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GNU is Not Unix

FSF offers $20k for Gnome documentation 197

Booker sent us a message from [RMS] found on the Gnome mailing list where he says "The FSF would gladly pay someone $20k for the rights to a well-written and comprehensive GNOME programming manual. We would then publish as free documentation--free as in freedom, of course. We would sell copies in bookstores, just as these companies do, just as we do for our existing manuals."
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FSF offers $20k for Gnome documentation

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    1) What do you want in the manual?
    2) How comprehensive do you want it to be?

    Guidelines would be nice.
  • Heh... if you're willing to commit in writing to doing this, up to RMS's specs, you might just be able to weasel a loaner machine. BUT, nobody's gonna take you seriously with a address, and no linux experience.


  • One of the main KDE developers has written an O'Reilly book on programming Qt. I'm not sure if he talks about KDE much in it, but that's certainly enough to get one going. All of the API has good documentation (could still use a bit of help); any moderate programmer who knows C++ can just take that and go.

    Still, I would have to agree that a full O'Reilly book on KDE programming would be nice. On the other hand, considering KDE 2.0 may be out at the end of this year or so, perhaps waiting until then to make a book would be more appropriate.
  • According to here [], it's finished and available to read. It doesn't look like it's all that long, but still cute.
  • Just please don't anyone use the recently reviewed book on RTS game programming (and many, many windows programming books) style of berating the user with what programming is, how to make a while statement, etc.

  • Does anyone know if the FSF is asking for complete ownership or are they willing to offer a piece of the profits from the dead tree copies?

    I wonder if it would be appropriate to send in the documentation in Word format :)

    This sig is intentionally left blank.
  • $20,000 is a typical advance for a specialized computer book in today's market. It's not big bucks, but a professional WRITER can do four or five of them a year.

    Remember, writing is just as much of a craft as programming. I can "write" a PERL script, but someone who's spent a lot of time studying PERL can do it better and faster than I can. There is no way I could turn out enough usable PERL code per day to make a living at it.

    Now turn the above paragraph around.

    The ideal writer for a Gnome manual would be a team, not a single person. Put a good programmer and a good writer together and you'd have a hell of piece of work.

    (I'm not looking for the job, thanks. I have too much to write already...)

  • That's a pretty interesting incentive to get people working on documentation.. Just curious though, is there much more to GNOME programming that's not covered under GTK programming?

    BTW, the FSF is listed in Microsoft's Business Planner [] in Office 2000. Never thought I'd see that happen in a million years. Way to go!

  • by Aaron M. Renn ( 539 ) <> on Monday June 07, 1999 @11:31AM (#1862623) Homepage
    I'm sure I will regret posting this, but...

    Before accepting a contract to write this book, I suggest contacting other people who have been paid to write documentation for the FSF in order to determine what they thought of their experience. Due to privacy concerns, I cannot go into detail, but I know of at least one person who was very unsatisfied with his experience. (hehe, not me!)

    You should at a minimum make sure there are very well defined criteria for determining when a particular piece of the book is of acceptable quality. I hear that RMS can be extremely nitpicky about documention, requiring many, many revisions before he is satisfied. This can be frustrating and time consuming for everyone involved.
  • The FSF makes no secret of the fact that it uses donations to pay people to work on free software. Normally they pay programmers, but they also hire people to work on documentation. What do you think they did with the money?

  • Isn't the $20K enough royalties?
  • I seriously doubt you'd make more than $20K in royalties. Even if you made $10/book in royalties (unlikely; you'd probably get less), that'd require 2,000 books to be sold. I doubt that this book will sell 2,000 copies. Do even 2,000 people use GNOME?
  • Posted by ICouldntGetTheAccountIWanted:

    > rights to a well-written and comprehensive GNOME > programming manual.
  • by gavinhall ( 33 ) on Monday June 07, 1999 @10:34AM (#1862628)
    Posted by tha_skunk:

    Yeah I know it's sorta long and, but I really think this is even more interesting for /.!
    It's a mail on the gnome mailing list about
    Free Documentation ( free as Free Software not beer :-) ).

    Here's the link so check it out. It's really worth it.

    click it []

    Free Documentation anyone?????
  • From what I've heard, for GTK+ itself (Dunno about GTK--), whenever the documentation doesn't suffice for advanced purposes, the source is so well-commented that it's a manual in itself.

    And if you wind up developing against 1.3 whenever it branches, the source will be the only guaranteed up-to-date docs.
  • Actually, proprietary software *is* imminent doom. But I speak from a moralistic, and not absolute, point of view.

    However, the two cases you bring up are not good ones. The KDE/Qt rift came because of the incompatibility of the GPL and the Qt licenses. Since KDE was essentially GPL, it should not have used a non-free toolkit as its foundation. I'm not sure there was any legal implications, but there were some fundamental distribution questions that were left unresolved.

    And Apple bragged about its "Open Source" software. "Open Source" is a licensed mark. To claim to be "Open Source" means that the Apple license had to fit certain criteria. A lot of people felt their license did *not* meet the standards, and so there was a sound and fury signifying nothing.

    It isn't about hypocricy. It's about standing up for your beliefs, and stopping people from warping the core of your beliefs. If you want a commercial model, by all means, go commercial. We may taunt you, but we will not deny your right to sell your wares. However, if you claim to adhere to the core of the belief, then you had best be prepared to adhere to the cause of the belief.

    We are too painfully aware of marketing rape. If some large software company released a few lines of code to their standard office package, but did not allow that code to be used in a way fitting the free software model, and claimed they were suddenly "free software," we'd of course be suspicious.

    If they wanted to do the same thing and call it, "Bound Software," we wouldn't complain. It isn't the act that is abhorrent to us, but the perversion of our ideals.

    And lastly: proprietary software companies *have* disappeared, leaving their customers hanging in the air. If you haven't been around long enough to notice, please read a little history. Let's talk Atari, and Amiga, and Ashton-Tate. Let's talk WordStar. Let's talk Geo.

