[rms at gnu.org: Some problems on gnucash.org]

Linas Vepstas linas at austin.ibm.com
Thu Aug 10 16:17:56 EDT 2006

Hi Derek,

Been a long time, good to hear from you. 

On Thu, Aug 10, 2006 at 09:52:59AM -0700, Derek Neighbors wrote:
> I could be totally full of crap, but have been around a while.  I can  
> add some history (from my perception)... Hopefully Linas will correct  
> me where I am wrong.

Happy to oblige. So, "for the hstorical record": 
> On Aug 10, 2006, at 9:10 AM, Chris Shoemaker wrote:
> >On Thu, Aug 10, 2006 at 01:07:14AM -0700, Thomas Bushnell BSG wrote:
> >>Christian Stimming <stimming at tuhh.de> writes:
> >>
> >Maybe you were just joking around, (I do see a smiley), but if you're
> >seriously asserting that GnuCash was ever "released under the auspices
> >of the GNU Project"[1], which appears to be definitive of GNU
> >packages, then I would expect GnuCash's documentation to have declared
> >itself to be GNU software.  I've been unable to find any evidence that
> >this was ever true.  Do you have any?  If not, I believe you are
> >mistaken.
> At the time that GNUCash appeared to be friendly with the GNU Project  
> there wasn't much documentation about GNUCash in general.  I don't  
> think it or propagating relationships in what existed was a primary  
> focus.  In a nutshell, just because documentation doesn't state  
> anything doesn't prove a ton (in either direction).
> >I admit that the FSF has apparently declared GnuCash to be "a GNU
> >package" for at least some time. [2] But, the FSF's own definition of
> >a GNU package seems to require that the software authors declare their
> >software to be so.  I have no explanation for this inconsistency.

More preciesly: Not long after X-Accountant was renamed to be GnuCash 
(X for the X11 X Window System), RMS wrote to complain that we can't
just call of Gnu-something unless we mean it.  We wrote back to assure
him that, yes, it was under the GPL, and made a nominal oath of loyalty
and fealty to the principles of FSF and GNU. At that point (circa 1997
or 1998) GnuCash was declared to be the "official GNU software
accounting project", and was listed in the Gnu/FSF software directories
as such. (Next to Derek Neighbors project, I beleive).

In 2000, at the request of RMS, all of the developers employed by
Gnumatic filled out the standard FSF copyright assignment forms and
sent them in to the FSF. I think RMS was concerned that a corporation
like Gnumatic might take the source and make it proprietary/closed
source, a not unreasonable concern given my experience.

A third relationship was that Gnumatic was involved in the initial
setup and publicity for the Gnome Foundation.

Other than this, there was little formal or informal communication 
or GNU/FSF; none of the regular GnuCash developers were regular GNU
project developers.

> RMS' email to this list was asking this project to FIX this problem.   
> I admit that it seems a bit delayed.  For the record some time ago  
> GNOME put Open Source on their home page and it caused quite a  
> problem (as obviously they were at the time one of the most prolific  
> GNU projects).

A long standing problem is that Free and Libre (Liberty) are mangeled
into the same word in the english language. Thus, the intended meaning
is "Libre software", but this isn't catchy, and doesn't jump off the
lips and into the brain. By contrast "Open Source" works well, but
has the wrong meaning (thanks due to ESR). And no one can think of 
a catch phrase to replace "Free Software", which unfortunately just
doesn't work very well, because of that other meaning of "free".

> >As for RMS's implication that "the GNU Project" wrote GnuCash [3],
> >GnuCash's authors are quite well noted in GnuCash's source and AUTHORS
> >file.  I don't know of the official membership of the GNU Project -
> >perhaps it's a circular definition, but of those contributors, you,
> >Thomas, are the only one I know of that's apparently associated with
> >the GNU Project.
> I think only the developers can say.  Here is where I think some of  
> the roots (or my understanding of them) are confused.  It is my  
> understanding that Linas took an X-accountant program which was no  
> longer maintained and gutted it to not be dependent on Motif.  


> My  
> interactions with Linas certainly made me believe he was very  
> connected to the Free Software Foundation AND the GNU Project

No. Or rathr, only by virue of being and old-timer, and having made
noise on various mailing lists in 1995. I didn't become a true
belever till much much later. 

