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Bram Moolenaar: Vim, an open-source text editor

Jan 03, 2002, 02:30 (6 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bram Moolenaar)
"The main author of the open-source text editor Vim writes about how it came to be and how it is being developed. The Charityware concept is discussed and why Bram chose to use it for Vim. Diving into the data structures and functions to manipulate them, he gives you some idea of how this complex program works. Some of the new features that Bram has added in Vim 6.0 are discussed.

The GNU General Public Licence (GPL) is more restrictive. Although it claims to ascertain the freedom of software, it restricts the changes you can make. That is, you can make changes, but when you distribute the modified software, you must make the modified sources available as well. Thus people are not free to keep these changes to themselves. I would say this in fact restricts your freedom. On the other hand, allowing anybody to make changes and keep those changes a secret, even though they profit from the part of the program that wasn't changed, also doesn't sound fair. That's why I decided to add the condition that the changes must be made available to me. I can then decide that these changes are useful for most people, and include them in Vim. Or decide that these changes have only a very small audience, and allow a company to make a bit of money from their work. After all, if the source code of a program must be freely available, it is quite difficult to require users to pay money and make a living out of your work.

I also don't agree with the idea that all software should be free and open-source. All people working on free software that I know somehow make a living out of commercial software, either with a full-time job or by studying to get a job later. Without commercial software, how would these people make a living? I think that free, open-source software and commercial software will co-exist. Most commercial software cannot be open-source, because a company would lose its advantage over competitors. Creating source code is very expensive, and a company would not want to allow others to get the results for free. Since software patents and copyrights are a very weak protection, keeping the source code a secret is still the best choice in most situations. Unfortunately, this means that you are not able to learn from how commercial software was implemented, or add a feature or fix a bug in the program you bought. A solution can be making most of the program open-source, and keeping a small but essential part a secret."

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