    Hypocrisy is a strong accusation. I trust you can back it up with facts, and not just rhetoric?

  • by Tony ( 765 )
    If a community gets together and builds a cable company, does that infringe on the rights of other cable companies? If the community starts from scratch, and, using their own money, buys a satellite dish, runs cable to every home in that community, and everyone gets 125 channels, does that constitute dumping? (I'm assuming they all adhere to the appropriate laws WRT subscription programming.)

    Here's my understanding:

    Mr. Stallman is *not* trying to keep people from earning money from intellectual property. This is a common misconception, especially among people who see the world as a circulatory system for money. He has often stressed that people can make money from their ideas; they just shouldn't do it in an immoral way.

    What he (and I, as far as that goes) does *not* like is the hoarding of information, especially when there is no net good that comes from that hoarding.

    Large corporations hoard money and resources. As a people, we cannot get those resources from them. Large companies hoarde information. We *can* re-create that information, or even better that information. That is what we are doing. In this way, we wrest a small but substantial chunk of power and put it back in the hands of individuals.

    The world is changing. We no longer base our lives on industrialism. The means of production have been transferred from the elite to the collective. And we, the collective, are exsercising that power. As the means of production is popularized, the idea of central publishing becomes less relevent. If *I* am the producer of the information, shouldn't I see the benefits directly, by making it available directly? And if we cut out the middle-man (the publishers), aren't we simply making the information more directly available?

    This is not "dumping." I think there has to be some sort of economic leverage to be considered dumping. Instead, it is a populist movement against the entrenched and outdated companies that have a stranglehold on production and distribution.

    You're right, though, Mr. Glass. Selling telephones is not like the Free Software movement. Rather, free software is more like public access cable, where anyone can contribute, and where anyone can be heard.

    I can see that you'd be terrified, as a journalist. Your job may be outdated in just a few years. Well, welcome to the real world, where everyone has an opinion, and we all get to share them equally; and we are all terrified we may be outdated in just a few years.

    I'd like to think I'm agile enough, and have enough foresight, to survive.

    But I could be wrong.

    - Tony
  • We'd know for sure if it was digitally signed.

    Oh My!
  • I believe that's a computer RMS uses for correspondence sometimes. I remember seeing addresses in other messages to/from him.
  • I'll first address your notion of predatory pricing. Predatory pricing is when something is priced low to destroy competition, at which time the price is raised. Free software and documentation will remain free. Forever. The FSF will never leverage Free software to force people to use unfree software or documentation (though, unfortunately, others might try to do so against the FSF's wishes). The FSF and GNU are clearly not predatory.

    Your allegiance to the Powers that Be -- in the form of protecting current business models and companies -- is not shared by all. I do not consider the current economic system a just one -- the suffering it is creating worldwide is barbaric and to attempt to maintain it would be an extremely immoral thing for me to do. IMHO. Obviously yours is different, but I don't think maintaining the status quo is a tenable moral position.

    To address your desire to make metaphors between physical property and intellectual property I'll quote from Why Software Should Not Have Owners []:

    Authors often claim a special connection with programs they have written, and go on to assert that, as a result, their desires and interests concerning the program simply outweigh those of anyone else---or even those of the whole rest of the world. (Typically companies, not authors, hold the copyrights on software, but we are expected to ignore this discrepancy.)

    To those who propose this as an ethical axiom---the author is more important than you---I can only say that I, a notable software author myself, call it bunk.

    But people in general are only likely to feel any sympathy with the natural rights claims for two reasons.

    One reason is an overstretched analogy with material objects. When I cook spaghetti, I do object if someone else eats it, because then I cannot eat it. His action hurts me exactly as much as it benefits him; only one of us can eat the spaghetti, so the question is, which? The smallest distinction between us is enough to tip the ethical balance.

    But whether you run or change a program I wrote affects you directly and me only indirectly. Whether you give a copy to your friend affects you and your friend much more than it affects me. I shouldn't have the power to tell you not to do these things. No one should.

  • What do you possibly think the FSF is going to do? Suddenly start charging for all GPLed software?

    While FSF/GNU/RMS does want everyone to use GPLed software and documentation, this is still not predatory. These works are, by definition, free! What are you complaining about?

    Are they going to hijack standards? They can't -- it's all free to modify, so things can be made standards compliant despite the most malicious intents.

    Are they going to integrate products that are more restricted? The FSF and GNU have shown no inclination to do this, and the GPL does its best to keep this from happening.

    Are they going to force everyone who uses GPLed code to GPL derivative works? Yes. Do they have any desire to support or assist proprietary software developement? No. Could they set up a situation where they could exclude proprietary products from a GNU system? Yes (potentially, though not necessarily).

    But none of this involves predation. The freedoms you have now, and the rights which the GPL gives, are freedoms that are not going to change if GPLed software dominates the market. In the case of IE, Microsoft had other products to protect and promote using IE -- the FSF applies the GPL uniformly and completely.

    GPLed products have the potential to be vastly superior to proprietary products -- simply because they are copylefted. They have the potential to allow the integration and diversification of ideas in the computer science field that could be incredibly beneficial. They have the potential to make good software available to everyone and to do some part in checking the increasing disparity in resources. GPLed software has the potential to eliminate the competition, but that doesn't make it bad.

    [and yes, the FSF does reserve the right to change the GPL. However, anything released under version 2 of the GPL will remain covered by this version forever, so if later versions are more restrictive they don't need to be obeyed. I still don't know just what you think will show up in later versions, but...]

  • I've always liked you, especially your columns & forum messages in Infoworld.

    Lately, however, you seem to be on this anti-RMS crusade. I don't agree with all of the man's ideals either, but he does have a right (and a logical reason) to request that someone write free GNOME documentation.

    RMS is not against profit-making. He is against profit making at the expense of freedom. He does not believe that economic incentive or conveinience is a proper excuse for giving up freedom.

