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Re: [Accessibility] Call to Arms

From: Richard Stallman
Subject: Re: [Accessibility] Call to Arms
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 2010 18:59:19 -0400

    I would propose organizing the project to first satisfy the economic needs 
    the disabled community, so they can make money, they can be independent and 
as a 
    result, be able to make choices about software freedom.

That is very abstract, so I am not sure what it would imply at a
concrete level.  I don't know what I would think of your
practical suggestions.  But at this abstract level, I see a possible
misunderstanding about our goals and ideals.

This is not an open source project.  This is the free software
movement -- a totally different idea.  So please don't think or speak
of it as "open source", because that would lead you astray.

for more explanation of the difference between free software and open
source.  Many people think the two are similar because they really
only know the ideas of open source.

There are many technical projects in which that difference of
philosophies and values has no effect.  But here we are discussing a
point where it is absolutely crucial.

Our goal is to establish freedom for software users, and freedom is
much broader and deeper than "freedom of choice".  Thus, our aim is
not just that people should be able to "make choices about software
freedom", but rather that they should actually HAVE software freedom.

Proprietary software is digital colonization, unjust and evil.  Our
goal is therefore to eliminate proprietary software.  We cannot
eliminate it this year, but what we can and must do now is refuse to
legitimize it.

In the same way, the abolitionists did not seek to give people
the power to make choices about freedom or slavery.  They sought
to abolish slavery.

    This philosophy is analogous to the strategy used by the free
    software foundation in its early days.

As the one who formulated and implemented our strategy,
I think I see misunderstandings in that description of it.

                                            The GNU toolchain was
    built to run on top of many platforms and this enable people to
    create the OS and the kernel which gave people the power to make
    choices about free software or not.

I see a number of factual and conceptual points that need correction.

* "Giving people the power to make choices about free software or not"
is not the right way to think of our goal (see above).  Our goal was,
and is, to liberate the users from proprietary software.

* Improving the use of Unix was an explicit stated non-goal.  We want
to replace Unix, not improve it!

* GNU is not a toolchain.  GNU is an operating system.
The OS cited above _is_ GNU, and developing it was our purpose
from the outset.  (See

* We never had a policy of developing "tools" first, and that's not
what happened.  We developed all sorts of system components in the
1980s, including a chess game, a PDF interpreter, and a spreadsheet.

Since our goal was a whole Unix-like system, there was no need to
develop components in any particular order, and we did not.

* Certain GNU packages, which were tools, became popular in the 80s.
We wrote them first because something has to be first.  Rather than
waiting to have a whole GNU system, we released them, and people used

* I don't think those GNU tools were _necessary_ to enable people to
write the other components of GNU.  Some of them were advances in
convenience and power, and that may have helped people develop all
sorts of things -- but people COULD have written other GNU components
with vi and debugged them with dbx.

* Making GNU programs run on many platforms was never a high priority
goal.  The main purpose of GNU packages is to be parts of the GNU
system.  However, users ported some GNU packages to many platforms,
and we accepted their changes in a spirit of cooperation.

* I had to consider the ethical question of whether it was legitimate
to use Unix (unethical nonfree software) in order to write GNU
components.  My conclusion was that it is ethical to use a nonfree
package to bootstrap a free replacement for that package.  By doing
this, we would participate in the evil of Unix in a secondary way in
order to put an end to it completely.

I made the analogy to an undercover agent who infiltrates a criminal
gang, and supports its criminal activities in some secondary ways, in
order to shut the gang down completely.

This is a very limited conclusion.  It only applies for those involved
in developing the free replacement, and only if this is necessary in
order to do so.  It does not apply to those who merely USE our

* When replacing a large collection of proprietary programs, serially,
some will be first.  It is ok if those first free replacements get
used together with the rest of the proprietary collection.  At least
those people are replacing PARTS of the proprietary collection with
our free replacements.

However, it's quite another thing to postpone the job of replacing
proprietary programs and instead write add-ons for them.  That is
treating proprietary software as a solution, which means,
contradicting our goal.

We could not even recommend these add-ons to the public, if someone
else wrote them.  We only recommend free programs that are capable
of running in a 100% free platform.

    Cultivate resources to put NaturallySpeaking under wine. Itit's very close 
    ready and the final push to make it real isn't happening. My reason for 
    step is that it removes all nonfree software except the speech recognition 
    engine. This gives us a place to work from, to experiment with various 
    techniques for cross machine speech recognition work.

I agree that using NaturallySpeaking on Wine is less bad than using it
on Windows.  But this is not a step on the path to replacing
NaturallySpeaking, thus, for us to do this would be a detour.

    Develop advanced dictation box which is the simplest model for
    reliable data injection into applications.  This is the first
    layer that will enable upper extremity disabled users to make
    money. This is where you can start writing documentation, e-mails

This sounds good as long as it works without proprietary software.
But if it is would be an add-on to NaturallySpeaking, it would
constitute enhancing proprietary software -- a counterproductive
distraction, and improper for us to work on or even endorse.

If what we need is to improve the free software for speech
recognition, so as to replace NaturallySpeaking, then that
is what we should focus on.

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