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Re: [fink-core] Running Octave from Fink?

From: Jordi Gutiérrez Hermoso
Subject: Re: [fink-core] Running Octave from Fink?
Date: Wed, 7 Nov 2012 09:24:55 -0500

I'm CCing current GNU president Richard Stallman. He might like to
comment further on these issues.

On 6 November 2012 17:39, David R. Morrison <address@hidden>
>> On Nov 6, 2012, at 1:55 PM, Jordi Gutiérrez Hermoso wrote:
>> On 6 November 2012 15:48, Dave Vasilevsky
>> <address@hidden> wrote:
>>> I'm not sure if this is true about osx-gcc-installer. But what I
>>> do know is that osx-gcc-installer is definitely Non-Free. It's
>>> not built from source, but produced by extracting files from
>>> Apple's installer.
>> Oh, that's a pity....
>>> A number of these files are not Free, for example the AVFoundation
>>> headers. I'm not even sure why it would be distributable, except
>>> for the pragmatic reason that Apple doesn't seem to have cracked
>>> down on it (yet).
>> Actually, this seems to have been Apple's response:
>> So, I guess homebrew can work without Xcode, but not with a free
>> gcc installation. Sigh... At least Windows has mingw32; I can't
>> believe nothing comparable exists for Mac OS X.

> I'd like to understand better a distinction you are implicitly
> making.
> Mac OS X itself is non-free, and when a person buys a Mac or
> buys/updates OS X, they must accept certain license terms from
> Apple. OTOH, because Mac OS X is unix-based, it is quite possible to
> run free programs on this system.

I don't think whether it's Unix-based or not has a significant bearing
on whether it can run free programs. Any OS can run free programs, but
the specific problem at hand seems to be that you cannot conveniently
get a full set of free build tools for building Octave on Mac OS X. It
would be possible of course to undertake the work to build gcc, GNU
make(1) and all of their dependencies freely along with Octave's own
dependencies, but this is a complicated problem. So far, people
generally instead agree to Apple's EULA and install Xcode.

> What is the distinction between Mac OS X itself, and the "Command
> Line Tools for Xcode" software which was described in the post you
> referenced?

I apparently cannot download the "command line tools for Xcode"
package package without signing Apple's legalese, so I cannot tell you
exactly what's in it, and if I sign the legalese, I believe I'm
agreeing to not telling you what's in it (I remember reading NDA
clauses in it last time I read it, but I might be mistaken). From the
description in the blog post linked above, it appears to include
proprietary headers that cannot be distributed freely.

The distinction between the operating system and the libraries is made
in the GPL. The GPL allows you to build, run, and distribute the
software in a hostile operating system, but does not extend this
permission to non-free libraries. Such proprietary glue sometimes
falls under the system library exception, but this depends on the
manner in which it's distributed (the precise GPLese is libraries that
are "in the normal form of packaging a Major Component").

So Fink is doing binary distribution for Octave, AIUI, but it's also
linking to proprietary libraries that do not fall under the system
library exception? I am not sure if this is the current situation, but
I find it troubling.

> Does it make this software less free that it was built using a
> non-free tool? Less free than it would be on a non-free OS if built
> by a free tool?

Of course if you cannot actually use free tools to build and
distribute there are problems. An immediately obvious problem here is
that we are not free to distribute "command line tools for Xcode" and
perhaps we are not free to discuss its contents either, nor are we
free to hack it further. Perhaps we could even trim it down to less
than 170 megabytes; a comparable "apt-get install build-essential" in
a clean Debian install is a 40-meg download.

Until recently another very practical result of this lack of freedom
is that you couldn't even build Octave without first signing up for
Apple's spying tool (the Apple Developer network) and then downloading
or otherwise acquiring about 4 gigabytes of junk (i.e. all of Xcode)
just to get gcc and associated tools.

> I absolutely understand the GNU position that it is best for
> everyone to use only free tools as well as free software. But if one
> is going to work with people who choose not to do that, where does
> one draw the line, and why?

GNU's position is quite uncompromising in this regard: we do not
negotiate with non-free software. ;-)

However, we do help users of non-free software. A general discussion
of GNU's stance on this problem can be found here, regarding Emacs on

    It is not our goal to "help Windows users" by making text editing
    on Windows more convenient. We aim to replace proprietary
    software, not to enhance it. So why support GNU Emacs on Windows?

    We hope that the experience of using GNU Emacs on Windows will
    give programmers a taste of freedom, and that this will later
    inspire them to move to a free operating system such as GNU/Linux.
    That is the main valid reason to support free applications on
    nonfree operating systems.

So compiling Octave for Mac OS X and Windows isn't to validate what
those OSes are, but to give their users a taste of free software that
they might not otherwise have.

- Jordi G. H.

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