    If you want to fight RMS, fight him on that principle: that sometimes, yes, giving up freedom for convenience or economic incentive *IS* what we want to do, as the end economic benefits of copyright incentive does produce MORE freedom in the end (by increasing our standard of living). RMS has given us a gift through his radicalism: it forces people to take stock of the business and IP world around them and ask, "Do I want this?".

    I think the recent interest in open source licences throughout the industry is a result of many reasonable people saying, "well, you know, intellectual property protection isn't ALWAYS that beneficial, nor an incentive to me." It makes us THINK about what we value. Right now, the majority don't REALLY value IP freedom. I personally don't think most people *will* value it for the forseeable future (3-5 years), but after that, who knows?

    In the end, I suggest you start understanding RMS' position better in the future, lest people label you as a troll who radically twists a situation to suit his own opinion.
  • "Wrong. The FSF has the right to enhance the work and then keep the rights to its changes. Third parties do not. "

    Could you explain this better?

    Any third party can modify an FSF work (software or book) any way they see fit, and redistribute it any way they see fit, so long as there is at least one medium that is accessible "at cost" and others can also freely derive from this offshoot work as well.

    What right does the FSF have that a third party does not? You're being awfully cryptic here, and dare I say, somewhat ignorant.
  • Thanks for your clarifications.

    Please understand my position.. you're claiming that "you understand RMS better than most of the world", which is sort of like saying "i'm not crazy, the rest of the world is."

    In the end, you may be right, and I respect your opinion.
  • ..and if I am only interested in sharing my software with those who share themselves (i.e. I am using the GPL instead of BSD/X/etc) I am evil?

    Interestingly you accuse RMS/FSF/GPL for supporting Microsoft by not helping other proprieraty developers (Be in your example) since Microsoft make use of BSD code to squash their competition (like Be).

    If proprieraty developers have problems competing with other proprieraty developers that is not my problem and it is certainly not my duty to help them.

    /mill - who is currently working on custom proprieraty Perl code on the horrific Win* platform and fears Free software - NOT!

  • Hmph. Everyone will just buy the O'Reilly book anyhow. It would be neat to see the FSF collaborate with them.
  • I think if you're going to try something like this it should NOT be flat fee based. I think the author deserves a fair share of the profit from the sale of the printed version of this book.

    I don't know what is a fair value, but I think at least 15% is a start. (15% of the profit, not the cost of the book itself) I think that would encourage the author to do a REAL good job since the quality of the book will be reflected in how much $$$ they make.

  • Interesting. The implication is that those of use working on Free (Open Source) Software are not legitimate. Would you care to elucidate?

    So I'm willing to write programs and give them away. So tens of thousands of other people are also willing to write programs and give them away. How does this take away from anyone? And if I choose to write a manual and give it away (not even taking into account the FSF's rather generous offer), how does this take away from anyone?

    In fact, it is *giving* to people. If people are willing to do this, why are you complaining? It is our right to do with our intellectual property as we wish.

    Writers recieve hardly any recompense for their works anymore. Not only is it harder to get published, but the payments are the same as they were 15 years ago. (The average is going up, but that's because Stephen King and Robert Jordan and anything about Monica Lewinski skew the numbers terribly.) Meanwhile publishers are charging about 30% more than they were 15 years ago. Where does the extra money go? I suspect it goes to the publisher.

    Writers will rarely get $20k for a single work, even something like the proposed Programmer's Manual.

    Yes, I know you write (Computerworld, isn't it?), so your view is from the inside of the industry. But from *outside* the industry, people who write Free Software wouldn't mind Free Documentation. And since it doesn't take away anyone's rights, why are you upset?

  • You're right; I don't understand public access cable. We don't have that in Alaska. I get all of my knowledge of public access from Wayne's World and old MST3k episodes.

    But you just as obviously don't understand social theory. "Communism" has never been tried on a large scale. "Socialism" has, though, and has generally failed.

    Yes, I do feel that corporations are dangerous, if not evil in general. Currently the goal of any corporation is to grow as much as possible, by any means. (There are a few exceptions, though I can't think of any at the moment.) Since money is essentially power, and power allows for even more growth, companies tend to grab as much money as possible, and let as little money go as possible. This is hoarding, and has nothing to do with the protection of individuals from the state. After a certain point, a company can gain enough power to replace the state as a ruling organization. (Don't think so? Look at the regulation MS has managed to excersize on the industry.) The centralization of power into corporations my necessity takes power away from individuals.

    I realize our opinions differ here, and I'm not likely to convince you any differently. By my central ideal is simply this: any single individual is more important than any single organization.

    The core precepts of Marxism-- that the individual is the most important part of any society, that industrialism tends to destroy humanity and enslave its populace to the corporations-- are not flawed. The conclusions are a bit off-center, I think. The thought of replacing one faceless organization with another is rather ludicrous.

    I think you misunderstand Mr. Stallman's goals. His is a reaction to the greed and selfishness endemic to our society. He encourages people to be less greedy, and less selfish. How can that can be a bad thing?

    I fail to see how I'm sabotaging my own or anyone else's future. I work as the senior DBA at a native health organization. My job is not dependent on my writing or my code. However, I enjoy both writing and programming; so I contribute, because it is what I love to do. I am contributing much more than a simple opinion in some trade rag.

    And if you are not terrified of your future, you probably should be. Everyone does have an opinion. And we no longer rely on tree-based mass-produced periodicals to find opinions. So your line of work is quickly become commoditized. If this doesn't frighten you, you must have some other skill than the ability to express simple opinions with good grammer and proper spelling.

    Conspiracy? I don't think so. Change is happening right now. I'm simply doing my part to make sure the change is good, and in the right direction.

    And as far as destroying honest businesses: I don't think there is a such thing as an honest business in this industry. People are honest; businesses are not. Any time a business offers an IPO, they sell their soul to continuous growth, at any cost. And since there are few mom-and-pop companies that will be affected, I don't see how we are destroying honest business.

    We'll disagree with each other. I doubt we'll be able to sway each other, no matter how eloquent or thoughtful our opinions; we draw different conclusions from the same set of facts. This happens, even among rational and intelligent people. (Not that I claim to be either.)

