on software, incorrect statements, and incorrect terminology

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on software, incorrect statements, and incorrect terminology

Post by trythil » Sat Sep 16, 2006 1:38 am

If you mean to say "software available without fee", then say that, or something equivalent -- say, "gratis software", "software available at no charge", etc. If you really mean to refer to Free Software or Open Source Software, then use those terms.

I'm not asking for anything major here, just precise terminology. The first hit on Google for "free software" is the Free Software Foundation's website; this is a pretty good indication that the term, as defined by the FSF, has widespread acceptance. Similarly, the first hit for "open source" is, well, the OSI's website.

I have seen a whole lot of threads that state "there are no good free editors", "for free editing software, check this thread" (in response to someone asking for software available at no cost), and so forth. The former action, to me, seems to be quite uninformed: it implies that the person whom uttered it has tried all, or a very substantial, subset of the free software available out there, and has found it lacking in some way.

I highly doubt that that is the case. (Feel free to correct me by posting the features you found lacking in the software you tried.)

The latter action is nice, as it promotes Free software on a practical advantage (hey, it's available for $0!), and I have to admit that I've blurred the lines a few times, too. I'm trying to stop doing that, though. This post is an attempt to set the record straight, to minimize confusion.

So, in summary:
  • - Set new people straight. Tell them there is a difference between Free software and software available for no charge. Point them to the Free software thread if they're interested in learning about Free software that can be used for AMV creation.

    - Correct yourself. Lumping "no charge" and Free software in the same pot is (intentionally or unintentionally) corrupting a category that has been rigidly defined and has widespread acceptance. It's like calling dolphins fish: sure, they both live in water and swim, but their external behaviors aren't really the same thing, and internally, they aren't the same thing at all.

    - Correct others, while you're at it. Don't do it facetiously -- just drop a polite reminder. It sticks better. Obviously, this includes me. If you see me slacking off, then, yeah, say something.

    - Do your homework. If there's truly stuff missing from the Free and Open Source solutions out there, then, by all means, feel free to say that. Heck, file bug reports or feature requests with the appropriate projects. (Yes, some do listen.) Until then, though, you're just spewing uninformed blather, and that's never a good thing.
Thanks for reading.

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Post by trythil » Sat Sep 16, 2006 1:42 am

Addenda:

(1) "Incorrect statements" is probably a little too harsh. Perhaps "seemingly misinformed" is better. (It wouldn't have fit in the title field, though.)

(2) I meant to add "...but it perpetrates confusion" when talking about promoting Free software on practical advantage.

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Post by Willen » Sat Sep 16, 2006 5:57 am

I personally prefer the term "Open Source", since it has less possibility to be misconstrued.

I would wager that every person that posts a "Can anyone recommend a good free video editing software" post isn't looking to take advantage of the "Free" aspect of Open Source software. They just want a no-cost alternative to WMM. (Or a free copy of Adobe Premiere Pro...)

And people opining that "there are no good free editors" are refering to WMM, or are plain ignorant of free Open Source options. I personally try to avoid blanket statements like that, since I haven't used any of the Open Source editors and would hate to give a dishonest opinion.

The problem stems from the fact that most people will tell you that the difference between "free software" and "Free software" is a capital "f".
This of course has nothing to do about the merits of Free software over "gratis software". Its just semantics. Shortening "Freedom software" to "Free software" compounds this misconception.

People generally can think of "Free Democracies", "Free People", "Free Thinking", and "Free Speech" in the manner that the FSF wants Free Software to be thought of, since none of these concepts involve the payment of money (at least not on the surface).

