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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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  • by lindi ( 634828 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @03:19AM (#40561065)

    I liked Triplane Turmoil, and old shareware DOS game, a lot. When I met the original developers by accident I offered to help port the game to SDL and managed to convince them to release it as open source: []

  • Value to the company (Score:5, Interesting)

    by humanrev ( 2606607 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @03:32AM (#40561123)

    A software company might (and I emphasize MIGHT) be willing to open-source some old commercial software they own if it can be shown to be of benefit to them. Simply doing it for philanthropic purposes is unlikely to sway most companies, but if, say, a newer and better version of their software is coming out and the old, discontinued version people are asking for is of no threat to their profit margins, then that might be enough of a motivation as it would increase publicity, improve the image of the company (good PR is always helpful), and all the side benefits as well.

    John Carmack open-sources all the engines he writes for iD software after a while, once the engine is no longer deemed commercially viable. It's unlike anyone will use the Doom 3 engine (technically id Tech 4) for example in a commercial game as it's been superseded by modern engines, and virtually no-one plays Doom 3 online so the threat from exploits is redundant. This is a great idea since it means projects such as iodoom 3 can be born to improve the engine and allow hobbyist developers to use it in their own games. I wish Valve would open source the original Goldsource engine used for their Half-Life 1 based games, but that will never happen as long as Counter-Strike is still actively played.

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @04:18AM (#40561301)

    The original Prince of Persia was recently open sourced [] after the developer found the once thought lost source code on a floppy hidden away somewhere.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 06, 2012 @05:12AM (#40561501)

    One of the authors of the original Elite (on the BBC Micro) released the source [] years ago. Sadly, it's pretty much incomprehensible. I used to program on that platform, but endless pages of uncommented assembly language with multiple instructions per line are actually harder to read than a well formatted disassembly.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 06, 2012 @06:53AM (#40561877)

    As a collector and researcher (of regular software, not games)...

    Forget it. Most companies are not still around. If they are around, they're not the company they once were, and probably no one there even remembers the old software. If they are still around and remember their old software, they'll ignore you if you ask about it.

    This is a great tragedy. It's technically illegal to do research into 1980s software, because the only way you can get it is by violating copyright. Something has gone horribly wrong when doing history is illegal.

    Borland started releasing old versions of their software (not open sourcing them, just releasing the old binaries) but the usual happened: Whoever started this effort was quashed by the company changing hands.

    WordPerfect blew me off totally when I asked about 4.1, 4.2, and 5.1 - I found these at a "pirate" site.

    Will historically important programs like Turbo C, WordPerfect, etc ever be open sourced? Never. A whole chapter in the history of computing is essentially being lost. Only historians who know software very well and can set up emulators can even preserve this software, and only if they can find it.

    Even shareware versions are lost to history. Some "shovelware" images of old shareware BBSes have old shareware, but disk space was tight back then and historical versions are gone for good because the new version always replaced the old version. Very difficult to find 1980s shareware for any package with versions released in the 90s.

  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Friday July 06, 2012 @07:23AM (#40561997) Journal

    Sigh, I just wish I had saved the emails from when I tried talking to some of these defunct game rights holders, because it would have been a perfect example of why we need shorter copyrights and a "use it or lose it"clause but frankly after spending nearly 6 months TRYING to deal with them frankly they just made me wanna puke.

    I probably better explain...anybody remember those old shareware discs we got during the days of Win3.x-Win98? You know, those ones filled with cheesy little games from all over the place? Well me and a buddy had the idea that because you can't play those anymore without major hoop jumping that is frankly beyond most, and that is if you can even find the games in the first place, that we'd cook up a nice little GUI frontend to DOSBox and sell flash sticks with these shareware games on them, just to let folks who never got to have that see what it was like and for old farts to have a trip down memory lane.

    Now we of course never expected to make any money off of that, any changes to DOSBox would of course been GPLed and the price we were gonna go for was a few bucks over cost plus shipping with the few bucks being split between the guys that had wrote the shareware titles. For us it was strictly a labor of love thing, both me and my friend had kids and we wanted to let them see what it was like when we were their age, so what happened?

    We quickly found out that even with games that hadn't been in print in 20+ years and that frankly never sold worth a shit in the first place (we're not talking Doom here folks, we are talking those cheesy knockoffs and platformers and puzzlers) that when we found the owners the amount of sheer fucking insane levels of greed was beyond nuts. There were several wanting 4 and 5 figures up front NOT for the code, NOT for even the complete game, but just for the right to use the original shareware! And many wanted the rights to OUR code on top! The sad part is we also found that we could just go the Chinamart route and say fuck the IP bullshit and get it done that way.

    In the end we just gave up, and likely that is what they'll have to do in TFA. With copyright law as it is your grandkids will be in the nursing home before these games are PD, if they EVER are, and the ones that end up with the rights act like every 5th rate game that was placed on a floppy or CD with a dozen other games should bring in the kind of revenue it would have if it was Ms Pacman. Good luck dealing with these greedy bastards friend, because they would rather not do a damned thing with it than settle for less than what a AAA game would go for, I swear its fucking insanity!

  • by tjt2 ( 212319 ) on Friday July 06, 2012 @08:12AM (#40562261)

    As one of the original developers, I would like to point out that it was always clear that the game would eventually be released as open source. The only question was to find time to port it, so it would not be dependent on closed or unavailable libraries.

    I would also like to thank for the port.

  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Friday July 06, 2012 @11:04AM (#40564235) Journal

    But you see we were asking for NO RIGHTS other than the right to put it on the stick, that's all. no IP rights, no right to even put our names on the stick other than whatever plug the DOSBox guys might have given us because that would have been there under creators instead. We offered to give them links to any product they wanted to sell, contact info, anything they wanted without asking to do anymore than those original CDs did back in the day, simply offer them up to people at a cheap price. hell we weren't even gonna ask for the rights to use any of their images in the artwork, instead letting them choose whether they wanted to put something from their game or a logo or not.

    so they went from getting an equal cut of every cent over the cost to...nothing. absolutely fucking nothing. Not a SINGLE ONE of the games we were looking at had been in print or sold anywhere for ANY price since the days of Win95, in fact we had gone out of our way to buy up old as the hills shareware discs to purposely find the weird quirky crap you'd find on the discs back then. And I'd remind you that the whole point of those original shareware discs was to sell a taste of a game and link back to the owner with contact info so they could sell you the complete game, not to get the same price as the next Gears Of War, yet that was EXACTLY what these companies wanted. To put just 5 games on the stick we would have had to sell each stick for more than D3, do you HONESTLY think anybody is gonna pay diablo 3 money for a game running in DOSBox that hasn't been touched in 20-25 years?

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington