New XF release problem... 
Author Message
 New XF release problem...

Hi,

This is Sven Delmas... the author of XF (a public-domain interactive
interface builder for Tcl/Tk). Please take your time and read this mail
to the end... it is quite important (if you have any interest in XF)!

This mail is about the new release of XF. The program is more or less
ready to be released, but there turned out to be a problem. Seven
months ago I started working for Cimetrix, Inc, developing a product
that is based on XF.  When I came here I was told that I could make a
freely available XF release after I started working. Since then I (and
others in the company) have spent a lot of time improving XF.

Now that I am close to making a freely available XF release (or
CIMBuilder as it is called now) we tried to evaluate what this release
should contain, and the management here became afraid that if we
released a public domain version, our competitors could use it in their
own products, and that the free version would be in direct competition
with the commercial product.

The main concern of the management is not that we can not sell enough
copies of CIMBuilder! They are open to the idea of having a wide range
of people using the program for free, as they know that these people
would otherwise not use CIMBuilder at all.

Of course I can understand their concerns. The new XF has been
dramatically improved, and they paid for that. On the other hand I
promised a new release, and I definitely want to keep my promise.

Cimetrix produces open-architecture robot controllers and software for
the automation industry. CIMBuilder has all of the important features
of XF together with:
        - an improved user interface
        - support for Tcl 7.4 and Tk 4.0
        - support for complex widgets like Tix widgets
        - BLT drag-and-drop
        - more sophisticated layout tools
        - C extension support
        - an extendable user interface
        - an HTML help system
        - interactive programming tools
        - GUI access to libraries of C functions
        - a non-programmer's method of creating code

The problem is that (due to the structure of CIMBuilder) we have to
give away all the source code, which makes it easy for somebody else to
use the code to write a similar program based upon CIMBuilder. While
there will be no protection from this anyway once we sell the program
(anybody who buys CIMBuilder gets the source code too), the difference
is that selling the program seems to give the company much better legal
protection.

The reason for this mail is to ask you about your thoughts on these
(and probably more) questions:

        1) Do you know of a good way to protect the company,
           and still have a free version?

        2) Has anyone had the same problem already, and solved
           it?

        3) Does someone know enough about the legal options
           we have here to suggest some solutions?

        4) Can you think of the benefits for the company in
           putting out a free version?

        5) WOULD YOU PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHETHER YOU ARE USING
           XF? This way I would know what the numbers are we are
           talking about... if there are only like 20-30 people out
           there actually using XF (and interested in a new release) we
           would just give it to them under a special license
           agreement.

Here are some answers that came into our minds... which are not
satisfying us, but may help you thinking of something better:

        1) have the potential users grab a "light" version of
           CIMBuilder from our ftp site, involving a registration
           by name.

                1a) charge a nominal price for the product,
                    so it is actually sold.

                1b) charge a significant price for the product (still
                    much below the actual price of the product), and
                    include the full documentation and some (minimal)
                    support.  This would include a full money back
                    guarantee.

                1c) make CIMBuilder available free for a limited time
                    to known XF users willing to sign a license
                    agreement.

           The problem with that is that this is no longer free
           software...

        2) The technical solution would be to make the source
           code inaccessible (which is really tough in Tcl). And still
           I am not sure whether the management would accept this...

           This is my favorite solution... although I am not sure how
           to do it.

        3) Find a good COPYRIGHT protection that can guarantee
           that no competitor to my company is using our product
           against us.

           We have to do this anyway I think...

        4) Have some sort of limited time availability. For
           example we could officially announce an "improve CIMBuilder
           contest", where people have to register and get a free copy
           of CIMBuilder. Or we could put a beta release out there for
           a limited time.

           This quite similar to 1)...

I (and hopefully you too) fully understand the position of Cimetrix
(they are really nice guys here, and we sort of stumbled into this
situation without realizing it). They invested quite some money in
CIMBuilder, and don't want to give all the know-how in there away to
our competitors. On the other hand I definitely want a freely available
version of CIMBuilder (XF).  So we are in some kind of dilemma... maybe
someone out there can come up with a good idea...

