[conspire] We're home

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Sun Jun 17 09:40:59 PDT 2007

Quoting Ross Bernheim (rossbernheim at speakeasy.net):

> My dictionary is a bit different than yours.

(Just to clarify:  I wasn't quoting a dictionary.  I said that's the
_sort_ of thing a dictionary would tend to say.)

> proprietary, a & n 1. Of a proprietor, as proprietary rights: holding  
> property, as the proprietary classes; held in private ownership, as
> proprietary medicines (sale of which is restricted by patent etc.)

That strikes me as being (at least roughly approximately) the same as
what I said a dictionary _would_ say.

> This seems to me to cover the situation quite well.

Well, I really don't think so.  You see, for one thing, open source
software is _also_ held in private ownership.  

(This is frequently an area of confusion:  Some people think in error
that open source code is unowned, that the owners have given up their
ownership interests.  To the contrary; they are issuing instances
subject to conditions that would be unenforceable if the owners had
given up copyright title.)

IIRC, that clown at the so-called "Alexis de Tocueville Institution"
(the one who later asserted that Torvalds ripped off MINIX and/or Unix
in creating his kernel) once raised the above as a dumb debate point,
claiming that "proprietary" is a meaningless term because essentially
all software is "proprietary" (has copyright owners).

The point is that, when we say _software_ is proprietary, we simply don't 
mean (merely) that it has owners.  We mean a more specific, technical
meaning within a specific, technical context -- and thus, quoting
dictionary definitions that _don't_ address that context is irrelevant.

And general-purpose dictionaries never do.  Not even the Oxford Concise.

> My bad. I hit the reply without checking.

If you just make a habit of always using reply-to-all (instead of
reply-to-sender) for on-list mailing list replies, the right thing
should always happen.

By the way, revised essay, as of this morning:

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