Wednesday, 27 February 2013

More on the LiveCode Campaign

Kickstarter is certainly used to fund the creation of commercial products. Donations processed by that site have enabled the creation of, for example, a new game console called Ouya, new versions of classic programs such as Shadowgate, and have funded CDs, Books, and more. However, to my mind, the site comes into its own when it funds free culture of one sort or another. For example, I followed MusOpen's campaign to raise the funds to hire a symphony orchestra, record numerous symphonies, and release the recordings to the public. I was also excited when a Kickstarter campaign funded Kimiko Ishizaka's tour of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, since it would hone the performance that she intended to record and release. (I just checked the status of that project: "In September we plan on beginning fundraising for a studio recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1. The model will be nearly the same as the recently completed Open Goldberg Variations project, with the intention being to place the works into the public domain.")

Both of those examples are musical, but the modern Free Culture movement began with computer software. Kickstarter is now in the last hours of a campaign to raise money for major enhancements to a programming environment called LiveCode. The enhancements would allow programmers outside of the company that owns LiveCode to more easily contribute to its development.

Why would they? Because LiveCode is being released under a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) license for the first time. Specifically, it will be released under the terms of the General Public License (GPL) that requires that programs created with this software must have their own code released under the GPL. Those who wish to keep the code confidential will have to pay for a commercial license instead of using the free one.

As the license itself says:
The licenses for most software and other practical works are designed to take away your freedom to share and change the works. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change all versions of a program--to make sure it remains free software for all its users.
The LiveCode campaign set high goals for itself. It wanted £350,000 (about a half-million dollars) to polish the program's code and ready it for release. I wondered if they could get it. As I write this, though, it has raised £425,000 (about $661,000), and there are still ten hours left in the campaign! The community has not only funded the preparation of LiveCode for public release, it has funded a whole series of "stretch goals" that will substantially improve it. So far, these include:
  1. Resolution Independence: LiveCode already runs on just about every operating system (Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, iPad...) but it takes a bit of work to make your program look good on a 5" phone, a 7" tablet, and a 15" laptop. Much of that extra work will come "out of the box" with this goal.
  2. Plug-in Themes: to make your program's appearance match whatever system it is running on. Custom themes will be supported.
  3. Cocoa: This refers to Apple's preferred "toolkit" for programs running on OS X.  The previous toolkit provides a degree of backwards compatibility for old code, but does not look quite consistent with new programs and does not include some new functions that Apple offers to newer programs.
When those three goals were funded, new stretch goals were proposed:
  1. A "Physics Engine": for those who want to bounce or throw Angry Birds or other objects around the screen.
  2. Support for the new Windows 8 interface, whether on desktops, laptops, tablets, or phones.
  3. Vector Shape Objects: I am told this will look better than what now exists.
  4. Reworked Multimedia Support, and
  5. A new "Web Browser" component, so that web sites will look identical on any combination of computing device and operating system.
Everything up to and including the Windows 8 support is now funded, and there are ten more hours of fundraising to go. (Update: every stretch goal has been funded). (Further update: a blog posting by Kevin Miller of RunRev, the makers of LiveCode, states that passing the amount of money they wanted for all the posted goals means that they will add two new goals to their work, even though the fundraising campaign is over: "I can confirm that subject to all your pledges properly coming in we'll be able to add a reworked networking layer and new SQL database connectivity layer as new stretch goals. Yes they both those features do work already, but they are aging and could be so much better.")

As I wrote before, LiveCode is similar to the old HyperCard program that Apple offered for free on Macs for a number of years. HyperCard was a programming environment that didn't look like a programming environment. It made computer users out of many computer consumers. LiveCode has the potential to revive that tradition of universal access to easy programming, but only if it is freely available. Although there's no guarantee that every high school Computing Science class will standardize on LiveCode in the future, it will now have that opportunity. Combined with Raspberry Pi computers (available for $25 each, or $35 for a more capable version), LiveCode will enable computer classes and individual computer users to do more for less.

My understanding is that the current version of the program will be put up for free downloading next month. The new and extended version will probably be ready this autumn.

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