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Ask Slashdot: How To Get Old Commercial Software To Be Open-Sourced? 234

First time accepted submitter Optic7 writes "Many gamers have probably dreamed about the idea of an old favorite game or other no longer supported or developed commercial software being converted to an open-source license so that it could be updated to add new features, support new hardware, other operating systems, etc. However, this type of change of license seems exceedingly rare, unless the copyright holder itself decides on its own that it would be beneficial. The only examples I could think of or was able to find in a brief internet search were Blender (3D animation software that had its source code bought from creditors after a crowd-funding campaign) and Warzone 2100 (Game that had its source code released after a successful petition). With those two examples of different strategies in mind, have any of you ever participated in any efforts of this kind, and what did you learn from it that may be useful to someone else attempting the same thing? Even if you have not participated, do you have any suggestions or ideas that may be useful to such an effort?"
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Ask Slashdot: How To Get Old Commercial Software To Be Open-Sourced?

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  • Become Rich (Score:4, Informative)

    by ilikenwf ( 1139495 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @03:07AM (#40561001)
    Buy the rights, and then release it... Honestly, looking back, very few instances of these things happening have been the case...I mean, there are the cool companies that sometimes do it like the rare instances mentioned, and there's other companies that roll them out after their initial profitability has died (Quake, etc).

    That said, short of buying the rights to the source, I doubt you'll get very far even with a petition. Look at us Linux users asking nVidia to fix the problems or opensource the blob...
  • ID (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 06, 2012 @03:08AM (#40561009)

    ID Open sources most of their stuff after a few years. Further than that, John Carmack goes through to add comments, clean up code, and in the case of a feature that was settled after a patent dispute with someone else, re-implemented the offending bit of code prior to release. (Seem Doom 3 engine)


  • The Ur-Quan Masters (Score:5, Informative)

    by tonique ( 1176513 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @03:11AM (#40561019)
    One further example is Star Control II whose source code was released by the developers. The result is known today as The Ur-Quan Masters []. And, of course, Wikipedia has a whole category for formerly proprietary software []...
  • Abuse (Score:2, Informative)

    by Xanni ( 29201 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @03:15AM (#40561049) Homepage

    Another example is "Abuse": []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 06, 2012 @03:20AM (#40561073)

    I seem to be missing one of the most famous examples in that wikipedia article. Famously, Netscape open sourced their formerly closed-source browser, because it made business sense: It permitted them to stay competitive in the marketplace.

  • Allegiance (Score:5, Informative)

    by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @03:30AM (#40561121)

    I can't answer the question either, but yet another game that has been open sourced that's missing from the Wikipedia list is Allegiance. []
    The game was originally published by none other than Microsoft. Shocking, I know, but way back in prehistory (1999), Microsoft actually released some complete open source software. A game.

    I'll pause while our older members grab their portable defibrillators....

    Yes, Allegiance is open source and has enjoyed ongoing software development as well as a community-contributed texture "face-lift" to improve the look of the game. It has not made its way onto Linux because it was originally implemented with Microsoft's orphaned DirectPlay, and no one has been interested in replacing the entire network implementation. Its anti-cheat system, which was community-developed, is also dependent on Microsoft libraries unavailable on Linux. (Though possibly Mono has advanced far enough that's no longer true. Regardless, it's anti-cheat geared for Windows, so it's not especially portable.)

    For those interested, it's an arcade-style space combat game (think Wing Commander, or the original X-Wing and Tie Fighter games) where two teams fight to control the arena. The added wrinkle is the addition of RTS elements, including a single human commander for each side who plays in RTS mode. Yes, it's that holy grail of games, an RTS/FPS hybrid. As it turns out, RTS/FPS is a hard game to learn and a hard game to play, so it has never enjoyed great popularity (contrary to the popular opinion of a million vocal wannabe game-designers on the forums of the Internet).

    As with most small, insular Internet communities, the players tend to be snobbish and stand-offish to newcomers. Goes with the territory.

  • Re:ID (Score:4, Informative)

    by Eraesr ( 1629799 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @03:41AM (#40561167) Homepage

    And what company wants to release code today in our litigious environment

    The Doom 3 engine source code was released in November last year and John Carmack has already said that when the time is ripe, he'd do the same with id Tech 5 (the engine that powers Rage). So there's still (high profile) people that believe in it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 06, 2012 @03:46AM (#40561183)

    Looks like a clone of the classic Sopwith game from 1984, []

    now Free with GPL-goodness! []

    apt-get install sopwith (although the original .exe(.com) version run in DOSBox is still more mature)

  • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @04:11AM (#40561277)

    There's a license for that ; the Affero GPL, which has the same terms as the GPL but counts use of the software via a network to be the same as distribution. But you can expect all but the most hardened Free Software advocates to avoid that one like the plague.

  • by ratbag ( 65209 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @05:16AM (#40561517)

    Before you visit the source code page, switch your "90's web page design mistakes" filter to maximum.

  • Re:Become Rich (Score:5, Informative)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @05:55AM (#40561661)

    Releasing a previously closed source project to open source is much harder then people realize.

    1. You have to deal with many copyright owners. If you look at some titles you may see mutable companies connected to it. Some of these companies have been closed or acquired however there is someone who still own some copyright. You need to get all those parties to agree.

    2. You might open source it. But it probably can't be GPL. Sometimes you will find that they used third party libraries. That are closed source and those companies are active in the developments libraries. Assuming these library owners allow you to release the source with there reference in them.

    3. Companies will sometimes hold onto the title to make a remake/reboot/sequel later. Or they will sell a package cd of all the games. So they will not want to open the game up.

    In general even if you own rights to the source you may not be as free as you thought.

  • by Gaygirlie ( 1657131 ) <gaygirlie&hotmail,com> on Friday July 06, 2012 @07:52AM (#40562127) Homepage

    While not directly an answer to the question posed,'s community wishlist ( [] ) is one way of reviving old games. Not all companies are willing to open-source their creations, no matter how exceedingly good arguments you make, but they might be willing to revive these old games if there was a way of getting even one dollar of profit out of it.

  • by pruss ( 246395 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:51AM (#40562585) Homepage

    I very politely asked the developer of the PalmOS 2sky astronomy app for this. In asking, I emphasized that (a) all I needed was his agreement to license under GPL2+ and a copy of the source code, that (b) I would do all the maintenance and support and that (c) I am an experienced PalmOS developer, and I think I listed my shareware and open source credits. He agreed, telling me that he turned down an earlier request. I thanked him very much for his generosity. I think my emphasis on how little work he would have to do with the release was important. Before release, I had to rewrite and/or use an open source library as an alternative for some SDK example code that was being used and that was under an incompatible license, and then update some of the data. He even sent me a dump of his old website, which I updated and put at .

    In this, the hardest thing was actually tracking down the author and his email address. Then there was a lot of gruntwork rewriting code with an incompatible license, but that was fairly standard UI code.

  • (Score:4, Informative)

    by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @10:31AM (#40563805)
    For games, there is already a site working on getting old products open-sourced: []. They don't update super often but they do seem to still be active.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva