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ArtWorks founder to open source graphics app

By Chris Williams. Published: 13th Oct 2005, 11:46:53 | Permalink | Printable

Xara teases Linux and Mac communities with promises of code

The creators of ArtWorks and Impression have announced plans to open source their graphic design software. Better known as Computer Concepts to RISC OS users before they left the Acorn platform, Xara went on to develop Xara X, and now Xara Xtreme. A Windows version is available, and the company wants to build Linux and Mac ports as well as placing the source code under the GPL licence.

Charles Moir standing outside the building seen in the Artworks info boxCharles Moir, Xara CEO (pictured), said: "To stand any chance of establishing a following in the Linux world you have to make the product free and Open Source, so despite the risks involved, that's what we're doing."

Not forgetting his company's roots, he added: "We used to develop for alternative platforms, such as the Acorn RISC computer in the 1990s, and so fundamentally Xara Xtreme is based on a cross-platform core."

In the meantime, Xara seems keen to establish a community of developers and contributers to give them a hand with the source code: A set of mailing lists have been set up for those who wish to keep an eye on developments. The company hopes to begin releasing the code "within a few weeks".

A Xara spokesperson said, "The initial goal is to create a Open Source version of Xara Xtreme that is as good and slick as our Windows desktop version. The timescale depends upon the number of developers in the Open Source community who are willing to help us achieve that. It is a huge task and will take several months."

Vector art package ArtWorks was licensed to MW Software at the end of 2002 to continue development on the RISC OS platform. Programmer Martin Wuerthner has doubts, though, over the possibility of porting Xara Xtreme to RISC OS. He said: "Most importantly, it would be bound to run at a very sluggish pace. Even with FireFox, a lot of users complain about lack of responsiveness and a web browser has an extremely low degree of interactivity compared to a graphics program, where responsiveness is paramount."

Martin also believes it would be difficult to comfortably integrate Xara Xtreme into the RISC OS desktop and printing system, and that Xara's software relies on hand crafted Intel x86 assembler to achieve its rendering speed - which would need rewriting for ARM based systems.

Links

Xara Xtreme website

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Discussion

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If Xtreme needs hand-crafted x86 assembler, how are they doing a MacOSX port (or will it be MacOS X86?) I'm sure I read a forum post that said the core was very portable. I guess the rendering engine doesn't count as core? Maybe CC made it all C++ now, after all, lack of decent C++ tools was their reason for ditching RISC OS in the first place....

I've always prefered ArtWorks to Xara, but shall be looking out for this on Linux. That said, the Linux demo (essentially just a viewer) on my P4 seemed to redraw slower than ArtWorks/SA, although I guess it is an early alpha.

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 13/10/05 12:27PM
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Well perhaps Martin Würthner or some other programmer can port the odd im- and export filter from XaraX to ArtWorks 2 as PlugIn.

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 13/10/05 3:25PM
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I'd prefer if MW didn't go near the Xara source when its opened, as its GPL and he needs to eat. But if anyone finds a feature in they'd like in Artworks 3, another programmer can examine the source and write a comprehensive spec to enable Martin to produce a clean room implementation. But so as the GPL fans don't get upset, there is nothing stopping anyone MW included from producing a GPL'd Artworks plug-in based on some of the Xara code.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 13/10/05 4:11PM
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druck: "I'd prefer if MW didn't go near the Xara source when its opened, as its GPL and he needs to eat."

It may be beyond your imagination/experience, but there are businesses making money producing GPL-licensed software. In fact, given the general technical hands-off nature of most of the RISC OS scene these days, perhaps one could run such a business providing RISC OS applications. If people are willing to put down a wad of cash for a zero updates per year proprietary software subscription, perhaps they'd be inclined to put their money into something where they actually get the sources and some measure of control, rather than "pretend big company" press releases and roadmaps.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 13/10/05 4:38PM
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In reply to guestx: Typical unthinking GPL zealot response, well done.

Yes GPL things can make enough money via donations for the author to consider them, MW has himself with GIMP Print. However Artworks is his bread and butter, and a mix of chargable and donationware GPL plug-ins would only confuse the product rational and reduce earnings. I for one am quite happy to reward MW in full for his fine work.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 13/10/05 4:53PM
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druck: Agreed (rewarding MW [and anyone else who does anything worthwhile]).

It would be possible to sell support for GPL products, but as has been commented before with other projects (notably Firefox), persuading people to part with cash for GPL products themselves is difficult.

btw, does someone want to check the link in the links?

 is a RISC OS Usertribbles2 on 13/10/05 5:14PM
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druck: "Typical unthinking GPL zealot response, well done."

A typical mud-slinging remark in response to a proper critique of the original FUD-slinging statement. Both that statement and your perception that "donationware" schemes are the only basis for funding products which are licensed under the GPL reveal, as I noted, a lack of understanding or experience in such matters on your part.

Sure, MW might not want to "go near the Xara source", but since that's a business decision he alone must take, I'm not about to overgeneralise that in order to take some kind of cheap, uninformed shot at a software licence that would seem to suit Xara and other companies just fine.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 13/10/05 10:22PM
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In reply to guestx:

Speaking from experience of trying to sell OS and commerical software, GPL license works really well where the solution is complex and there is an obvious market for support. It works less well for applications, where it either works (in which there is little incentive to then buy anything from the vendor - think of all those unlicensed copies of WinZip) or it does not work. In this case, being free, most users attach little value to it and move on elsewhere.

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 13/10/05 11:07PM
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guestx:

I seriously doubt you can make any money from a GPLed end-user application under Windows (nor under Linux for that matter). It is trivial to distribute (as opposed to organising and distributing the whole of Linux and all its applications, which is where the money is made in the Linux world) and the little support it needs can be provided by the community.