    Thanks for this chance at debate. I enjoy a lively discussion.
  • The prevention of predatory business practices does not reflect an allegiance to any "Powers that Be." Rather, it preserves free markets and individual freedom -- in particular, the freedom to be successful without bullying or predation by malicious organizations such as the FSF.

    Now we're getting somewhere.

    The idea that individual freedom is somehow preserved in a "free market" economy (of which there is no such thing) is ironic. Individuals write software; companies hold the copyright on software (in most cases). Inidividuals invent; companies hold the patents on those inventions (in most cases). Individuals do the creating; companies reap the benefits of the creation.

    I'm not saying I should be able to drive your car. I am saying that if you come up with a great idea, or even a not-so-great-idea, I should be able to use it. I'm not saying you *have* to give away your idea. Keep it secret if you want. But then it will help only yourself. But if I know of an idea, I should be able to use it.

    Hoarding (and hiding) information only adds to the entropy of society. Hidden information does no-one any good, and does not benefit society in any way; it only benefits the people who keep it hidden.

    Perhaps you see it differently. That's okay; if we all had the same damn opinion, life would be boring.
  • I see. FSF wants to "control," by giving up control. You mentioned that the FSF can change the license at any time; this is not true. The FSF can change the license, but it is not retroactive. Anything released under the GPL today will remain under the current GPL in a thousand years.

    This is the part of your argument that doesn't quite make sense. I can see the "Richard Stallman and Avenging Angel (or Devil)." But the licensing/control issue? I'm not too clear on the logic here.

    Could you please elucidate?
  • You are right. The copyright won't be an issue in 1,000. My mistake; I'm aware of the time-limit, but in my rush to rhetoric, neglected it.

    You're incorrect about changes to the GPL not being retroactive. The FSF expressly requests on its Web site that developers license their software so that it falls under the latest version of the GPL. Thus, if the next version gives the FSF complete rights to it, or says something about first-born children, the author can do nothing.

    No, my statement was not incorrect. Your understand seems to be incomplete. If you read the GPL, it states

    This library is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU Library General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

    Who gets the option? The user. Who owns the copyright on the piece of software this came from? Me. I wrote the software. I put it under the GPL.

    The reason Mr. Stallman wants GNU attached to Linux is because the kernel is Linux; the system is a Linux kernel with the rest being mostly FSF-owned GNU software. His demands are not unreasonable, if a bit silly. He does not want credit for the Linux kernel; he wants credit for the parts that are FSF-owned GNU, which represents many more years of development.

    And he does not insist that all GPL software be owned by the FSF. He insists that all FSF-funded software development be credited to the FSF, under the terms of the GPL.
  • This whole thing is getting very interesting, and very confusing. I barely know what to think anymore.
  • Well that's my question. If it is published and sold in bookstores, does the author receive the proceeds, or do these proceeds go to the "FSF"?

    Why not just write a good book, and have it published yourself, or perhaps through O'Reilly? You'd make more money than 20k that way.
  • One of the more interesting essays on the GNU [] website talks about how money isn't a good incentive for high quality work []. Either GNU (i.e. RMS) have changed their tune, or they're getting really desparate for documentation :).
  • That's a very good point. I've been thinking about writing a little game that uses gtk/gnome. I think there is a web page documenting gtk someplace, but I'll probably depend on the code for existing programs to figure it out. I did some Xt/Motif programming years ago, so that might help out some too.

    I've heard that Qt has some very good documentation, but I already have gnome and don't want to try to keep two major tookits/environments up-to-date.

  • Every publisher I've been talking with lately says they'd be willing to use an OSD-compliant license on their book as long as the license applies on the day that printed copies get to stores and not before. That sounds fair to me. It gives the publisher lead-time over the other publishers who did not pay for the work, and we get free documentation.

    Really? In The Open-Source Revolution [] Tim O'Reilly says that they tried it and it didn't work. Do you happen to know what the difference was? Was it the delayed release of the "source code"?
  • This assumes that writing one book will kill off the market for future books about the same topic. Just look at how there's only one book about Java, Linux, or C++!

    In fact, the opposite is true; as books on a topic come out, other publishers notice and say "Gee, we should really cover this topic too." We're seeing this happen with Python books now; for a long time there were only two books on Python, one from O'Reilly and one from MIS Press. This year, two more O'reilly books have come out and there are at least two more in preparation; another publisher is working on two books, and there are two or three more one-shot projects. (I've written a bit of documentation, and occasionally get e-mails asking me if I want to write a book, which I have to always decline -- not enough spare time.)

    So, the more GNOME books, the better for GNOME. It's not going to kill off GNOME books from other publishers.

  • It's a slightly different message as far as I can gather. The FSF don't believe money is the be all and end all of rewards but they realise that people need money to live. The amount of money they are prepared is small for the amount of work they will be doing so I wouldn't really call it a reward - it's basically just enough to live off.

    If the author wanted financial rewards they'd go with a company not willing to make the book free as they'd get paid more by most publishers if they write the book for the FSF they are mainly writing it as a service to the free software community
  • Brent,

    A long time ago, I worked in a retail electronics store. At the time, we'd just started selling telephones in competition with the phone company. One day, a woman came to my counter in the store and told me that I was taking food out of her children's mouths by selling those phones, because her husband worked for the phone company! She thought I should really be ashamed of myself.

    I didn't argue, she just seemed too silly. She never considered that I had just as much right to compete with her husband's business as her husband had to compete with mine.

    I have already written a GPL'ed chapter and have had it published. The book made #12 on Amazon's list. I only made $1500 from that chapter, but I got invited to speak in Iceland as a result of the chapter (the conference paid for the trip and a week's tourism) and a number of other fun things have happened. I was compensated fairly.

    If you can't stand the competition, too darn bad. We're not going away.

    Bruce Perens

  • Yes, that's what I meant. RMS would not be against digital signature, but would be against having a file containing his secret key that other people could not read.