But free, in any other sense is "no cost" or "gratis", especially for goods like a "free lunch", "free ride", "free game", and "free beer" to most people. Unfortunately, software generally falls into this category. Admittedly, most Free software is also free, but not necessarily so.
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Post by Keeper of Hellfire » Sat Sep 16, 2006 6:53 am

Should I call you "Don Quichote" now? Because the fight you try to fight is as useless as his against the windmills. The term "free software" is used by the masses for software without fee (freeware is derived from it). And such usally used terms defy any attempts to correct them. Especially you can't correct them with some academic definitions. I know multiple wrong terms in German, which resist their correction since decades or centuries despite being taught correctly at the schools. Even I use the wrong ones with knowing the correct terms. I think in English it's similar.

You shouldn't waste time and energy to change something you can't change. Invest it in your hobbies instead. Or is correcting people your hobby?

And I agree with Willen. Use "Open Source" instead. The distinction between "free" and "Free" is erased with a simple typo, and in the spoken language you can't hear it at all.

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Post by Scintilla » Sat Sep 16, 2006 7:11 am

But "freeware" still refers strictly to software that's free as in beer, not free as in freedom, right? I've always had a distinction in my mind between "freeware" and "free software".
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Post by Zarxrax » Sat Sep 16, 2006 11:20 am

Trythil, I doubt you can change the way people are going to talk.

There is nothing wrong with calling free-as-in-beer software "free software", because that IS, in fact, what it is. I've never understood the gripes supporters of Free (as in speech) software have with people using a common word for one of it's intended purposes.
Far more people are concerned about "free" software than about "Free" software. If it's a problem, then this is entirely the fault of the Free Software Foundation for choosing such a title which is clearly causes confusion. You can't just roll in and say "our usage of this word is better, so please quit using that word for your common needs". YOU GUYS are the ones who need a new word, if you don't like the confusion.

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Post by trythil » Sat Sep 16, 2006 1:59 pm

Willen wrote: I would wager that every person that posts a "Can anyone recommend a good free video editing software" post isn't looking to take advantage of the "Free" aspect of Open Source software. They just want a no-cost alternative to WMM. (Or a free copy of Adobe Premiere Pro...)
I agree that that is the case. However, that's why I'd like to try to set the record straight.
Willen wrote: But free, in any other sense is "no cost" or "gratis", especially for goods like a "free lunch", "free ride", "free game", and "free beer" to most people. Unfortunately, software generally falls into this category. Admittedly, most Free software is also free, but not necessarily so.
Right, which is why slow, steady re-education is necessary. They can actively reject the ideas, which, although I'd rather they integrate it into their mindset, is still fine by me. At least you expose people to new ideas.

Software, for a while, has been produced like physical merchandise (hell, it even has the "ware" fragment in it) but there's very important differences between software and, say, this keyboard I'm using to type this post out.
The often-stated economic differences aside (e.g. practically zero marginal cost), Dr. Lessig refers to software as (paraphrased) the code that runs the machines that increasingly govern our lives, and in that case, it should be free in the same way that law (another governor of our lives) is free: free access and free modification, but not free to craft. (I suggest you email him for his full argument, or look around for it.)

That needs to be considered; however, it can only be considered if the role of software is given some term that makes people question just why software needs that sort of freedom in the first place. "Free" is one of the most concise words to do it (so it sticks) but it does have that ambiguity problem. "Free-access software" doesn't work either. "Free as in law software" requires you to explain what "free-as-in-law" means, and it's too damn cumbersome to say, anyway. So definition priorities need to be changed.
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Keeper of Hellfire wrote:Should I call you "Don Quichote" now? Because the fight you try to fight is as useless as his against the windmills.
Sure, you can do that. You can also tell me to move to Russia, or the ten thousand other pejoratives that people try to use. (Well, if moving to Russia is a bad thing, which I assume people want it to be.)

The problem with you calling me that is that Don Quixote acted alone, whereas there's 20-something years of precedent for what I'm doing. So you would not be correct. I do like literary allusions, though.
The term "free software" is used by the masses for software without fee (freeware is derived from it). And such usally used terms defy any attempts to correct them. Especially you can't correct them with some academic definitions.
So, your argument comes down to:

"The masses think this is right; let's go with them!"