As far as I can see, Xara do not intend to make their Windows code open source and I have the suspicion that they may keep their hand-crafted assembler rendering engine to themselves in order to keep the competitive advantage on Windows - the GPL code could include a generic high-level language coded version. They certainly will not make any significant amount of money on their MacOS and Linux versions, but they will continue making money on their Windows version.

 is a RISC OS Userwuerthne on 14/10/05 9:40AM
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mw: stop with the fud. on the xara mailing list its been confirmed that the linux port has no assembler in it, and it's just as fast as the windows one on my desktop. and the port involves using wxwidgets, which includes printing abstraction and such. once wxwidge is ported it will make things simplier, and we'll get other software like audacity.

 is a RISC OS Userkd on 14/10/05 1:13PM
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kd>"[MW] stop with the fud. on the xara mailing list its been confirmed that the linux port has no assembler in "

And Martin Wurthner said "I have the suspicion that they [XARA] may keep their hand-crafted assembler rendering engine to themselves". KD what you've said verifies that that is indeed the case so why the disagreement ?

As to performance bearing in mind the general inefficiencies of Windows and how much performance is "sapped" by running AV software etc., perhaps it's the case that the x86 assembler available under windows gives Xara the oppertunity to be compeditive against a Linux version of it which lacks the x86 assembler part.....

 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 14/10/05 1:44PM
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ams: theyre claiming that there is _some_ assembler in the windows version. but its clearly not all that important given its just as quick under linux as windows. and av doesnt sap performance unless its actively doing somthing. unless its !killer that is :-)

 is a RISC OS Userkd on 14/10/05 1:55PM
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They have not finished the Linux port and already know how fast it will be? Impressive.

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 14/10/05 2:05PM
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hubersn: we're talking about the speed of the rendering. and the linux port shows that even if you cant interact with images you can render them. so yes theyve not finished the port yet and they know how fast it will be at rendering. its not difficult.

 is a RISC OS Userkd on 14/10/05 2:13PM
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kd: The assembler in the renderer is going to be rewritten in C++ before the code release. Now, as to if Xara keeps it in their commercial branch, I don't know. I would guess they won't and the reason for that is simple - those not using Win32 will not be able to use it and while Xara have already said they will have more than one branch, maintaining and converting something as different as assembler and C++ almost constantly is counter productive.

All things being equal, Xara will convert the renderer and not do anything stupid in the process to break the code.

hubersn: It is quite possible that Xara know the speed of the Linux version - they have the code afterall for the demo version. Now, as you're aware, code never sits still and the coversion from one language to another throws up a pile of problems, so it's possible that the current dog slow version was the stablest at the time and there is a version with 99% of the engine in C++ sitting on a desk which is blindingly fast.

It is interesting times.

 is a RISC OS Userpaulwork on 14/10/05 3:11PM
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wuerthne: "I seriously doubt you can make any money from a GPLed end-user application under Windows (nor under Linux for that matter)."

Having *met* people who make money from "GPLed end-user application[s]", I'm inclined to disagree.

"It is trivial to distribute (as opposed to organising and distributing the whole of Linux and all its applications, which is where the money is made in the Linux world) and the little support it needs can be provided by the community."

It is true that developing and distributing GPL-licensed software does open you up to competition in the area of packaging, non-domain-specific fixes and distribution, and that for smaller and more widely understood applications the risk is much greater.

However, I was principally taking exception to the ridiculous sweeping statement that virtually likened GPL-licensed software to software patents or NDAs - something you'd expect Steve Ballmer to come out with (although not entirely unexpected in a forum with a high proprietary software worship factor, I must say). It was either that sentiment or that the contributor in question believes your software development practices to be somewhat sloppy - something I don't believe myself, I should add.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 14/10/05 3:14PM
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In reply to guesx:

They can make money where they can sell additional value above and beyond the free product. Beyond a printed manual, where is the added value on a product like Xara/Artrworks?

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 15/10/05 10:29AM
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markee174: "They can make money where they can sell additional value above and beyond the free product."

They meaning Xara?

"Beyond a printed manual, where is the added value on a product like Xara/Artrworks?"

Well, as is noted on the Xara Web site, there are a few proprietary things that they can't release under the GPL. Just like Sun sells StarOffice - a proprietary edition of OpenOffice.org with "unopenable" extras - it's very likely that Xara could sell a similar edition of their software. They can do this because they own all of the code right now and can license it any way they choose.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 15/10/05 5:22PM
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In reply to guestx:

They being anyone. Open source does not suddenly make software free to produce, although it may reduce costs and make some projects viable.

Xara own the current code but once they get other contributions, they will only be able to use them in a GPL release unless they get the contributor to assign them the rights as MySQL does.

A commerical version would have to offer some major improvements to compete against the free version of Xara.

Does Sun actually make a profit on StarOffice, or is it just a spoiler to try and cause Microsoft trouble.

I think the business model of releasing new versions with lots of useful new features and charging a very reasonable upgrade fee, as MW does, is a very viable one.

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 15/10/05 6:24PM
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markee174: "Xara own the current code but once they get other contributions, they will only be able to use them in a GPL release unless they get the contributor to assign them the rights as MySQL does."

True. So they either have to do that in order to retain the possibility of doing a proprietary commercial version, or accept that it's totally open from now on.

"Does Sun actually make a profit on StarOffice, or is it just a spoiler to try and cause Microsoft trouble."

Well, unlocking the billions that get spent on Microsoft Office is more than just causing trouble. Even if everyone else gets to share a fraction of that money, it's a decent strategy.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 16/10/05 6:02PM
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In reply to guestx:

Its only a decent long-term strategy is if either makes a profit for you or stops your rivals using the profits to subsidize products in your key markets. Lots of dot-coms showed the futility of other approaches....

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 16/10/05 7:54PM
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