  • I don't think RMS would use PGP, but I haven't asked him. He doesn't like the idea of having files that other people can't read, like his secret key file.

    Why 20K? Because they are absolutely sure that people will donate that much to sponsor this work. No problem.

    They paid Ian Murdock about $10,000 for work on Debian. This is not a first.


  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <> on Monday June 07, 1999 @11:23AM (#1862658) Homepage Journal
    RMS does use a system at the Santa Fe Institute for mail, I have no reason to believe this is fake.

    Every publisher I've been talking with lately says they'd be willing to use an OSD-compliant license on their book as long as the license applies on the day that printed copies get to stores and not before. That sounds fair to me. It gives the publisher lead-time over the other publishers who did not pay for the work, and we get free documentation.

    The down-side is that you might make less royalties on the book. Many of us can live with that, and if the author makes it clear to potential purchasers which publishers pay him a royalty and which do not, he might make a good lot of money anyway.



  • RMS works out of santa fe? ye gads, the place is even cooler than I thought...
  • Wow. A new payment paradigm for us tech writers: I've never gotten propositioned to write a manual "on spec" like this. Too bad I don't already have a Linux box up and running. Doing this kind of stuff is my meat and drink.

    Tell ya what. Give me a system (maybe a bitchin' VA Research machine) to work on, and I'll just do the job for the good of the community. The $$ can go back to the FSF so they can extrude more code.

    Let's see what kinds of replies this gets...
  • re: the address: Fuck you very much.
  • ... we can definitley do better than that. No offense to the writers of the original project (they only had 24 hours and it wasn't planned at all in advance), but I'm sure we could do a much better job.

    The more I think of it, the more I like the idea. Collaboration using CVS, diff, patch, etc... seems the ideal way to write documentation for a project such as Gnome. I hope someone with more knowledge on the subject than I have picks up on the idea and gets the ball rolling.

    The other idea I had is to create a utlilty along the lines of javadoc that creates documentation from comments in the code itself. I love the Java API reference. It's one of the greatest Java resources and is one of the main reason I choose to write my shcool programs in Java as opposed to C/C++


  • I seem to remember a project a few months ago where a group planned to write a book in a day to demonstrate the collaborative power of the internet. How about doing something like that with respect to a Gnome programming manual? The project would be done by hundreds of people... it may take more than the 24 hours allowed by the previous attempt, but that's ok. The money could then be donated back to some free software project. I may know nothing about programming Gnome, but I'd sure be glad to donate a little proofreading time.

    By the way... and this is a bit off topic... does anyone know how that project turned out? Did they actually produce a book? If so, where can I take a look? I've been curious how that turned out, but never took the time to hunt it down.


  • Ah, I hadn't seen that thread. Makes things a bit more clear... Thanks! People need to realize that this isn't an offer of $20k for somebody to hack up a HOWTO, they're talking about something on the order of an O'Reilly book...

    Given RMS's attitude towards O'Reilly (didn't he call them "parasites?"), I'm not too surprised to see a "bidding war" for an author on this one. I didn't know the FSF had that kind of money for these things, though.
  • Oops, I may have cross-fired some neurons. Did a little checking, and found this:

    "I found Richard's comments at the Open Source Developer's Day, where he called John Ousterhout a parasite because he now wants to build proprietary
    tools on top of tcl, a defining moment."--Tim O'Reilly

    Sorry - the ol' memory's not what it used to be. :)
  • It's just like open source software: anyone can print the book, no one gets proceeds unless the publisher makes donations.

    Why not just write a good program, and publish it yourself as shareware, or perhaps make a deal with Microsoft? You'd make more money that way.

  • Sorry, but your history is wrong. XEmacs started as Lucid Emacs, a project by Lucid, Inc. to create a front end to their commercial Energize IDE. This started before Emacs 19 was out. The main reason for forking was technical differences. Lucid had no problem at the time with giving the changes back to RMS. But RMS didn't want a lot of them: he disagreed with the Lucid folks on a number of issues.

    Problems with assignments have made it harder to re-unify the Emacses, but the major contributors (e.g. Lucid) did sign (so all the original work people like jwz did while at Lucid could be used in the FSF Emacs).

  • Ah, another bogus attack on RMS and all his works. RMS has long said that free software needs free documentation, so that when new features are added to the program, these new features can be documented. This doesn't mean that every book telling how to use free software needs to be free, but it does mean that there needs to be at least one high-quality manual that is free. If others feel they can do a better job competing against the free manual, let them at it.

    RMS wants a free manual, and he's putting his money where his mouth is. No author is obliged to accept his offer; furthermore, publishers like O'Reilly are free to fund other books. Free software and documentation are a part of the market. As a writer, you're simply going to have to deal with it.

  • Or ... A non-profit foundation seeks a volunteer project and will pay a modest stipend for it.

  • > Isn't it more important to get _user_ documentation out the door?

    No. A new project of mine requires me to learn GUI programming, which I'm really a rank newbie at. I picked up gtk+, didn't like what was involved with subclassing, and went to Gtk--. And there simply isn't enough documentation to learn it.

    Thus I use the excellently documented Qt. It's not a matter of politics, I just cannot learn without documentation. Gnome has lost this developer because of the state of its documentation, and I can't imagine I'm the only one.
  • Unacceptable. I want documentation, I will not deal with source only. I want it all there in one place. I'm glad RMS recognizes this need too.

    Also, I don't see that Gtk-- has the transformation abilities that QPainter does. Almost certainly not the encapsulation (i.e. I can have multiple QPainters). Maybe it does, but it's not documented.
  • Royalties are in practice about 10% of the selling price, from what I understand.

    So if the book sold for $ 25, you'd get about $ 2.50 a copy. So you'd have to sell about 8,000 copies to get $ 20k. However, bear in mind that if Gnome was successful, your book might remain the definitive reference on the subject for many years. I'm sure the authors of such hoary old classics as 'Managing USENET', 'Sendmail', 'Perl', etc, etc, have pulled down substantial royalty checks over the years.

