At this point, you’ve almost certainly heard the tale of Eric Lundgren, the electronics recycler who is now looking at spending 15 months in prison because he was duplicating freely available Windows restore discs. Of no use to anyone who doesn’t already have a licensed copy of Windows, these restore discs have little to no monetary value. In fact, as an individual, you couldn’t buy one at retail if you wanted to. The duplication of these discs would therefore seem to be a victimless crime.
Especially when you hear what Eric wanted to do with these discs. To help extend the functional lifespan of older computers, he intended on providing these discs at low cost to those looking to refurbish Windows computers. After each machine had its operating system reinstalled, the disc would go along with the computer in hopes the new owner would be able to utilize it themselves down the road.
It all sounds innocent enough, even honorable. But a quick glance at Microsoft’s licensing arrangement is all you need to know the whole scheme runs afoul of how the Redmond giant wants their operating system installed and maintained. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but when Eric Lundgren decided to use Microsoft’s product he agreed to play by their rules. Unfortunately for him, he lost.
Years ago, while the GPLv3 was still being drafted, I got a chance to attend a presentation by Richard Stallman. He did his whole routine as St IGNUcius, and then at the end said he would be answering questions in a separate room off to the side. While the more causal nerds shuffled out of the presentation room, I went along with a small group of free software aficionados that followed our patron saint into the inner sanctum.
When my turn came to address the free software maestro, I asked what advantages the GPLv3 would have to a lowly hacker like myself? I was familiar with the clause about “Tivoization“, the idea that any device running GPLv3 code from the manufacturer should allow the user to be able to install their own software on it, but this didn’t seem like the kind of thing most individuals would ever need to worry about. Was there something in the new version of the GPL that would make it worth adopting in personal or hobby projects?
Interestingly, a few years after this a GPLv2 program of mine was picked up by a manufacturer and included in one of their products (never underestimate yourself, folks). So the Tivoization clause was actually something that did apply to me in the end, but that’s not the point of this story.
Mr. Stallman responded that he believed the biggest improvement GPLv3 made over v2 for the hobbyist programmer was the idea of “forgiveness” in terms of licensing compliance. Rather than take a hard line approach like the existing version of the GPL, the new version would have grace periods for license compliance. In this way, legitimate mistakes or misunderstandings of the requirements of the GPL could be resolved more easily.
We’re used to the relationship between the commercial software companies from whom we’ve bought whichever of the programs we use on our computers, and ourselves as end users. We pay them money, and they give us a licence to use the software. We then go away and do our work on it, create our Microsoft Word documents or whatever, and those are our work, to do whatever we want with.
There are plenty of arguments against this arrangement from the world of free software, indeed many of us choose to heed them and run open source alternatives to the paid-for packages or operating systems. But for the majority of individuals and organisations the commercial model is how they consume software. Pay for the product, use it for whatever you want.
The history of software is littered with developers that built a great product, gave people a reasonable option to license the software, and ended up making a pittance. There’s a reason you don’t see shareware these days – nobody pays. It looks like [Gates] had a point with his Open Letter to Hobbyists.
Such is the case with Atanua. [Jari] built a nice little graphical logic simulator that has tens of thousands of downloads, and is being used in dozens of universities. [Jari] has sold only about 60 licenses for Atanua, netting him only a few thousand Euro. You can’t develop software with a pittance, so now [Jari] is giving Atanua away. This neat little logic simulator has reached the end of its life, the license is free, and [Jari] is out of the business.
This isn’t an ideal situation, but [Jari] is strongly considering open-sourcing Atanua. The code is a little bit of a mess at the moment, and cleaning it up will require a bit of work. [Jari] is leaving the option to buy a license for Atanua open, and anyone who wants to see this bit of software open sourced could buy a license or hundred.
While this isn’t great news for [Jari], if you’re looking for a neat tool to learn digital logic, you now have a very nice free option. Atanua simulates individual logic gates, 74-series chips, and even an 8051 microcontroller in real-time (up to about 1 kHz), with enough buttons, LEDs, and displays to do some very cool stuff. It’s more than enough to learn digital logic on, and good enough for a test bed for some odd and bizarre projects you might have floating around your head.