Greetings, Sven



Sat, 07 Feb 1998 03:00:00 GMT  
 New XF release problem...
: The problem is that (due to the structure of CIMBuilder) we have to
: give away all the source code, which makes it easy for somebody else to
: use the code to write a similar program based upon CIMBuilder. While
: there will be no protection from this anyway once we sell the program
: (anybody who buys CIMBuilder gets the source code too), the difference
: is that selling the program seems to give the company much better legal
: protection.

: The reason for this mail is to ask you about your thoughts on these
: (and probably more) questions:

:       1) Do you know of a good way to protect the company,
:          and still have a free version?

There is a way to protect your source code: you can write a cheap
lex/yacc parser (or even use regexp in Tcl) to locate the names of all
the variables and functions and replace then with unreadable names
like "var00", "var01", "fun00", etc. Also, you can replace most macros
with their real values (except those that are for conditional
compilation).

You have to be careful not to replace the names of the global
variables and functions. However, since CIMBuilder is a end product,
you won't have a lot of those.

After doing the replacement, your source code won't be much more
readable than what your competitors can get by de-compiling your
binary program.

Of course, it is still pretty easy to figure out the algorithm or data
structure used in your program. So if you have a cute algorithm which
you want to protect, you may need to re-write it using more obscured
code.

Ioi



Sun, 08 Feb 1998 03:00:00 GMT  
 New XF release problem...

Quote:

> The main concern of the management is not that we can not sell enough
> copies of CIMBuilder! They are open to the idea of having a wide range
> of people using the program for free, as they know that these people
> would otherwise not use CIMBuilder at all.

I would certainly recommend to give for free the first versions or some
relase evaluation/personal copies. This worked for Mosaic, Netscape, and even
Microsoft is now doing things like that! Remember that you'll have also
Sun as competitor :-).

Just an idea: why wouldn't you try to raise money by:
 1) giving the product and its source code
 2) selling a distribution with paper documentation and maintenance
 3) selling service

XF has probably a large number of users already, and if the product has been
improved and is cheap, it might well be purchased by a _lot_ of people..
Also, if the source remains available, some people might help to debug and/or
improve it..

See <URL: http://www.cygnus.com/cygnus/sourceware.html> at ``Cygnus Support''
about raising money with support and developing a very competitive product.

Quote:
> The problem is that (due to the structure of CIMBuilder) we have to
> give away all the source code, which makes it easy for somebody else to
> use the code to write a similar program based upon CIMBuilder.

You could try to hide it into a C executable, there are other products
released that way I think (maybe look in the FAQ). Anyway, just protect your
code by copyright. I really don't think a competitor company would take any
risk in stealing some code! This is very risky for a small benefit..

Quote:
> 1) Do you know of a good way to protect the company,
>    and still have a free version?

Copyright.

Quote:
> 4) Can you think of the benefits for the company in
>    putting out a free version?

Make the product well known and used. Also have a lot of feedbacks from users
for improvement. There can also be two versions, one is free at the beginning
but soon becomes a dead branch while the product version is still improving..
This is probably what John wants to do..

Quote:
> 5) WOULD YOU PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHETHER YOU ARE USING
>    XF?

YES. :-)

At last, I'd like to say that whatever you choose, I won't be upset because XF
was a very nice and useful tool! I also might buy a copy of CIMBuilder, it
will depend on its price and add-ons...

Cheers,
Christophe.

 = This is your receipt for your husband...and this is my receipt for       =
 = your receipt.      -- Arresting Officer (Brazil)                         =



Sun, 08 Feb 1998 03:00:00 GMT  
 New XF release problem...

Quote:

> . . . Seven
>months ago I started working for Cimetrix, Inc, developing a product
>that is based on XF.  When I came here I was told that I could make a
>freely available XF release after I started working. Since then I (and
>others in the company) have spent a lot of time improving XF.
>Now that I am close to making a freely available XF release (or
>CIMBuilder as it is called now) we tried to evaluate what this release
>should contain, and the management here became afraid that if we
>released a public domain version, our competitors could use it in their
>own products, and that the free version would be in direct competition
>with the commercial product.

