Castle considering open sourcing RISC OSPublished: 15th Aug 2006, 01:45:30 | Permalink | Printable
So close yet so far whisper sources [Updated]The developers of RISC OS 5 are prepared to open source 'elements' of the operating system, acccording to a report in Archive magazine today. Castle boss Jack Lillingston reportedly told Archive editor Paul Beverley on-the-record that the company is "very seriously considering making RISC OS open source".
Jack went on to say that Castle will expect "a small royalty" per use in order to fund an engineer to maintain a central source code tree, although this would be a matter of 'a few pence'. Castle would then become consultants for organisations that wish to investigate and employ RISC OS 5 - Paul reports that Castle rely on writing software for RISC OS-powered STBs these days, rather than shipping Iyonixes and other kit.
The revelation is seen as a surprising u-turn given Castle's previous stance against open sourcing RISC OS; they were even upset at RISCOS Ltd open sourcing parts of the printing system. However, just a few weeks ago, Castle director Peter Wild spoke out with his personal opinion that RISC OS 5 'must be open sourced to survive'. Peter is also selling his electronics company's shareholding in Castle.
In this month's editorial, seen by drobe.co.uk as Archive went to press, Paul wrote: "What is it about me and predictions? What did I say last month? 'Don't get too excited because Jack Lillingston and John Ballance have always been implacably opposed to releasing RISC OS as open-source.' And what did Jack say to me today? 'We're very seriously considering making RISC OS open-source'.
"If they do decide to go that way, and the indications are getting stronger by the minute, then I'd say it's very good news for the RISC OS community.
"There is still a lot of very positive feeling towards RISC OS, but what we don't have is vast resources to do the development. So, if we can club together and share our developments of RISC OS instead of each company selfishly fighting to keep things in house, it will be better for all of us."
Jack's comments came as Paul interviewed Castle to get their response to an opinion article printed recently in a rival magazine linked to VirtualAcorn. The piece trashed Castle, alledging, "One has to wonder what is going on at Castle. The company has lost its full time developers and all the support staff, and is now operating out of a complex that rents offices by the week. That doesn't sound too promising does it? Is [Peter Wild's] share in Castle up for sale now because it's shortly going to be worthless?"
Meanwhile informed sources told drobe.co.uk say that some 20 organisations and third parties have contributed to RISC OS since its birth in the early 1990s, with each component understood to be distributed under a closed license. For instance, a Taiwanese set top box manufacturing giant, rumoured to be MSI, is understood to have licensed the RISC OS 3.7 source code from Acorn, with changes and developments fed back into NC OS - the forefather of Pace's RISC OS 5. Several other organisations, besides Pace Micro, licensed the OS before and after the dismantling of Acorn in 1998.
It's also understood that ANT Plc contributed components to RISC OS, such as ShareFS, a memory management module, and various networking applications. These programs, and many others, were licensed to Acorn and later RISCOS Ltd under binary-only agreements, although the source code may have been supplied for reference. Sources claim that although Acorn, Pace and now Castle may have the source code to these components in their vaults, they do not necessarily own them nor have the right to re-license them.
Supporters of open sourcing RISC OS believe that even if some key components are made available, such as the RISC OS 5 Unicode font manager, then the platform as a whole will benefit. But a well placed contact said opening the source code to RISC OS would be too much of a legal minefield, and that it is written into the licensing paperwork that the operating system remains firmly closed and restricted.
He said: "In my view, Castle don't actually have the right to open source the OS. Acorn and Pace were given code by other parties to bring RISC OS up to standard, but with the intention for it to stay closed source for commercial reasons.
"Open sourcing it without considering the impact this will cause to other companies using the operating system is pretty crap."
Castle were unavailable for comment.
Update at 13:55 19/8/2006
This article originally reported rumours of claims that Tematic staff were owed money by Castle, with access to the RISC OS source code being a possible means of repayment. Castle have informed Drobe that this is not the case, and no money is owed to them. Ex-Tematic staff are said to have had access to portions of RISC OS as contractors.
Ex-Tematic staffer Andrew Hodgkinson said: "Speaking for myself, Castle don't owe me anything. Having to shut down part of a business is never an easy decision to take or an easy thing to do, but to the best of my knowledge Tematic ws shut down in an entirely honourable fashion."
Drobe is happy to clarify this point.
Castle Iyonix website
Archive magazine website - subscribe today. The latest issue is in the post today hot off the printers, and should be in subscribers' hands by the end of the week. Pint-sized Archive is also to undergo a face-lift to mark the start of the magazine's 20th volume
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