> because  
> I was introduced to him via RMS as needing to collaborate for the  
> betterment of the GNU Project.

I was shopping around GnuCash to whomever I thought might beintersted.
Standing relationship was that if the GNU Project had any talk about
finaincial type software, the GnuCash folks would get cc'ed on the 

> It is also my understanding that the GNU Project very much helped  
> Linux Global Partners put money behind the company Linas ran  
> (GNUMatic) 

Don't beleive so. RMS and Gnu in general have a history of being 
allergic to the smell of money. If they put in a good word, that's
news to me. LGP was really two wild and crazy guys who thought
they caught the "Linux onf the Desktop" tiger by the tail. They 
funded Ximian, CodeWeavers, and some others. They live on as
the owners and operators of Xandros Linux.

> which employed many of the people in the AUTHORS file.   


> During my interaction with GNUMatic it was very much communicated  
> that GNUCash was part of the GNU Project.

By that point yes.

> Once GNUMatic shut its doors most of those developers stepped away  
> (including Linas) 

I stuck around for years afterwords, wrote a chunk of code 
after it all folded. The server is still haphazardly maintained 
at my house.

> and Derek Atkins took primary leadership of the  
> project.  Since that happened there seems to no longer be any  
> connection to the GNU Project.

The only real connections were the cross-pledges of loyalty, namely,
that GnuCash upholds the GPL, that FSF will cc GnuCash on all accounting 
and financial software discussions.  These connections are still 
presumably honoured, if not much exercised.

> >I'm just trying to objectively examine the few things that would
> >suggest ambiguity on the subject.  On the whole, I'm inclined to trust
> >the more numerous and less ambiguous data that clearly indicate the
> >GnuCash has never been a GNU package, e.g. a public statement by a
> >core GnuCash developer in 2001, "While GnuCash is licenced under GPL
> >software, we are not technically a GNU project." [4]
> I don't think a comment in a Slashdot posting is "hard evidence".   
> Note that Robert Merkel, if memory serves correct, was an employee at  
> GNUMatic.  

Yeah, I thought it bizarre that Slashdot chose to interview 
one of the least active, least central figures as the "leader
of GnuCash". I am miffed that Robert didn't demure, but happily
pretended to be the guy in charge of it all. Slashdot can be
incredibly wrong sometimes.

> Many of the GNUMatic employees started Linux Developers  
> Group (LDG) after GNUMatic closed.  There was a vested interest to  
> try to muddy copyright waters of code for LDG's gain.  Note: I am not  
> saying that to be negative or indicate any sort of wrong doing.  Not  
> even saying the source is wrong.  Just saying that the source loses  
> credibility because of potential conflict of interest.
> The FSF asks projects to ASSIGN copyright, but doesn't MANDATE it (or  
> at least they used to not do so).  I think well run projects do, both  
> for legal issues and issues like this.

Most of the LDG guys had signed and submitted copyright assignment
forms while still at Gnumatic, including Robert Merkel.

> >All that aside, I don't really have a strong opinion either way, if
> >other devs wanted to make GnuCash a GNU package.  They would have to
> >announce it, though.  As far as I can tell, they don't really care
> >much.  However, it's strange that RMS claims that GnuCash is a GNU
> >package, and definitely impolite to imply that GnuCash was written by
> >"the GNU Project." [3]

Indeed, this would be a false claim. 

> I definitely agree here.  I think the current developers (those  
> putting in their time) need to assess whether they want to be a part  
> of the GNU Project.  If so, they should do the things that are  
> expected of GNU projects.  If not, they should let RMS and the FSF  
> that they are not interested in being part of the FSF GNU Project.
> In summary,  I am not so sure it matters if GNUCash was or wasn't  
> part of the GNU Project.  I think what is important is deciding if  
> they CURRENTLY want to be part of the GNU Project.

As far as I can understand, the only true requirements are to maintain
these cross-pledges of loyalty, namely, that GnuCash upholds the GPL
and tells people to asks FSF if they have general question; and
that FSF will cc GnuCash on all accounting and financial software 
discussions.  Part of this is to use phrases like "Free Software"
instead of "Open Source", and saying things like "GNU/Linux" here 
and there. 


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