[cc-licenses] NC considered harmful? Prove it...
hancock at anansispaceworks.com
Fri Mar 9 16:22:28 EST 2007
drew Roberts wrote:
> On Thursday 08 March 2007 05:51 am, Terry Hancock wrote:
>>>around- open source projects with commercial involvement are the norm
>>>because they work. There are some variants of open source software
>>>licenses with NC terms, but they aren't popular.
>>Yep. NC for software was pretty common in the 1980s and early 1990s. Now
>>it is officially a dead parrot. ;-)
> I don't recall NC for software. I do recall shareware from back in the day,
> but shareware is far from NC.
>>I *know* this is true, but I'm going to have to dig for specific
>>examples (I've forgotten about those packages precisely because they
>>were NC and are therefore of little use!).
> I would be interested in that history from a trivia point of view.
It used to be very common for scientific analysis software. The usual
expression was "for academic use", but this amounted to "non-commercial"
in almost all important respects. In general, scientists working in a
university environment were insensitive to this condition, since they
didn't consider their work (or their employer) to be "commercial" (even
though university certainly do make revenue, if not usually profit -- in
many cases, it was actually questionable whether the organizations that
were using this software could actually qualify as "non-commercial"
under any serious definition of the terms). In fact, as a private NASA
contractor, you'd have a hard time pressing that sort of claim.
One package of this type is "xv" -- an image viewer very popular on
Unix. I had to do a fair amount of evangelizing to get people to use
ImageMagick (which is GPL) instead.
Those packages have mostly migrated to free licenses (AIPS, for example,
is now GPL). IRAF, another big astronomical package used to be under NC
terms, IIRC, but it is now "mostly free" (non-copyleft). Obnoxiously,
however, there are a couple of libraries which are under some kind of
ambiguous terms, which contaminates the whole. This is one reason why
IRAF is not widely packaged.
AIPS is not widely packaged because it is a whopping pile of Fortran
assembled back in the 1970s by scientists with no CS background, before
object-oriented design was invented (sorry, pet peeve -- it needs a
major re-factoring, and it's so big that that would be a really huge
undertaking. No one has the money to pay for the work, and it's not
causing enough headache for people to turn away from research to work on
That may be out of date, though, in around 2000 there was a project
called "AIPS++" which was a complete re-write using modern CS methods. I
believe it's also GPL. I haven't checked in on the status of that
project in a long time.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, these free packages lost considerable
ground to better-maintained proprietary packages like IDL. However, IDL
is outrageously expensive.
One package that remained under a restricted "semi-free" license was
Mongo (originally developed at Lick observatory, and amusingly refered
to as "Lick Mongo"). It was used to create publication-quality
scientific data plots. Its code was extremely poorly licensed,
consisting of several different pieces with different BSD-like licenses
plus a couple with use restrictions. One of the more notable ones said
that the package could not be used in "nuclear weapons research".
None of the licenses were GPL compatible, and some were clearly non-free.
A variant of Mongo, called "igi" ("interactive graphics interpreter") is
included in later versions of IRAF, but I'm not sure what its license
Mongo was developed under a proprietary license for awhile, producing
"SuperMongo". Its license was somewhat similar to the Mongo "no nukes"
license, and was marketed in a way that resembles "shareware".
Ironically, some people at the time felt this would greatly improve its
availability and maintainability.
In the late 1990s, continuing into the present, scipy and a suite of
other scientific tools based on Python have started gaining considerable
ground against both IRAF and IDL (there is also a Python wrapper for
IRAF called PyRAF, that makes the transition easier).
Space Telescope Institute spearheaded this effort in the 2000-2002
period, and one of their contractors, Enthought, is a major developer of
Python-based free software scientific tools. Their "Chaco" package is
starting to come into its own as a much more capable plotting tool, and
is replacing Mongo and SuperMongo (and other options).
If I can't think of anything more quantitative, I'll probably use this
kind of anecdotal evidence to support my position.
Terry Hancock (hancock at AnansiSpaceworks.com)
Anansi Spaceworks http://www.AnansiSpaceworks.com
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