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Re: [XaraXtreme-dev] Ping

[I apologize in advance for the length of this message---please
consider it an indication of my sincere interest at helping make the
Free Software Xara "experiment" a success.]

On Thu, 15 Feb 2007 17:56:32 -0000, "Charles Moir" wrote:
> I agree and have even suggested before now that Xtreme should be using
> Cairo because come the day it's hardware accelerated, then it will
> (should) out-perform CDraw anyway. In fact there's nothing at all to
> stop anyone adapting Xara to using Cairo right now (any more than there
> is stopping Inkscape using it - they are in the same boat really).  I'm
> sure Carl would certainly approve.

I'd definitely approve, (if even just because I love people to write
cairo-using applications so that they can find more of the bugs I've
written into cairo so I can start getting rid of them).

And Charles, thanks for having this discussion here. [I was beginning
to be afraid that the entire Xara LX (or Xara Xtreme or whatever the
(so-close-to!) Free Software thing is called) experiment had been
determined to be a failure and it was being abandoned by those who had
begun it.]

Frankly, I'd love to see the experiment become wildly successful. I'd
love to be able to point other companies at a successful transition of
a program from being proprietary to being Free Software without any
disaster occurring.

As for the current state of the experiment, it is quite obvious that
the project has not yet successfully attracted a lot of development
effort from "the community", (I'm going to use the phrase "the
community" for simplicity---as if it could be described as a single,
consistent entity rather than thousands of individuals with
inconsistent opinions).

There are likely many factors that contribute to the lack of success
so far, and for any given potential developer the answer to "why
aren't you involved with Xara Xtreme" could be different.

Speaking for myself, the license arrangement with CDraw is definitely
the most significant factor that's prevented me from being involved
more. After that come other things like the fact that I'm really busy
and I'm not sure how much time I'd have even if the CDraw licensing
were resolved. So, if you're honestly asking if the CDraw license
could have any effect on a developer's decision not to contribute to
Xara Xtreme, I can at least point to myself as an existence proof that
it can and does.

I can't say what the copyright holders should do, (it's their code and
their decision to make), but here is a random collection of thoughts
from me on various issues that have been raised recently, (please
pardon me for replying in just one message rather than following up at
4 or 5 different points):

* As is, Xara cannot be included as part of any distribution that
  consists of only Free Software, (this includes, for example Fedora
  and Debian, (ignoring the non-free repository that is officially not
  "part of" Debian).

  My interest as a member of the free software community is to improve
  the software that "belongs to" that community. And for me, that set
  of software is defined by the distributions I use, (which are Fedora
  and Debian).

* The licensing situation prevents me from being a proponent for
  people to do development on Xara Xtreme.

  I've mentioned before that I think that getting software into the
  distributions is a key part of "advertising" the software to the
  development community. Without this, the reason some developers
  aren't contributing might be as simple as they've never heard of
  it. So, who's out there telling them about it?

  Imagine the following conversation that could take place between a
  proponent of Xara Xtreme and a potential developer:

	Proponent: You should help improve the Xara Xtreme
	software---it's free software now.

	Potential developer: Oh? Cool.... hmm... "apt-cache show xara"
	isn't showing me anything.

	Proponent: Yeah, it's not included in Debian yet.

	Potential developer: Why's that?

	Proponent: Well, it's mostly free software (GPL even!), but
	there's this one part that's not, so there's a GPL exception
	to allow you to link with it. They've said they intend to
	release it's source at one point, but we don't know if that
	will ever happen, and as companies change hands, we really
	can't predict what will happen, but really, you should go work
	on it.

  Maybe that looks far-fetched or silly, but it's real enough to me
  that I haven't been putting myself in that role as a proponent.

* As is, Xara can only be used on the platforms for which a CDraw
  binary is made available, (Linux on ppc, x86, or x86_64 if I'm not

* A comparison was made to Adobe's products for viewing PDF and Flash
  files. I don't think this is a positive comparison for Xara. Adobe
  is definitely not a part of the community in any interesting way. The
  products described here are distributed solely as proprietary
  software, and the community has been investing tremendous amounts of
  effort to write Free Software equivalents, (see evince/poppler for
  PDF; swfdec and gnash for Flash).

