[Haskell-cafe] Re: Re: A rant against the blurb on the Haskell front page

Ben Franksen ben.franksen at online.de
Sat Oct 16 22:03:46 EDT 2010

wren ng thornton wrote:
> On 10/16/10 10:48 AM, Ben Franksen wrote:
>> Don Stewart wrote:
>>> It is open source, and was born open source. It is the product of
>>> research.
>> How can a language be open source, or rather, how can it *not* be open
>> source? The point of a (programming) language is that it has a published
>> ('open') definition. Nothing prevents anyone from creating a proprietary
>> compiler or interpreter for Haskell, AFAIK.
> Miranda[TM] is/was a proprietary language, quite definitively so. If
> nothing else, this should be apparent by the fact that every reference
> to it in research papers of the era (a) included the TM sigil, and (b)
> had footnotes indicating who the IP holders are. That was before my
> time, but I was under the impression that Haskell was open from the
> beginning ---by express intention--- in order to enable work on lazy
> functional languages without being encumbered by Miranda[TM]'s closed
> nature.
> For that matter, until rather recently Java was very much a closed
> language defined by the runtime system provided by Sun Microsystems and
> not defined by the sequence of characters accepted by that system, nor
> by the behavior of the system when it accepts them. Sun even went
> through some trouble to try to shut out competitive development of
> runtime systems such as SoyLatte, IcedTea, and the like.
> Even the venerable C language has a long history of companies making
> proprietary extensions to the language in order to require you to buy
> their compiler, and they would most certainly pursue legal action if
> someone else copied the features. This is why GCC is as big a coup for
> the free/open-source movement as Linux is--- long before GCC changed its
> name and focus to being a compiler collection.
> The languages which are open-source are in close correspondence with the
> languages which have a free/open-source implementation. There are a lot
> of them, including the vast majority of recent languages. But don't be
> seduced into thinking that a language is a predicate on acceptable
> strings, a transducer from those strings into computer behaviors, or
> that such predicates and transducers are public domain.

Sigh. Yes, you are right, of course. All this is true, sadly. There are
stupid people who think that they can own a programming language. I hope
they will go the way all the other mis-adapted creatures have gone and just
die out.

Still, "Haskell is an open source product" doesn't sound right to me.
Even "Haskell is open source" (without the "product") has a bad ring
because "source" is short for "source code" and source code is not
something a programming language has.

I agree that "non-proprietary" is a valid and important characterization of
the language. This should be mentioned where we speak about libraries and
community, since the active and friendly community is the motor behind the
growing set of libraries, and you get this sort of participation only with
a free/non-proprietary language. This applies not only to individuals but
to companies as well, maybe even more.

I anticipate the objection that potential commercial users might be scared
off by the terms "non-proprietary" or "free", whereas the term "open
source" has been coined to (and probably actually does) sound more commerce
friendly. To countermand such an effect, we can point out that most
libraries have non-copyleft licenses and that there are a number of
companies who have done and still do a lot to support and advance Haskell.


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