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The Economist recently posted a non-technical explanation of programming concepts behind the Oracle Vs. Google case on their site. It has detailed descriptions of what APIs and virtual machines are, in the context of Java programming.

Given the widespread implications of the rulings in that case (whether APIs of programming languages should be copyrightable or not) and the fact that the jury is made of entirely lay people, I think the Economist's effort at simplifying jargon for the rest of us is commendable.

However, I am not sure how much of that non-technical information is correct. I don't program too much (indeed, the only program I know well is R). So I would like to ask all of you, who are programming experts, about how much of that explanation is accurate and how you would change it if you had to explain the same concepts to a lay person.

Would the main site be a good place to ask this question? If yes, would it be classifiable as a community wiki?

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I think this would be off-topic here.

The site's audience is professional programmers, so a question should be targeting them, not people who are unfamiliar with programming. If the question were on-topic, the answers would ideally assume you are a practicing programmer. If the basis for the question is founded upon a lack of knowledge due to not being a practicing programmer, any in-scope answers would be, at best, unhelpful.

A contrived example, but consider 2 + 2 = 4. If you were unfamiliar with addition, you might want to ask a mathematician, "Is 2 + 2 = 4 accurate?" Now, if you went to a place that catered to mathematicians and assumed anyone asking a question was a mathematician, asking that question would likely produce a blank, incredulous stare.

I can't say for sure—not having read the article—that what's discussed is patently obvious for any practicing programmer, but even parts of it aren't, any explanation would presume you were somewhat of an expert, as it were, of programming and would gloss over the parts that most programmers would understand as obvious. If those are the parts you're having trouble with, you're sort of out of luck asking here.

Beyond the issue of audience, our scope is centered around conceptual questions in software development: problems you personally have with a software development project you're working on. This really isn't a software development problem per se, it's more of a problem of understanding a court case. And to that point, software law is off-topic here.

Verifying notable claims, however, is the domain of our sister site, Skeptics.SE: personally, I'd check with them.

  • Thanks very much for answering my question so very completely! Would it be possible to migrate this meta question to Skeptics.SE meta? – Ariel May 9 '12 at 8:45
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    @Ariel I recommend reasking this on Skeptics.SE. Leaving this question here will let other people find out what to do if they want to ask these types of questions and give us something to point to if we close these types of questions. – Thomas Owens May 9 '12 at 9:52
  • this would need some serious rework to work on skeptics. – Ryathal May 9 '12 at 12:19

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