    I'd say that writing a book on gnome is basically a gamble that gnome will eventually take off. Ideology aside, reviews of KDE seem to be significatly more favourable than Gnome. The fact that Rasterman wants to create a total user interface that would no longer incorporate Gnome has some interesting implications in my view. I think he, like many others we've heard from, think Gnome is not the best user interface. To be fair, this could be an Rasterman's rather obvious meglomania(*), but if so, I think he's justified. I've heard too many other negative comments on Gnome the product (as opposed to Gnome the ideology).

    If I were looking for a viable project, I'd consider writing a KDE manual. I've been doing some work from home, where I've had to use a modem instead of my normal 10mb Ethernet connection (oh, the horror!), and I was quite impressed by the fine job KPPP did getting me connected on my notebook.


    (*) Meglomania is not used perjoratively, but descriptively. It takes a meglomaniac to build a city.
  • *tsk, tsk* Did we forget our http:// again? :-)
  • $20,000 is big money for a student, or even a team of students, and students can produce excellent results on a project like this. Let 'em at it.

  • I have a 100+ page manual for Solaris that I have been working on for a couple months now. It is highly detailed and explains to even the lamest user how to configure, setup and install all the necessary open-source software on a Sun box running Solaris 2.6. It isn't GNOME but would anyone be interested in a very well written book on Solaris?
    I basically wrote it to assist later SysAdmins. When I arrived here at this job there was no documentation. It's designed for neophytes and has already proven quite useful. I'd take a couple hundred dollars and make it available for anyone.

  • . . . but the name-calling only obscures the fundamental importance of the issues he has been raising.

    What, you just noticed that? It's not a "but", though. It's the whole point.

    "Once a solution is found, a compatibility problem becomes indescribably boring because it has only... practical importance"
  • The reward for writing technical books is not in royalties, but in the instruction and consulting opportunities that result from being a published "expert". The downside to writing a book for the FSF is that it is not likely to ever be prominently displayed at Borders.
  • You know, I have been very good in restraining myself, but this notion that RMS is some kind of "communist" is the worst kind of infantile name-calling. It shows very clearly that those who toss out such insults so casually have no concept of what RMS is trying to do and even less about what "socialist" or "communist" means.

    RMS is a classic "liberal" in the original 18th century Enlightenment sense of that word.

    You can agree or disagree with his project (and I find myself on one side or the other depending on the situation), but the name-calling only obscures the fundamental importance of the issues he has been raising.


  • 1. Everything there is to know about Gnome :) Seriously, I think
    the manual shouldn't be longer than 1000 pages (I presume it'd be
    in postscript), else it'd be too bulky and overwhelming to be useful.
    So fit as much as you can in that length.
    2. ANSI C specs level of detail and comprehensiveness.
  • There is source.
  • Where does the extra money go? I suspect it goes to the publisher.
    A lot of it goes into the distribution system.

    In the US (I don't know about other places), if you buy a book and don't like it, you can return it to the bookstore for a refund. The bookstore then returns the book to the publisher, and the publisher gives the store credit for another purchase from that publisher. If the book is a mass-market paperback, the bookstore doesn't bother returning the whole book; it just returns the torn-off book cover.

    This is an accountant's nightmare. The publisher can't predict how much profit a book has made until the returns bounce back. (On average, though, about half of all books sold are returned, so when you buy a book, you're really paying for the printing of two books.)

    And as long as the publisher has books sitting in the warehouse, they're taxed at their current wholesale price, even if the publisher knows that a certain proportion of these copies are destined for Buck-A-Book.

    And the people who own publishers don't simply want their companies to make money; they want them to make as much money as other businesses. A book that is likely to become gradually more popular over time, or a book that would have a small but devoted following, is therefore not a good investment for the publisher.

    And most titles don't make money for their publishers; the profits from Stephen King and Robert Jordan novels cover the losses that their publishers suffer from promising but unsuccessful works by others.

  • That would not be the free way of doing it. The work would not be free textware. When FSF does it, it will... Oh, anyway, check out, they have a license they promote appliable to content (Not source). Perheaps the docs should be released under that license, or is it to restrictive (So GPL is better)? Any lawyers around here who can interprete the document?
  • Ah, I hadn't seen that thread. Makes things a bit more clear... Thanks! People need to realize that this isn't an offer of $20k for somebody to hack up a HOWTO, they're talking about something on the order of an O'Reilly book...


    In fact, Tim O'Reilly himself participates actively in the free-docs list that Miguel kicked off with this message, and has given a lot of great feedback and reality-checking. He has also stated that O'Reilly would be willing to consider publishing more free/open-source books, although with the caveat that authors should expect the royalty payments to total out less than for traditional books.

    As for the reasonableness of the $20,000 figure, that was batted around as what an author might expect to receive in total for a sucessful book. The O'Reilly writers guide [] says that the typical O'Reilly advance is $5,000 to $10,000, with author royalties at 10%.

    So, which would you rather have, $20,000 up front, or $7,500 and hope that a GNOME programming manual sells at least 250 copies at $50? Hmm ... O'Reilly is looking pretty good -- unless you feel very strongly about free documentation and the FSF, in which case $20,000 for work you would have done for free is a pretty great deal.

    Of course, there's the question of whether writing a modest-selling O'Reilly book pays more than minimum wage on an hourly basis, when all is said and done. It seems like most authors do have day jobs.

  • As someone who hopes to someday be a novelist -- Don't ever underestimate the monetary value of a writer's work. :)

    Don't over-estimate it, either. I believe that if you do the math (and assuming the facts are accurate), you'll find that $20,000 is good pay. According to the original post, the authors expected to get $1 per book, and the expected number of book sales was around 20,000. Thus it's not a substantially different deal for the author than a commercial publisher would offer.
  • Shortsighted? $20K and a published technical manual. If I had the knowledge to do this, I'd jump at the chance. If I was worth more than that, I'd be earning more than that, you know what I mean?

