instead explain why it is bad.  You are free to make your decision
> based on that, but there is little to no value in mentioning specific
> non-free software.

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