31 Jul 2002 raph   » (Master)

San Diego

Quaker meeting was good. The kids, especially, had a good time in San Diego, and (mostly) didn't get fried or too melted down.

In Pacific Yearly Meeting, I'm on Secretariat Committee, which basically means I put out the daily newsletter during meeting. This is a great way to get to know lots more people, especially for someone who feels as new and shy as I did when I started. Also, I like doing publishing.

I used LaTeX, mostly because I'm so familiar with it. Almost all the stuff coming in electronically was in Microsoft Word. I just converted everything to text (on the Windows box) and redid the formatting by hand.

It's always a humbling reminder to see how difficult computers are for people. There was a lot of tech support provided in the Secretariat office last week. A lot of the problems were things that should have just worked. One of the more frustrating was a brand new iBook running Mac OSX, which crashed every time you tried to add a new printer in the "Print Center". Eventually, someone looked through the console logs and found that it was an unresolved symbol in a Canon printer driver bundle. Since we didn't care about Canon printers at all (the printer was an Epson C60), deleting the bundle solved the problem. How the hell are people supposed to figure that out? It took three or four clueful people, and quite a bit of time.

Richard Stallman

Since OSCON was happening concurrently, I managed to meet a few free software people. Tuesday evening, Richard Stallman came by USD to talk to me. I'm still wrestling with the issues discussed. I deeply respect and admire Richard's vision and his principled approach, but there are also some things I simply do not agree with, and that is causing tension.

Essentially, the problem is that the GNU Ghostscript web pages and release mention the AFPL version, which goes against the GNU coding standards. According to those, it's ok to mention "well known" programs like Windows and OS X, but not to recommend them, or to mention less well known programs, such as AFPL Ghostscript.

I have two problems here. First, I don't believe in witholding information. Since Ghostscript is continually improving, the AFPL releases really are better than the GNU ones. In particular, if people are having problems, moving to the AFPL release might be a good way to solve them quickly. Also, in this age of Google, holding back on information is rather futile.

Second, I don't consider the AFPL version to be unethical. The primary freedom given by the GPL but not the AFPL is the right to sell the program for money without compensating the author. The other important rights, such as use, modification, and improvement without discrimination, are intact, as is gratis distribution.

It is intriguing to imagine how things might have turned out differently if the AFPL took hold, rather than the GPL. For one, it would address a big problem in free software, the lack of compensation for developers. Red Hat-style distributions would be at a disadvantage, because they'd have to find the authors and pay them, and Debian-style distros would probably have a wider role. I think that the community spirit of free software could work under the AFPL as well.

As it is, the question is basically moot, largely because the GPL community is huge, while there is not much of an AFPL community aside from Ghostscript. Both licenses are thorny and prickly when it comes to intermixing with other licenses, so it's really just as well that only one is popular. Otherwise, there's a pretty big risk of dividing the community. That looked like a real risk when the NPL came out, but again, the GPL won.

In any case, I promised Richard that I would fix up the current GNU release. However, I realize I don't really have my heart in being a GNU maintainer. There are a few possibilities. One is for some other volunteer to step up to the plate. Another is to amicably part ways with the FSF and do GPL, but not GNU, releases of Ghostscript in the future. This would be a shame, because I feel that GNU is a worthy project and needs support. Fortunately, there's no urgency; there's plenty of time to figure out the Right Way.

I tried to talk to Richard about the GNUstep project and its relation to Mac OSX, but he's not following the project. I find this quite disheartening. I feel that Richard was far more effective as a leader when he was actively designing and writing the software to make the GNU project real.

Ankh, simonstl, and Paul Prescod

I had considerably more fun chatting with Ankh and simonstl on Saturday evening, and meeting Paul and his wife Lilia at the San Diego Zoo with the family on Sunday. Our conversations were deep and wide-ranging. I am more and more convinced of the importance of personal connections. In particular, it's really important to have friends inside the W3C, especially because I've been so critical of the organization. In the past, DV has filled that role, but he's since gone to Red Hat. Now, I feel that if I really have something to say, Ankh will make sure it gets heard by the right people.

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