    And whether you realize it or not, you are calling RMS and Miguel Icaza liars, as they indicated that this is about the fee that a commercial publisher expected to pay an author.
  • >I don't think RMS would use PGP

    But if he had-there may not be as much concern about the authenticity of his posting on the GNOME mailing list.

    >Why 20K? Because they are absolutely sure that people will donate that much

    Sounds reasonable, but his offer is not very clear-are they offering a position at FSF or just a $20K lump for this one manual? I would assume they are offering a position. RMS does mention that he has room for an additional author. For them to just have people submit their work at random would mean a full time job for themselves... But I have a pretty good idea that they're smarter than that.

  • >RMS would not be against digital signature

    Sorry if that didn't come out right-that's what I meant also...
  • There are some flaky details concerning this as well... First of all, I don't understand why RMS did not use PGP or some similiar form of verification when making an announcement of such magnitude, and on a mailing list of all places. Next, why should FSF crank out $20K for documentation in the first place? I am very outclassed here when it comes to the discussion of Open Source, but the way I am viewing this is that FSF wants the rights to the first (and possibly only)GNOME programming manual, but why would they do this? They have their own authors and surely enough talent to do this without posting it up like some sort of contest. I guess the only way we'll really know is to ask RMS himself. Has anyone done/attempted this yet?
  • What I believe the author of the previous post ment is that RMS is opposed to the idea of having a file on his computer which others can not read, i.e. the file with his private key in it. Not that RMS is aginst mail encryption, he may well be. I personaly think that freedom and privacy come hand in hand, but then again I don't always agree with RMS.
  • > What would you folks, as the target audience, like to see in a "comprehensive" GNOME book?

    Obviously, I'm only speaking for myself here, but what I would like to see is a book that assumes the reader knows about GNOME and so on, maybe a coupla chapters at the beginning about (A) Gtk+, and a quick overview, and (B) the concept/theory behind the object component modeling (bonobo) system, again as a quick refresher.

    The meat of the book would ideally be made up of paired-off chapters, with the first of each pair going through the theory of the control/object/component/memory space/whatever, and the second some actual code and examples.

    I think C would be a good language to use, as pretty much everyone knows C (programmers, that is). Python, Tcl and so on are common, true, but there are a number of people who aren't familiar with them. But pretty much anyone who would be reading the book could be assumed to know C.

    A good idea might be appendices in the back with language bindings, function/object declarations, etc... for a couple of common languages, to help those who are interested in using something other than C. The first of the chapter pairs (the theory part) would also come in handy here as well.

    That's pretty much it for the basics, I think. I can't think off the top of my head of anything else I might want, although I'm sure I will once I hit the "Submit" button.

    As for scope and so on... ie: how far to take it... well, I don't know, since I really don't know everything that is involved. That's why I'd want to read the book!
    - Sean
  • From what I understand, RMS is an absolute perfectionist, and insists that everything be done over and over and over and over and over... again until it is done exactly right, and perfect to his liking.

    This (again, to my understanding), is where most people's problems with him come from.

    To someone (such as myself), who is also a perfectionist (in most things), this wouldn't be much of a problem, as I tend to impose the same sort of stringent guidelines on myself anyway.
    - Sean
  • To me, one of my favourite parts of writing a program is doing the user manual (dead tree version) at the end. (Company I work for requires them). Just so happens that I love that sorta stuff. Most of the developers hand it over to the documentation team to do. I much prefer doing it myself.
    - Sean
  • &nbsp;
    - Sean
  • That is what I meant :-)
    - Sean
  • Please reveal your identity, before you make statements like that.
  • X-Authentication-Warning: rms set sender to using -f

    tis fake, methinks.
  • Isn't it more important to get _user_ documentation out the door? GNOME for Dummies would be a good start.
  • 100% agreed.

    I am sick to the hind teeth of all this continuous bickering and political infighting.

    I fully accept that evangelists such as RMS are necessary to kick start something like the Open Source movement, but I think we can see now that it is rolling and isn't likely to go wrong any time soon.

    So what if RedHat, or anyone else decides to try to make a bit of money from it, it's not like we're suddenly wake up and find billg in charge of it.

    Chill out and decide which desktop system you prefer using based on it's features and it's style, then use it to do something productive, like code more OSS apps rather than wasting everyone's time "bickering and arguing about who killed who".

    So there ;)
  • "berating the user with what programming is, how to make a while statement, etc."

    I think the previous poster was more thinking about a chapter for the theory applied specifically to Gnome but not to any programming langage and the other chapter gving example of implementation in C. Most programmer do know how to program in C and can read C code so they quite everybody will end with having the theory and an example of the practice but can more easily implement it in his favorite langage (COBOL anyone ;)))))))))) with help of another chapter about langage independancy.
  • Because we want choice. For people who don't like choice, go here [].


  • (a) Write a better book
    (b) Find publisher who will sell high-quality book
    (c) Make money off royalties from high-quality book

    Nothing in the offer seems to foreclose this possibility. If the RMS-commissioned book turns out to be an excellent book, great. If it doesn't, the market is open for a better one.

    Nonetheless I see your point. There does seem to a bit of an element of Microsoftian "announce vaporware to deter competitors from even bothering to try". Nonetheless I haven't seen anyone else try to produce a gnome programming book. And it would be really useful.
  • .. Orwell's 'Animal Farm'.

    Personally I don't know how true it is what people are saying about the FSF and RMS .. but "Animal Farm" does contain many interesting truths about human nature. And I don't see any particular reason why any one group of people would be immune to that sort of thing .. "Free Software Good, Commercial Software Bad" or something like that. But as long as people remain capable of critical thought, nothing like that should pose any problems.
  • by Hop-Frog ( 28712 ) on Monday June 07, 1999 @11:53AM (#1862705)
    This might be a good project to try out on sourceXchange [] (once it is launched). If US$20k isn't enough, then perhaps if many more people put in about US$20 each, it would be plenty.
  • I agree the writing a book is a heck of a lot of work, much more than most people would think.

