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Last modified: Sat Dec 11 23:09:26 +0900 2004

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Why Haven't XEmacs and GNU Emacs Merged?

Richard Stallman writes: 

        XEmacs is GNU software because it's a modified version of a GNU
        program. And it is GNU software because the FSF is the
        copyright holder for most of it, and therefore the legal
        responsibility for protecting its free status falls on us whether we
        want it or not. This is why the term "GNU XEmacs" is legitimate. 

        But in another sense it is not GNU software, because we can't use
        XEmacs in the GNU system: using it would mean paying a price
        in terms of our ability to enforce the GPL. Some of the people who
        have worked on XEmacs have not provided, and have not asked
        other contributors to provide, the legal papers to help us enforce
        the GPL. I have managed to get legal papers for some parts
        myself, but most of the XEmacs developers have not helped me
        get them. 

        XEmacs was possible because free software means that anyone
        can change it and distribute a modified version. I have no regrets
        about establishing this freedom for Emacs. Everyone should have
        the freedom to change any program, and this is not limited to
        changes that the original author likes. 

        Many people have taken advantage of the freedom to change
        GNU Emacs, over the last decade. Most of them were willing to
        cooperate on integrating their changes into Emacs. XEmacs arose
        as a separate forked version because some of the
        developers--starting with Zawinski--were unwilling to do that. 

        People should have the freedom to decide what to work on,
        including the freedom to compete with the GNU project, but it's a
        shame when they make that choice. The whole community loses
        when someone chooses competition rather than cooperation. 

        But this is worse than competition--it is unfair competition. The
        XEmacs developers can and do copy code they like from Emacs. If
        I could copy the code I like from XEmacs in the same way, at
        least the rivalry would be fair. But I can't do that't, because
        substantial parts of XEmacs don't have legal papers, or don't
        have known authors. 

        As long as we cannot use XEmacs in the GNU system, the GNU
        project has to make sure that Emacs is not left behind. In other
        words, we have to behave like rivals too, even though we wish
        there were no rivalry. When XEmacs developers try to persuade
        people to use, test, fix and enhance XEmacs instead of Emacs, the
        GNU project can't sit still; we need them to use, test, fix and
        enhance Emacs instead. 

        There is good code in XEmacs, which I'd be happy to have in a
        merged Emacs any day. But I cannot copy it out of XEmacs
        myself because of the uncertain authorship and/or lack of legal

        This problem could probably be resolved, at least for large parts
        of XEmacs, with substantial help from the authors of that code.
        Otherwise, the GNU project has to write or find replacements for

        I invite people who like Emacs, and want the best possible
        version of Emacs to be available for use in the GNU system, to
        help in one way or the other. 
The original article can be reached at XEmacs FAQ-Q1.0.5: Why Haven't XEmacs and GNU Emacs Merged?.
Yoon Kyung Koo <yoonforh at yahoo dot com>