Interview with Livret du Livre authors

Posted 13 May 2005 at 08:29 UTC by yeupou Share This

The Livret du Libret is a concise document presenting Libre Software, written in French.

Follows and interview with the authors of the 3rd release (Lucas Nussbaum, Nicolas Bouillon and Thomas Petazzoni), available since a few days, made for Gna!'s hotspot #5.

The interview:

Gna: Hello, Can you give a two line description of your project your grandma(s) could understand?

Nicolas: The Livret du Libre (Libre's booklet) is a document of about twenty pages presenting the Libre movement, Libre Software and various related topics. In fact, it's specifically intended to be understandable by people with few or no knowledge in computer science. Perfect for my grandma !

G: Who are you? How many developers contribute regularly? How is leaded the project? What is the profile of the main developers?

Lucas: There are mainly three people working on the project, without any particular hierarchy. Personally, I'm a student in an engineering school (ENSIMAG) and Research Master.

Thomas: In my case, I recently graduated in computer science from a french engineering school, the UTBM.

Nicolas: I also recently graduated in computer science from the UTBM.

G: When and why was started the project?

Thomas: The project started inside Lolut, the Libre Software users association of the UTBM, an engineering school of Belfort, in the East of France. More specifically, it's for Libre en Fete that, in March 2003, Christophe Bliard had the idea to write the Livret du Libre. Libre en Fete is an event that takes place each year in France, during which many free software promoting events are organized everywhere in France. In March 2003, Lolut was present in an Internet cultural center near Belfort.

Christophe and I have often noticed in the past that presenting Libre Software completely to each visitor of an install-party or a promotion event is difficult. For the public, there is a lot of information to take in, most of which is difficult to understand and remember. We thought that a short booklet that would sum up this information and give many links to know more about Libre Software could be a great idea. The goals were clear : a short document, written for non-technical people, covering most of the basic questions concerning Free Software and the Libre movement, with many links. The first version of the so-called Livret du Libre has been written and printed in under 5 days by Christophe Bliard, Jean-Christophe Haessig and myself. At that time, we thought that we would use the Livret only for this event. Later, we found that it might be interesting to others, so we published it.

Nicolas and Lucas both joined the project for its second version, mainly as correctors. Then, they got involved more deeply in the project, particularly for this third version.

G: And what audience are you targeting exactly? Geek, Grandma?

Lucas: Both ! The Livret really has the goal to be accessible to everyone. Geeks that aren't aware of everything about the Libre movement will learn things by reading it, and your grandma should be able to read it without too much trouble. Mine did so for the first edition ! Accessibility is really a topic on which we're trying to improve the Livret. However, this is a difficult task, as all authors are technical in background, and it's hard to see what is trivial for "normal" people and what is not, and how to explain things simply. Moreover, when we simplify the information, specialists from the concerned domain come and say that we're wrong. We need to make compromises, which are sometimes difficult to find.

G: What features are you missing/planning?

Thomas: We are can hardly talk about features for a document ;-) We are quite happy of this third edition. More specifically, this version adds a chapter concerning business models related to Free Software, which was a frequent request of readers.

For the next editions, we would like to reorganize the document more logically. The structure hasn't changed much since the first version, and it's now becoming necessary to change it. An other interesting idea would be to find a graphic artist that would help in realizing a nice, illustrated, version of the Livret.

Above all, we would like to keep it short and simple. Not only does it reduces printing costs, but also eases reading. It's not possible to cover all topics.

G: Your project is only available in French. Have you ever considered translating it?

Nicolas: Currently, we aren't considering an english translation : we do not have a sufficient mastery of the language to translate a document like the Livret. Indeed, the translation has to be of excellent quality to be really useful. Only a bilingual could do this work : the Livret is not a simple technical document such as a HowTo.

However, Thomas and myself are thinking of translating the Livret into Esperanto, the International Language. Indeed, many Esperantists do not know Libre Software, whereas the esperantist movement and the Libre Software movement have a lot in common. Where Libre Software promotes an use without discriminations and with complete freedom of software, Esperanto promotes communication withoud discrimination, by allowing any person to express him or herself very easily and in a very rich manner, after an astonishingly short learning period. I think that both movements have much to learn each other.

G: Which license did you choose and why?