    I have to disagree, though, that $20K is not much money. I've done professional writing for much less, if you pro-rate individual chapters and scale it to a whole book. Perhaps I just work cheap. :)

    Here are the factors that play into how much this type of job is worth:

    -How soon do they need it? This is a major facotr for people like me who have a day job, and do their writing at night.
    -What kind of author are you looking for? Are you looking for the proven, best-selling author, or are you willing to give an unknown a chance?
    -What, exactly, is desired in the book? Are we talking mostly code examples, text explainations, docs for people who don't really know programming, or what?
    -How much upkeep is the $20K expected to buy for after-the-fact? Presumably, some updates would be desired when GNOME gets upgraded.
    -How many pages/chapters?

    Does anyone know if this was an actual offer of work, or was he just giving his opinion on how much something like this would be worth?

  • I think people might be overestimating a little what a book like this might bring in for an author going through the typical publisher channels.

    There are probably some people out there who would love to have a book published, and would love to work on something like this to advance GNOME, and the money will simply help them be able to spend time on something they would do willingly.

    I don't think anyone expects this amount of money to sway someone who wouldn't normally do a project like this anyway.

    I think that amount of money is a good way for the FSF to communicate their priorities and wants.

    Some are criticizing the FSF for the expenditure, some are criticizing them for getting the profits. I have no problem with either. I think free books are a good use of FSF funds, and I think it's just fine that they keep the money.

    That way, they can finance the next book or software project. It's also a very acceptable profit for the amount of risk to be taken... this type of book has a fairly narrow interest group.
  • Oh, I almost forgot:

    If you're into conspiracy theory, then something like this is probably an excellent way to tank an O'Reilly project.

    I have absolutely no suspicions that this is what is going on, just speculating.
  • A lot depends on other factors. Take a look at a comment I made on a different thread for this topic.

    Some assumptions:
    -A reasonable amount of time would be given to complete the book (6-9 months)
    -The book is expected to be a reasonable number of pages (600)
    -There is not an expectation of a full-scale polished application as a by-product. Certainly some smaller things would be developed in the book as examples.
    -For people who need it, there would have to be some pay along the way to take care of expenses. I believe this is standard.. 25% of the pay for each 25% of the work submitted.
    -They have to be willing to take a "nobody" who can submit a good proposal, samples, etc..

    He's why it would work for (someone like) me:

    -6-9 months is enough time for me to do it in the evenings/weekends/vacation. Even for me, who knows next to nothing about GNOME (but can program) because it gives me the time to do needed research.
    -This last weekend, I wrote a 30 page chapter for a book to be published soon. This particular chapter is on a subject I know well. It took me about 35 hours over the last two days, so obviously I wish I were sleeping right now.. but the point is it can be done. This is the fastest I've been able to get a chapter done so far, so it's an exceptional case. The pay for this chapter was less than $1000, flat-fee, no royalties.
    -I already make a pretty good salary at my day job.

    So why am I "wasting my time" writing at this pay rate?

    -I get to have my name on a book
    -I get to learn more (turns out a really good way to learn a subject is to write a book on it)
    -It looks good on my resume.
    -A little extra cash never hurts.

    So, basically, I argue that this wouldn't be a full-time job. However, if any of my assumptions are shot down, that would eliminate someone in my position being able to do it. It may not for others.

    P.S. I'm not really buckin for this deal, though it sounds like that.. I've got other projects I'm more interested in writing about.
  • See, this is why $20K is a pretty generous offer.

    It would have been pretty sad if we lost out on the Linux kernel because a paltry $20K wasn't work Linus' time.
  • >And what are they going to document? Cool, lets
    >write docs for buggy code that don't even work >some of the time

    And what better way to help get rid of the bugs than documenting the API?

    (KDE troll ignored.)
  • I think people tend to overestimate the amount of brilliance needed to do documentation. I believe for a project like this, the ability to communicate clearly, and the patience to do some grunt work are more important than being an expert programmer.

    As I see it, they have expert programmers, and now they're looking for someone who can write documentation.
  • Given RMS's attitude towards O'Reilly (didn't he call them "parasites?")


    Did he really say that? Come on, nobody could possibly consider O'Reilly as parasites (referring to them paying Larry Wall to work on perl)! I guess I'll have to revise my otherwise quite positive opinion of Mr. Stallmann...

  • Well, how would you rate the relative enjoyment of coding and writing stand alone documentation? It's like comparing sex to getting your teeth cleaned.

    I actually enjoy obsessing with documentation within my code (providing commentary around function prototypes and tables of contents in header files etc). But when it comes to writing stand alone docs, it's a necessary evil.
  • After even writing a medium-sized grad thesis, I can tell you that writing a full, professional book is not to be taken lightly.

    Don't even think about it unless you are an experienced programmer and writer.

    $20k isn't that much when you consider that it may swallow a huge amount of your time, like all of it.
  • A more appropriate question: Where does the money go?

    Considering how time- and effort-intensive such an effort would be, and how much time it would take, it could easily take several months. It would take longer if you revised it along the way to keep pace with new/future GNOME versions. All told, the effort from start to publish could easily take a year. $20,000 is not that hefty for an annual salary, *especially* if you're supporting others besides yourself. If you have a job on the side, that's better and more secure, but it slows your production and you don't have much of a life worth speaking of.

    A GNOME manual would be well worth having. As for your donations -- where else would you prefer they go? Especially since you will be able to procure the documentation for free? Also, a donation implies money given in free will, no strings attached -- you didn't give your donation with a legal clause attached specifying that it was not to be used to support documentation projects.

    As someone who hopes to someday be a novelist --
    Don't ever underestimate the monetary value of a writer's work. :)
  • > Just curious though, is there much more to
    > GNOME programming that's not covered under GTK
    > programming?

    Probably yes. It would be very useful to have a
    book that documented the GNOME component model (bonobo?) and othe GNOME specific APIs.
    Deepak Saxena
    Project Director, Linux Demo Day '99

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982