Responsible Software Licensing

By Xah Lee. Date:

Software is a interesting invention. Software has this interesting property, that it can be duplicated without cost, as if like copying money. Never in history are goods duplicable without cost. But with the invention of computer, the ephemeral non-physical programs break that precept. In digital form, programs and music and books all become goods in essentially infinite quantity.

All is good except, bads in digital form can also multiply equally, just as goods. Well known examples are computer viruses and email spams. Unknown to the throng of unix morons are software bads. In a unix moron's mind, the predominant quip among hackers is “where is your code?”, singnifying the mentality that a hacker's prestige is judged on how much code he has contributed to the community. Therefore, every faaking studs and happy-go-lucky morons put their homework on the net, with a big stamp of FREE, and quite proud of their “contributions” to the world. These digital bads, including irresponsible programs, protocols, and languages, spread like viruses until they obtained the touting right of being the STANDARD or MOST POPULAR in industry, as if indicating superior quality. Examplary are C, Perl, RFC, X-Windows, Apache, MySQL, Pretty Home Page (and almost anything out of unix). The harm of a virus is temporal. The harm of irresponsible software (especially with unscrupulous promotion) is the creation of a entire generation of bad thinking and monkey coders. The scale can be compared as to putting a bullet in a person brain, versus creating a creed with the Holocaust aftermath. (e.g. “Unix Philosophy”)

Distribution of software is easily like pollution. I thought of a law that would ban the distribution of software bads, or like charging for garbage collection in modern societies. The problem is the difficulty of deciding what is good and what is bad. Like in so many things, i think the ultimate help is for people to be aware; so-called education; I believe, if people are made aware of the situation i spoke of, then irresponsible software will decrease, regardless any individual's opinion.

The most important measure to counter the tremendous harm that irresponsible software has done to the industry is to begin with responsible licenses, such that the producer of a software will be liable for damage incurred thru their software. As we know, today's software license comes with a disclaimer that essentially says the software is sold as is and the producer is not responsible for any damage, nor guaranteeing the functionality of the software. It is this, that ferments all sorts of sloppitudes and fads and myths to rampage and survive in the software industry. Once when software producers are liable for their products, just as bridge or airplane or transportation or house builders are responsible for the things they build, then injurious fads and creeds the likes of (Perl, Programing Patterns, eXtreme Programing, “Universal” Modeling Language…) will automatically disappear by dint of market force without anyone's stipulation.

In our already established infrastructure of software and industry practices that is so already faaked up by existing shams, we can not immediately expect a about-face in software licenses from 0 liability to 100% liability. We should gradually make them responsible. And this, comes not from artificial force, but gradual establishment of awareness among software professionals and their consumers. (Producers include single individual to software houses, and consumers include not just mom and pop but from IT corps to military.)

Please spread this idea.