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Racial tensions in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement are changing society in unsuspected ways, and one consequence could be a more inclusive language in the computing world. Terms such as 'master' ( master , in English, which is often translated as master to the Castilian) and 'slave' ( slave ) when referring to storage units or processes running within an application could disappear forever from the vocabulary of programmers replaced by less emotionally charged words like 'main' and 'delegate'.

Chris Wright, chief technology officer for Red Hat - a well-known Linux distribution - has been one of the most active voices in driving these changes.

Wright explains that there are many problematic terms used in open source software languages ​​that no longer have a reason to exist. There are perfectly valid alternatives that have no pejorative connotation. Since open source is meant to convey the idea of ​​opportunity for everyone to contribute meaningfully, any negative terms should therefore be changed.

"In recent weeks, questions have arisen about problematic language in open source communities, and specifically about the use of terminology as master and slave," explains Wright, who acknowledges that this is not a new debate (there are already references to this issue. since 2000), but for the moment it is one that has hardly had any consequences. "That must change," he concludes in an entry on the official Red Hat blog.

This new attitude has penetrated deep into the free and open software community, especially among Linux kernel developers, including Linus Torvalds himself . It has also been extended to other actors linked to the world of open software, such as GitHub, a code repository that is now owned by Microsoft, Twitter or LinkedIn.

From now on, many of the problematic terms will be replaced. Some of the alternatives for the 'master' and 'slave' couple are 'primary' and 'secondary', 'main' and 'subordinate', 'initiator' and 'target', 'director' and 'interpreter' or 'leader' and 'follower', depending on the context.

Another term that is problematic is that of 'black lists' and 'white lists', generally used to catalog processes that are not allowed, in the first case, or yes, in the second. To avoid them, the free software community has proposed using alternatives such as 'block list' and 'allowed list' or 'denied list' and 'allowed list'. Each developer will be able to choose the ones they consider appropriate in their code.

Black and white hats

The debate over the use of these terms has even reached the computer security community, where hackers are often classified in two fields, the black hat , which are those who use their skills in a harmful way. for the rest, and the white hat ('white hat'), which help the community by detecting security flaws and protecting users.

This August Black Hat USA 2020 will be held , an annual conference on computer security that, like many other conferences, this year will be completely virtual.

One of the speakers this year, David Kleidermacher, vice president of engineering at Google and in charge of Android and Google Play Store security, has decided to withdraw from it, considering that the use of these terms is harmful to the computer security community. , especially when using alternatives is easy and more inclusive. "It is not only a racial issue," explained Kleidermacher in a thread on Twitter, who also believes that concepts such as man-in the-middle (a term that describes certain types of computer attacks) , must be reformulated so as not to be discriminatory.

Kleidermacher's decision has divided the community between those who consider the terms acceptable and those who say it is an overreaction, as the concept of 'white hat' and 'black hat' is not about race or skin tones, but is inspired by the = east movies, where outlaws always wore dark and heroes in white.

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