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By Diane Crawford

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 45 No. 7, Pages 11-12

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I was delighted to read Philip Armour's "Business of Software" column ("The Spiritual Life of Projects," Jan. 2002). Indeed the majority of those who think, plan, and act in workplaces are not very aware of the human dimension of the work and might read such words with a sarcastic smile. Armour seems quite familiar with human behavior and may find that "spiritual" sensitivity has an almost genetic character; you have it or you don't. Surely Armour doesn't expect that reading his column would generate such sensitivity, but that it would amplify the weaker sensitivities or awaken the sleeping ones.

I worked eight years in software houses in France, and I have since lived in Iran working in software servicestwo very different cultures and environments. But the concern for the human (or spiritual) dimension highlighted in the column is similarly distributed in both contexts. That's why I think of it as a "semi-genetic" phenomenon.

Thanks to Armour for formulating this simple point of view in simple words.

Aram Gharib
Tehran, Iran

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Make It Visible, Tangible, Graphical

In their "Log on Education" column, Guzdial and Soloway propose a strategy for attracting "a group of students not excited by the invisible, abstract, and text world" ("Teaching the Nintendo Generation to Program," Apr. 2002). I applaud their efforts to give students exciting media-rich programming tasks. However, they address only the smaller part of the problem. Traditional programming languages, including Squeak, which they promote, are invisible, abstract, and textual.

This need not be the case. Programming languages, such as AgentSheets (www.agentsheets.com), Stagecast Creator (www.stagecast.com), and ToonTalk (www.toontalk.com), described in my Communications article (Mar. 2000) are visible, tangible, and graphical.

In ToonTalk, for example, programs are teams of robots working on boxes that can contain number and text pads, pictures, sounds, birds, and nests for communication, as well as other boxes and other robots. They are visible, animated, tangible objects one manipulates from inside a game-like virtual world. Programs are created on concrete examples and then generalized. Isn't this style of programming a better match for the "Nintendo Generation" than the abstract textual alternative that (as Guzdial and Soloway put it), "we grew up with"?

Ken Kahn
San Carlos, CA

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Justifying Anonymity

While I agree with Donald Davenport that "freedom of speech is a fundamental aspect of democracy" ("Anonymity on the Internet: Why the Price May Be Too High," Apr. 2002), I differ from his view that "anonymous communication is likely to be singularly ineffective." A writer has to be anonymous when facing an adversary whose doctrine is not word-for-word, but sword-for-word. Wherever groups trying to silence the criticism by physical violence exist, anonymity is the only way. Davenport draws his inspiration from Shakespeare, who wrote "Cowards die many times before their death but the valiant never tastes the death but once," remarking that history is made by those brave enough to speak out despite serious personal risk. But ... at what cost?

Instead of openness any time and anonymity no time, the media should be an admixture of both. Otherwise the writer is running a 100-meter hurdles race against a 100-meter distance runner.

B. Jagannathan
West Buty, NY

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Free Software Reality V. Perception

Dempsey et al.'s article, "Who Is an Open Source Software Developer?" (Feb. 2002) includes the deck: "Profiling a community of Linux developers" and starts curiously with a description of a person who does not support open source and has never worked on the development of Linux. Since that person is me, I think I am entitled to respond.

The article does explain the difference between free software and open-source philosophies, for which I thank the authors. However, since we in the free software movement do not agree with the open-source philosophy, it is somewhat misleading to describe us as "open-source developers," using the slogan of another movement. We believe software users are morally entitled to the freedom to share and change the programs they use; we write free software in order to realize this ideal. The open-source movement was formed specifically to reject that view and focus on development methodology rather than freedom to form a community. Please do not lump us in with them.

The article repeats another common error when it refers to the "Linux operating system"; the system is actually a variant of GNU, the free operating system we began developing in 1984. Linux, the kernel written by Linus Torvalds in 1991, became popular as part of the GNU/Linux combination.

Labeling this combination "Linux" is like calling the whole world "Finland"; describing projects such as GNOME (the GNU desktop), which are specifically part of GNU, as "part of Linux" is particularly misleading. For the sake of giving proper credit, please call this combined system "GNU/Linux." Doing so would prevent confusion by distinguishing the whole system (GNU/Linux) from the kernel (Linux) and give a share of the credit to the system's principal developer alongside the developer of the kernel. For more, see www.gnu.org/gnu/linux-nd-gnu.html.

The article also says I "adopted an antibusiness tone," which is interesting, because I am not opposed to business, but these authors are not the only people to perceive that I am.

In the free software movement, we insist the crucial freedoms must be available to all users, businesses as well as individuals; we firmly reject a program limited to "noncommercial use only." The freedom to sell copies of a program is among the crucial freedoms defining free software. We cooperate with numerous companies on the development of free commercial software. In my speeches about free software I always mention the possibility of businesses as users and as developers of free software; we carefully correct anyone who confuses proprietary (non-free) software, which we oppose, with commercial (associated with a business) software, which is fine, provided it is free. I have started three kinds of free software businesses to support myself since founding the GNU Project in 1984; what is legitimate for me to do must be legitimate for others also. Why, then, do people perceive me as "antibusiness"?

I cannot be sure of other people's thought processes, but I have a theory. The prevailing ideology today is one of bowing down to business and catering to its every whim. Anyone who does not bow may be perceived by some as "antibusiness" simply through the contrast with the obsequiously probusiness majority.

On any social issue (whether software should be free is no exception), we frequently encounter those who say what "business needs" (what lets some businesses profit more) trumps all else. In the free software movement we do not oppose business, but do not give it the royal treatment it is accustomed to, and that can come as a shock. We have kept various programs under the GNU GPL despite periodic blandishments from some businesses to change the license and be rewarded with "more users of our code," though at the cost of our real goals. We do not sacrifice our principles of freedom for software users for favor from anyone, whether business or not.

Richard Stallman
Boston, MA

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Already Maxed Out

I read with interest the account of surveys indicating that IT professionals should expect workloads to increase up to 50% in the next four years ("News Track," Feb. 2002). This cannot happen. I sell and consult to IT professionals; all my customers are "maxed out," regularly working genuine 7080 hour weeks, tired all the time, ignoring their lives at home. Assuming the surveys were asking about IT department near-future needs and desires, they tell us we are about to witness a dramatic increase in labor shortfalls in the IT arena.

Jim Densmore
Colorado Springs, CO

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