Nicolas: It is a topic that generated many e-mails on the mailing list! For the first and second edition, a very simple license had been chosen : in a few words, it allowed redistribution of modified and unmodified copies of the document, as long as the copy's license retains modification and distribution freedom. At that time, the Livret was hosted at Tuxfamily, that shut down after being cracked. So we looked for another host. The choices were Gna!, Sourceforge, Berlios or Savannah. The last one had been cracked a little while before; Berlios has a bad reputation in terms of stability; and we were not confident with Sourceforge regarding the terms of use of the service. The last one was Gna!, to which Thomas asked for a project hosting. But Gna! didn't accept our license, doubting its legal value. After many discussions on the mailing list, the CC-BY-SA was choosen. So, we proposed this licence to Gna! for the Livret. This choice was not accepted by Gna!, because this licence is compatible neither with the GPL, nor with the GFDL. This refuse was bothersome, and we seriously looked for another host. Because we found nothing, we finally adopted a dual licensing model, CC-BY-SA and GFDL. The CC-BY-SA was kept for the printed versions, because it is not possible on a 20 page booklet to include the full text of the GFDL! The world of Libre licenses for documentation and documents in general is still fuzzy, with licenses that are considered free for some but not for others, like the GFDL...

G: Do you have any industrial or institutional support? If any, how so?

Lucas: We do not really need industrial or institutional support. However, the Conseil General du Territoire de Belfort and the UTBM have financed part of the printing of Livret du Libre, for the Libre en Fete (100 copies), and Solutions Linux 2004 (Linux Software Meeting Paris, 500 copies) respectivly. Moreover, I have heard that the Livret have been distributed during seminaries about Libre Software in big french companies.

G: Are you looking for contributions? If so, what kind of contributions could be of use to the project?

Lucas: It's difficult to integrate a project such as the Livret : we try to maintain coherence in the writing style, and reaching an agreement with 3 authors on how to express an idea is sometimes difficult. We sometimes exchange many e-mails to discuss about a single paragraph. Those difficulties explains why we aren't especially looking for new contributors. However, if the project interests you, the first step it to read the Livret a couple of times, and maybe send well-explained patches. Moreover, we would like to receive contributions of graphic artists to put together a nicer version of the Livret, and also translators for translations into other languages. Correctors are the most important contributors. For this third version, we asked around 20 correctors to read the Livret when we considered it to be ready. They sent us many remarks (around 200), which have been difficult to process, but which allowed to impove the final quality of the Livret.

G: What tools do you use when working on the Livret? Why?

Thomas: LaTeX, GNU Make, CVS, dictonnaries, PostsScript manipulation tools. Nothing very original, only fairly common tools. Anyway, the use of LaTeX is very convenient : the source is in a plain text format, which works well with revision tracking in CVS, and also means we can exchange readable patches through the mailing list. This would probably be harder with an document, for example. We regularly work on IRC, or when we can not work simultaneously, we use the maliling list. Finally, to centralise and process the remarks of the readers, we use a Wiki.

G: Why did you choose Gna! as host? What Gna! tools do you use? Which features do you like most? Which features miss you most?

Lucas: As said before, we were on TuxFamily until it shut down and, at that time, there weren't many alternatives! We are satisfied of Gna!, and i don't see what other features we could need. Oh yes, i'm actually writing the reply to this question on a Wiki. It would be nice to be able to make dynamic web site with PHP/MySQL?, or to have an integrated wiki.

G: What is the question we didn't asked you would like to answer? (and the answer is...)

Thomas: Yes, there is no question about the difficulty of writing such a document! ;-)

Writing such a document is in my opinion very complex, sometimes moreso than writing a piece of code. We have to find compromises between the exactitude of the proposed information, its accessibility and the size of the booklet, find compromises between the different authors who obviously don't have the same vision and ideas, thinking about the best way to express an idea, without hurting the reader's feelings, etc. So, we sometimes debate for hours, exchanging e-mails about a single sentence or paragraph. Finally, thoses few pages of text represents hours of work, but the result is pleasant.

G: Thanks for taking time to share your experience with us.

Thomas, Nicolas et Lucas: Thanks to Gna, to the contributors, readers and to the past and future writers of the Livret du Libre ! Thanks also to David Anderson who corrected the english translation of this interview.

Original Document: Gna!'s hotspot #5

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