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Six digit scores in the Atari 2600

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While 2600 players take 6-digit scores for granted, there's a reason why the early 2600 games didn’t have them.

 

The hack to make a six-digit display kernel was very tricky and the early developers simply did not know how to make one.

 

The basic trick is this: Take both sprites. Have them repeat close together three times. (Technical information on repeating sprites is at http://nocash.emubase.de/2k6specs.htm ) This causes the two sprites (players) to be arranged like this on the screen:

 

010101

 

Now, what the 6-digit kernel does is this: While the "1" is displayed, it does a store to GRP0 (what player 0 looks like) to change the second 0 to, say a "2". The kernel then does a store to GRP1 (player 1 appearance) then GRP0 again then finally one to GRP1. The details are a little more complicated than that, but the point being: The 2600 was never designed to show a 6-digit score, and it took major hackery to make one.

 

It was the Activision developers who first knew the trick—but they didn’t let Atari know their secret. I believe the first game to use the 6-digit “score” trick was David Crane’s Dragster...though here the trick is used to draw a lot more stuff. Notably, the drag cars were also drawn using the same trick.

 

Now, in the game Dragster, the drag racing car moves across the screen...the kernel for the 48-bit-wide critter is specially programmed to allow the critter to move horizontally across the screen.

 

Well, as soon as Dragster was released, Atari games started also having 6-digit scores in them.

 

Notably, I heard from someone who was a professional 2600 developer at the time this story: If you dump the ROM of the Rob Fulop’s “Missile Command” game, the part of the kernel that draws the score, strangely enough, looks a lot like the part of the Dragster kernel that draws the moving race cars. Apparently, the score display in Missile Command has code in it which only makes sense if you wish to move the 48-bit score display across the screen...but Missile Command doesn’t do that (the score stays put).

 

It was tricks like the 48-bit-wide sprite that allowed the 2600 to remain a viable platform until 1983’s video game crash...without tricks like this, the 2600 probably would have run out of steam by 1980 or 1981, and be overtaken by the Intellivision (or maybe Atari would have actually have released the Sylvia/3200, which was comparable in quality to the Intellivision).

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It was the Activision developers who first knew the trick—but they didn’t let Atari know their secret. I believe the first game to use the 6-digit “score” trick was David Crane’s Dragster...though here the trick is used to draw a lot more stuff. Notably, the drag cars were also drawn using the same trick.

 

Warren Robinett's "Basic Programming" already used this technique (actually a 96-bit flicker version) in 1979. Dragster was released in 1980, I think. Dragster may have been the first game to show a moving 48-bit kernel, though.

 

solidcorp once mentioned that at Atari the 48-bit kernel was internally called "Dave Staugas 6 character score kernel".

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From a Robinett interview:

 

I used a twelve character-per-line alphanumeric display routine written by Dave Crane; this may not sound like much, but it was the outside of the envelope for the 2600.

I assume that was the 2 triple sprite technique. So BASIC may have been released first, my assumption is Crane is the inventor.

 

The Dave Staugas reference I assume meant the code had been handed down and some where along the line Dave's name got attached, meaning Dave has a copy of that code. Or perhaps Dave coded it a little differently. I don't know. But Dave and solidcorp would have been at Atari a long time after Dragster's release.

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Yes, Blackjack (1977) definitely does multiple GRP0 updates per line. Doing mid-line TIA updates was probably known early on.

 

I went through the list of early Atari releases and if I didn't miss a game, the first Atari game that used a contiguous, non-flickering 48-bit bitmap kernel was ... Missile Command (1981). So, if we talk about this specific variant, it really may have been David Crane who found it. It would be interesting to know if he originally had the idea to exploit VDEL to update the 6th column.

 

On a quick glance it does not appear to me that Missile Command uses a direct copy of the Dragster kernel (e.g., it has a sta WSYNC and cannot even more horizontally). It has the usual 48-bit kernel characteristics though.

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Interesting, very interesting. I would not be surprised if the guy got it wrong. But, it would seem that the general gist of using a non-flickering 48-bit sprite for a six-digit score was done in Activision games before Atari used that code.

 

It was a time when there was a lot, and I mean, a lot of money to be made making 2600 games. Everyone who knew any 6502 was madly disassembling 2600 cartridges to figure out how the system worked and anyone who had worked for Atari was documenting everything they knew about the 2600 in the process of forming their startup.

 

I was really young, but remember seeing people poring over that 48-pixel sprite code until they figured out the VDEL trick to get the final sprite to change its form...the only thing I remember is how STA GRP0; STX GRP1; STY GRP0 had to be done rapid-fire to change the copies of the three sprites. Here’s how the code looks in Pitfall:

 

.loopDigits:

ldy temp2 ; 3

lda (digitPtr+10),y ; 5

sta temp1 ; 3

lda (digitPtr+8 ),y ; 5

tax ; 2

lda (digitPtr),y ; 5

ora temp3 ; 3 show lives when drawing time

sta HMOVE ; 3 produce HMOVE blanks

sta GRP0 ; 3

lda (digitPtr+2),y ; 5

sta GRP1 ; 3

lda (digitPtr+4),y ; 5

sta GRP0 ; 3

lda (digitPtr+6),y ; 5

ldy temp1 ; 3

sta GRP1 ; 3

stx GRP0 ; 3

sty GRP1 ; 3

sta GRP0 ; 3

dec temp2 ; 5

bpl .loopDigits ; 2<B3>

 

Everyone wanted a piece of the pie and there was millions to be made. It was pre-Internet, of course, so there was a lot of misinformation out there, and anyone who knew how the Stella/TIA worked carefully guarded their secrets. One reason why Mythicon’s games were so bad is because they didn’t have any access to official Stella/TIA documentation so had to resort to guessing how the 2600 worked.