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I do not think that it is very difficult to help people see another, clear definition, one person at a time. Heck, a nonintrusive link would do. If they want to check it out (and, yeah, people click on links) then that's great. If not, well, just keep trying.

As for clear-cut definitions: I gave you links that clearly delineate the differences between the two terms.
I know multiple wrong terms in German, which resist their correction since decades or centuries despite being taught correctly at the schools. Even I use the wrong ones with knowing the correct terms. I think in English it's similar.
The term "free" isn't wrong; "freedom" has been one of its fundamental definitions since who-knows-when. (German seems to be lucky to have an unambiguous definition; please let me know if that's correct.) The definition that people often use in their mental cosmology in the context of software is wrong, but that can be fixed.
You shouldn't waste time and energy to change something you can't change. Invest it in your hobbies instead. Or is correcting people your hobby?
Again with the "you can't change this" truism. Why can I not change this? Nobody has ever given me a good reason. Is it one of scale? I don't think it is: I don't have to do this alone; ideas can be viral.

One of my hobbies is tinkering with this sort of software. Getting the word out about terminology is a secondary, but important, activity. I can't really explain why I tinker with this stuff, or why freedom is important to me, if people don't have a clear idea of what it is I'm doing.

I notice that no one commented on the dolphin-vs-fish definition. Really, guys, that's what it comes down to. Sure, nobody will spear you for getting it wrong in common speech (except perhaps marine biologists and other scientists), but when you're working in public policy for marine life, and you're looking at funding the construction of wildlife habitats, you should know the difference. The same thing applies here when you are making recommendations on software suites.
And I agree with Willen. Use "Open Source" instead. The distinction between "free" and "Free" is erased with a simple typo, and in the spoken language you can't hear it at all.
So what do you think of when you hear "free society"?

Of course you can't hear the difference in capitalization. The point is to encourage a transformation of the word "free" in another context.

I'd like to point out that "Open Source" has ambiguity problems that are actually a lot more insidious than this. A lot of people think it just means "you can see the source code"; but that doesn't also imply "you can change and/or redistribute it". That strikes directly at the heart of the hobby I mentioned above.

===
Zarxrax wrote:There is nothing wrong with calling free-as-in-beer software "free software", because that IS, in fact, what it is. I've never understood the gripes supporters of Free (as in speech) software have with people using a common word for one of it's intended purposes.
It is in fact free-as-in-no-charge. The problem, mathematically stated, is that it implies sets having the same members that, in reality, may or may not have the same members.

One question that you may ask is "why does freedom-as-in-speech matter to the average user?" and, well, that's a hard one to explain. Lessig's argument provides one angle of approach, but that doesn't always resonate with people.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that some people just don't care about that freedom. They want the bells and whistles above all things. (Not that that's bad, but that's the way some things are.) How do you teach people like that that it is important for their own sake? I don't know. You can certainly tell them that other people depend on it to help them, but I don't know if that's such a good answer either.
Zarxrax wrote: Far more people are concerned about "free" software than about "Free" software. If it's a problem, then this is entirely the fault of the Free Software Foundation for choosing such a title which is clearly causes confusion. You can't just roll in and say "our usage of this word is better, so please quit using that word for your common needs". YOU GUYS are the ones who need a new word, if you don't like the confusion.
The word "free" in the context of software, as defined by the FSF, has been established, and is gradually supplanting the old definition. (The Google results point that out.) What's wrong with getting people to widen their mindset?

By the way, where does this "me-against-you" dichotomy come from? That's something I wasn't working towards at all. Heck, I even said I make the same mistakes.

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Post by trythil » Sat Sep 16, 2006 2:31 pm

To summarize the last post:

A very well-known example of "knowledge is power" was made by Orwell (George Orwell, not the Orwell on this site) once made the observation that language holds enormous sway over people's thoughts. That's the foundation of Newspeak.

But that power can be used to achieve non-nefarious results, too.