I have no problem with corporations owning and getting the benefits
of selling software which they have commissioned their employees to
write.  However, your above paragraphs make it clear that

  (a) Cimetrix is getting the benefit of your previous work on
      XF;

  (b) Cimetrix is getting the benefit of the prefious work of others
      on XF;

  (c) Cimetrix made a specific commitment to you about the availability
      of the new version of XF;

  (d) Cimetrix would now like to back out of that agreement.

Under these circumstances, Cimetrix is ethicly obligated to release
the code `freely'.  If you have a formal (ie, written) agreement that
the code is to be released, they have a legal obligation as well.

If Cimetrix is concerned about competetive advantage, then IMHO the
best tack they can take is to release this version of XF, then make
new agreement with you about future versions.  This would allow them
to protect their investment beyond today, and get a public version out
there that someone else could take over maintenance of.



Sun, 08 Feb 1998 03:00:00 GMT  
 New XF release problem...

Sven>        1) Do you know of a good way to protect the company,
Sven>           and still have a free version?

I think that using Netscape's approach might be worthwhile. They let
everyone evaluate their product (the complete product). Individuals
are given an unlimited evaluation period. Commercial concerns are
given a limited time - 30 days, I think, after that, they must
purchase it or discontinue use. If your price isn't too expensive a
lot of companies would prefer to buy software in order to know they
can get support, rather than using unsupported free software. Also, if
you let people use it at home essentially free, you can build up a
larger user base to get things rolling, so to speak. This, then, would
feed the commercial demand.

Sven>        3) Does someone know enough about the legal options
Sven>           we have here to suggest some solutions?

I believe that Copyrighting legally protects your code.

Sven>        5) WOULD YOU PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHETHER YOU ARE USING
Sven>           XF?

I haven't used it yet as I'm kind of new to Tcl/Tk, but I certainly
intended to try it out eventually.

Sven> Here are some answers that came into our minds... which are not
Sven> satisfying us, but may help you thinking of something better:

Sven>        1) have the potential users grab a "light" version of
Sven>           CIMBuilder from our ftp site, involving a registration
Sven>           by name.

I personally avoid "light" versions of software. It's always in the
back of my mind that only the full version has sufficient
functionality.

--
Chuck Irvine
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Senior Member of Technical Staff
Systems & Networks, Inc.                                FAX (913) 841-1345
1310 Wakarusa Dr., Suite A                              (913) 838-0128



Sun, 08 Feb 1998 03:00:00 GMT  
 New XF release problem...
Sven,

  I have used XF and I was really looking forward to the
  new release (Free). But if the only way to get it out soon
  is for some $$ thats ok. just get it out soon.

  Also I was wondering if you considerd making a version that
  builds tkperl5 apps.

Thanks for (XF)

Nick DeMarco...



Tue, 10 Feb 1998 03:00:00 GMT  
 New XF release problem...
Sven,

  I have used XF and I was really looking forward to the
  new release (Free). But if the only way to get it out soon
  is for some $$ thats ok. just get it out soon.

  Also I was wondering if you considerd making a version that
  builds tkperl5 apps.

Thanks

Nick DeMarco...



Tue, 10 Feb 1998 03:00:00 GMT  
 New XF release problem...
Sven,

  I have used XF and I was really looking forward to the
  new release (Free). But if the only way to get it out soon
  is for some $$ thats ok. just get it out soon.

  Also I was wondering if you considerd making a version that
  builds tkperl5 apps.

Thanks

Nick DeMarco...



Tue, 10 Feb 1998 03:00:00 GMT  
 New XF release problem...

Quote:

>    3) Find a good COPYRIGHT protection that can guarantee that no
> competitor to my company is using our product against us.

You might look at the copyright covering the geometry manager that
comes with Tix.  Tix is public domain, except that you can't use
tixForm in a product which is an interface builder.  

Alternatively, just release the whole thing under the GNU public
licence.
--
Bruce                   Institute of Advanced Scientific Computation

http://supr.scm.liv.ac.uk/~bruce/



Tue, 10 Feb 1998 03:00:00 GMT  
 
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