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Re: [Reuben Thomas] browse-url.el Opera support

From: Reuben Thomas
Subject: Re: [Reuben Thomas] browse-url.el Opera support
Date: Sat, 17 Jan 2004 16:15:57 +0100 (CET)

On Fri, 16 Jan 2004, Richard Stallman wrote:

> The free software movement is based on the recognition that non-free
> software is antisocial and unethical.  It is a social problem, and our
> work is to solve that problem.  Success for us does not mean writing
> popular free programs, it means ending the antisocial practice of
> distributing non-free software.

The main means you've chosen to end the practice of distributing non-free
software is to distribute free alternatives, so you're not going to be
successful if your programs aren't popular.

> Your argument for including this patch seems to be based on a principle
> that that technical decisions should be made solely on technical
> grounds.

I have no such principle. If I had to state anything so dangerous as an
absolute principle, it would be much closer to your position than to the
one you infer. I do believe in proportionality, though: this particular
case (a very small feature) should, in my view be decided pretty much
purely on technical grounds. There are some matters that shouldn't: for
example, using a proprietary markup format instead of HTML for the WWW
would be unethical (as well as plain stupid) however technically superior
it might be.

The principle I lack is that principles are absolute criteria that must
always be applied (in particular, I don't believe that battles are lost
for want of a nail).

> That principle is a grave and fundamental error.

I agree completely.

> It rejects the lessons society learned after the development of nuclear
> weapons: that technical decisions must be based on consideration of
> social responsibility.  GNU derives from an idea of social
> responsibility, and we make technical decisions based on that.

And again, I agree. I probably wouldn't be in the privileged position of
having an affordable computer system almost all of whose operation I can
scrutinise and change, all the while sharing those changes with others and
benefitting from their expertise and ideas, were it not for the efforts of
the FSF on whose software I largely depend.

> We can't tell what programs to use, but helping you use a non-free
> program is not part of the GNU Project's mission.  I decided before
> not to include this code, and I stand by the decision.

It's up to the authors of a program what conditions they make on its use
and its development. I expressed my frustration with a particular
decision, but I can't claim that it's wrong. At least in this case I get a
reasoned argument from the authors; with non-free software that would be
the last thing I'd expect.

> Not supporting non-free programs in Emacs is one of the ways we show we
> are serious when we say they are unethical.  That may not convince you,
> but we hope it will convince others.

I think I'm probably more convinced than most; and for all that I don't
entirely agree with your opinion, I'm very glad that someone holds it,
just as I'm also glad that not everyone does.

On second thoughts, I've found the time to look for a solution to this
particular problem in the form of code, which you'll find in another part
of this thread as a response to a message from Dave Love.

http://www.mupsych.org/~rrt/ | golf, n.  a good walk spoiled (Twain)

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