  If Xara wants to follow Adobe's model here, it could certainly do
  so, but it would appear to be a complete failure of how I view the

  And again, I'd love to be able to say to Adobe, "Look, Xara released
  their money-making application under the GPL and no disaster
  happened. Why don't you release the source for your Flash player for
  which you're already giving away binaries at no cost anyway."

* The current binary-only distribution limits the architectures under
  which the software is available.

  There was some discussion of "use anywhere". I had understood the
  original poster to mean that code could be compiled for any desired
  architecture, (not that there was a desire to slice the program up
  and put pieces into some competing product).

  As is, the program can only be used on three architectures, (ppc,
  x86, and x86_64), against which Xara has done the work to compile
  and test. But distributions like Debian have official support for
  more than triple the number of architectures and even more that are


  Now, from a product-marketing point-of-view these "other"
  architecture might appear so miniscule has to be easily ignored. But
  the universality of Free Software is precisely what makes it
  appealing to many. So software the prevents migration and porting to
  any architecture of choice is automatically uninteresting to many.

* "CDraw is valuable as a secret and we don't want any other software
  to benefit from it except for Xara"

  I can't really comment too much on that. It's your call. But I would
  expect the GPL to give the same protection to CDraw that it gives to
  the value in the rest of Xara Xtreme.

* "Use of CDraw should be replaced by use of cairo"

  Doesn't this undercut the "CDraw is valuable" argument to some extent?

* "Use of CDraw could be replaced with use of cairo easily enough by
  the community"

  I don't know about the "easy" aspect of this. I don't think I've
  seen any documentation on CDraw's interface. And all of this thread
  doesn't give me the impression that Xara folks would be that
  interested in doing lots of extra work to help with the port
  anyway, (if it's perceived as subverting the 'secret sauce' aspects
  of CDraw).

  Even then, "we can code around the binary blob if we're forced to"
  isn't a great basis for a Free Software project. If that's really
  the plan, that should probably be done first. But it doesn't look
  like a very exciting job to me, (as compared with, say, just hacking
  on inkscape).

  As for Xara/cairo integration, a more interesting thing to start
  with might be PDF export. A similar route is happening with inkscape
  now, (that is, there's code for cairo-based PDF export from
  inkscape before there's any code to actually draw the primary
  interface with cairo).

  And speaking of inkscape...

* "Why does inkscape get all the community love?"

  I think inkscape's got a few things going in its favor:

    1. It's in all the distributions

    2. There's no binary blob in it

    3. There's no uncertainty due to "corporate ownership"

  I think there's plenty of opportunity and room for Xara Xtreme to
  follow what inkscape is doing quite well already. Points 1 and 2 are
  solvable, (at least in theory).

  And I don't think point 3 is an insurmountable obstacle. The GPL is
  a great equalizer and has allowed dozens of corporate interests to
  collaborate quite readily with the community.

  And finally, I like to think that the Free Software community only
  grows. I don't think there's any need to imagine that one of
  inkscape or Xara Xtreme needs to "win" and the expense of the
  other's "loss".

* On trust

  When I first read libs/LIBS-LICENSE I saw:


	This license applies ONLY to the "CDraw" libraries ("Libraries")
	distributed in the "libs" directory. Xara intends to release these
	under the same license as the remainder of the Xara LX program,
	at which time this header will be changed to indicate that. However,
	for the time being, the Libraries are distributed in binary
	form only, and you may use them only under the terms of this license.

  Since then I haven't seen further indication of a change in the
  license. I did get the picture that the delay was set for "until we
  see substantial involvement from the community", but that stance
  might very well be forcing a stalemate that hasn't broken in the
  last year.

  I did speak with Charles and others involved with the project quite
  a bit at LGM last year, (any Xara folks coming to LGM again this
  year?), and I did feel they were all very sincere. But have
  corporate changes now made execution of the original intent
  impossible? If so, were community members that adopted a "wait and
  see" attitude proven correct?


PS. Again, I'm not trying to say what the copyright holders should do
with their code. It's their right to do what they will with it, and
I'm in no position to make demands, nor does Xara owe any obligation
to me. I've also never been in the position of relying on a
proprietary application for my paycheck and then considered releasing
that application as Free Software, (though I have been relying on Free
Software to get a paycheck for years now).

I'm just trying to answer the questions asked to the best of my
ability given my experience in the Free Software community. But please
do understand that the community does not generally "give back" if it
feels it hasn't been "given to" in the first place, (and again, please
pardon my over-simplified personification of the community).

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