All I'm asking for is a little bit of help. Not to make this your life's crusade a la Richard Stallman, as Keeper of Hellfire apparently thinks I was asking, but just to slip in a little reminder that there is this category of software out there that has the same name as another one, but uses a different definition attached to that name. A link or a blurb here and there would more than suffice.

What's wrong with that?

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Post by Scintilla » Sat Sep 16, 2006 3:03 pm

So, was I right about "freeware"...?
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Post by Zarxrax » Sat Sep 16, 2006 3:45 pm

trythil wrote:By the way, where does this "me-against-you" dichotomy come from? That's something I wasn't working towards at all. Heck, I even said I make the same mistakes.
You are coming in and saying that everyone is wrong for using calling something what it is. When common people who use the phrase "free software", they are almost always referring to software that does not cost money. You are saying that this majority of people should change their language so as to not conflict with a smaller subset of people who use the term "free software" to refer to something entirely different. In addition, the majority who use it do not really care much about any confusion it may cause. Only those who are using the alternate definition are worried about the confusion.

So it simply seems to me, that if this smaller group of people are not satisfied with the clarity of their phrase, then they should change it instead of expecting everyone else to change for them.

Now, I'm not saying people shouldn't use the term "free software" to refer to software that offers freedom, just that you shouldn't expect people to change for you.

A scientist uses the word "theory" to have a certain meaning. An average person uses the word "theory" with a different meaning altogether. The average person's definition of the word is no less valid than the scientist's.

The term "free software" is all good and well when you are using it among other people "in the group". When you use it around people "outside the group" though, it must be accepted that they don't use the same definition that you do, and that their definition is just as valid.

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Post by Warpwind » Sat Sep 16, 2006 9:48 pm

hey guys I have a little question...

I was always under the impression that while free (no money) software and Free/open source software are indeed two separate things they were both still free in the sense that no money is paid to obtain either (ignoring donations). So is there Free/open source software that you have to pay for?

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Post by Keeper of Hellfire » Sun Sep 17, 2006 3:54 am

trythil wrote:(German seems to be lucky to have an unambiguous definition; please let me know if that's correct.)
German has an unambigous definition soley for the reason that the term "freie Software" is only used by that kind of people that use "Free software" in Englisch. The term "frei" has the same meanings as "free". But the crowd uses either "Freeware" or "kostenlose (free of charge) Software" for "free-as-in-free-beer" software. For "Free-as-in-Free-speech" software usually the term "Open Source" is used.

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Post by Willen » Sun Sep 17, 2006 6:11 am

trythil wrote:I'd like to point out that "Open Source" has ambiguity problems that are actually a lot more insidious than this. A lot of people think it just means "you can see the source code"; but that doesn't also imply "you can change and/or redistribute it". That strikes directly at the heart of the hobby I mentioned above.
I always assume that if software is Open Source, I can view the code AND modify and redistribute it if I so wished to (as long as I don't violate the GPL or whatever license it is distributed under).

I'm just wondering when will an Open Source video editor get to the point that it is as powerful and usable enough (and customizable enough) that it will do for Free video editors what Firefox did for internet browsers? Or is something available now that hasn't gotten the exposure that it deserves?
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Post by Zarxrax » Sun Sep 17, 2006 11:19 am

Warpwind wrote:I was always under the impression that while free (no money) software and Free/open source software are indeed two separate things they were both still free in the sense that no money is paid to obtain either (ignoring donations). So is there Free/open source software that you have to pay for?
Yes, there is.

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Post by Shazzy » Sun Sep 17, 2006 11:47 am

trythil wrote:
Right, which is why slow, steady re-education is necessary.
To change the common usage of "free" to something else, you're better off contacting the U.S. Department of Education.

And no, I'm not being facetious. Trying to change usage of a word like "free" after people have exited elementary school is futile. Either coin a new term for the open source version of free, or begin re-education before the kids start downloading software.
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