Holding software to ransomBy Chris Williams. Published: 17th Jan 2006, 22:49:24 | Permalink | Printable
Sounds crazy but could it work?Editorial Imagine the following situation: A collection of computer users draw up a wishlist of software they'd really like to see developed. These end users then begin to donate money to projects that they'd individually like to see appear. A programmer then goes about creating an item from the list that has donations attached to it. Once the project is complete and enough money has been raised, the author can collect the cash and release the software. Finished code is withheld until enough money has been donated.
The notion of holding freshly written software to ransom sounds dramatic but it's mostly to make the job of writing headlines easier. There are a number of variations on this theme; the author could collect cash as it's donated and release new versions of the project as it progresses. A programming team might choose to embark upon a new application only until the kitty has sufficient money in it. These are all ideas that could help in some way to motivate and massage would be developers into working on new software, or to port existing programs to RISC OS. How such a scheme would eventually pan out is still up for debate, but it's interesting nonetheless.
Peter Naulls and Martin Wuerthner have run very similar initiatives for Firefox and Gimp-print respectively, and maybe the enterprise could be adopted by other developers. If the mild yet noticeable recent rise in interest in writing RISC OS software were the warm glowing embers on a camp fire, a method to get cash directly and easily into the hands of programmers could fan these promising flames. In a process that has a slight whiff of democracy, the users get to choose the wishlist, and the more money donated to a particular wish, the more appealing it will be for a passing programmer to adopt. Furthermore, if a coder takes up a project of which similar endeavours already exist or is just plain unpopular, it's unlikely to attract financial support.
The team behind the niche computing platform SkyOS run such a code ransom programme to pimp calls for an open office port, instant messaging software and other typical wishlist ideas. SkyOS, like RISC OS, is a minority closed commercial operating system and, also like RISC OS, is gradually building up its software stockpile with the help of ported applications from other more open platforms. A campaign to get Firefox ported to AmigaOS has also seen close to $10000 raised to fund such a daunting task.
SkyOS user and third party developer Peter Speybrouck says he had been interested in contributing software and took up a code ransom wishlist item that requested a utility that could report on the current and forecasted weather. The tool currently has about 35 quid in its pot.
He said, "I had the impression that the weather service was rather do-able, so I started investigating how this could be done. I gathered some bits and pieces, tried to make them work together and with the help of Robert Szeleney [lead developer of SkyOS], I managed to get everything done in a SkyOS way: a service plugin that makes it easy to configure and a client library that makes it easy to integrate weather data in client applications. The fact that it was a code ransom with money as reward gave a little extra push to work on it, but I think I would also have started this project if they asked for a weather service without reward."
Adding that he would like to help out an effort to produce a file archiving application outside of the code ransom scheme, Peter said: "The code ransom has at least attracted a lot of extra people that are interested in developing for SkyOS, although many of them have not shown any results or projects they are working on. It does help with getting people's attention for SkyOS. For small operating systems, these code ransoms are a good thing to stimulate development and interest."
Ideas for more software comparisons also welcomed
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