 

Hindsight is always 20/20, but I think Atari could have held on to the video game industry by releasing an Atari 3600 that retained 2600 compatibility while fixing the more glaring limitations: Having 2k or 4k instead of 128 bytes of ram; allow 8k or even 16k cartridges without bank switching; increasing the number of sprites from 2 to 4 (or even 8 ); and maybe even having a playfield mode where the playfield was not mirrored/reflected and with narrower pixels (using 10 instead of 2.5 bytes of memory to store).

 

The trick would have been to keep costs down. I don’t blame Atari for not releasing this console in 1980; Home computers looked to be the future and the 2600 wasn’t catching on.

Edited by samiam

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I didn't have access to any official Stella/TIA documentation at Apollo or VentureVision. We got all of our info from a cartridge sold that allowed a user to enter commands to program the VCS. It was released by someone who reverse engineered the VCS. I forget the name of that cart. My impression at the time was most 2600 game companies came from that cart, but don't know if that's true.

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The CommaVid (Computer Magic) Magicard cart?

 

-Thom

 

I didn't have access to any official Stella/TIA documentation at Apollo or VentureVision. We got all of our info from a cartridge sold that allowed a user to enter commands to program the VCS. It was released by someone who reverse engineered the VCS. I forget the name of that cart. My impression at the time was most 2600 game companies came from that cart, but don't know if that's true.

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Yes that's it. Thanks, been bugging me. Ed Salvo at Apollo had learned to program the VCS using the Magicard and he taught us based on that. At the time there was kind of a joke that CommaVid sold 20 Magicards, one for every new company creating VCS games.

 

Apollo was offered a Stella manual stolen from Atari, but it wasn't obtained as far as I know. I think management thought there must be some secret registers that could be used to make great games and were very interested.

 

Over the past month I've been reading some 2600 code and see labels like GRP0 which I assume are from the original Atari Stella manual. I have to translate into what we, or I, called the registers.

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Over the past month I've been reading some 2600 code and see labels like GRP0 which I assume are from the original Atari Stella manual. I have to translate into what we, or I, called the registers.

 

The original Stella Programmer's Guide is available at MiniDig. Charles Sinnett converted it to text about 20 years ago, so it's a searchable PDF. There are a few of the old hand-drawn timing charts at the end.

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Thanks Darrell, that's a great site. I had run into a scaned Stella manual some place else, but the PDF looks better. Plus the other info.

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The thing I remember seeing was a one-page photocopy-of-a-photocopy description of the Stella registers at the top of page 0; having access to even that was considered very hot. The manual was very terse, and I don’t think it had the official names like “GRP0” and what not, but it let people make very compelling 2600 games.

 

Even though I could, in a fashion, program in 6502 at the time, I was too young to really be a part of the original video game tech bubble, but I remember watching the grown-ups (some friends of my family) sitting around for hours after a local computer users group talking about their 2600 video game startup, discussing the market, how millions could be made, about getting financing and office space to make the start up happen. It was very exciting to listen to.

 

I watched as that company making 2600 games was getting formed with the dreams of hitting it big and retiring young, only to have, just a year later, 2600 game companies dying like flies left and right. The startup I saw up close and personal was very lucky—they were bought out for pennies on the dollar; the management structure was retained and most workers kept their jobs for years after the 2600 no longer was a cash cow. [1]

 

I know there has been a lot of speculation about what went wrong and why the bubble burst so quickly (the 1990s “dot-com” bubble, as a point of comparison, lasted half a decade before popping). My personal theory is that Pac-Man and ET did the most damage; both games got the most publicity but were plain simply not very good games. Because of the extensive marketing on Atari’s part, instead of something really strong like Pitfall, it was 2600’s Pac-Man which made the evening news and was the most visible in the local toy store.

 

While Atari was able to later on make a compelling Pac-Man clone for the 2600 with Ms. Pac Man [2], the damage had already been done. Along with all of the lousy third party games (lousy not because the people making them were bad programmers; lousy because a lot of the companies just didn’t know how the 2600 fully worked and because, like Pac-Man and ET, the games were often times rush jobs) people perceived the 2600 as only being able to play “lame” games, even though it had really fantastic games like Demon Attack, River Raid, Pitfall/Pitfall II [3], and the Supercharger games such as Phaser Patrol.

 

When the Nintendo Entertainment System first came out, in the later days of the crash, I looked at it and said to myself “They’re crazy to try and release a new video game console”. This was when dozens of different Atari 2600 games were available in the bargain bin for $5 a game, and arcade coin-ops were shutting down left and right because everyone got bored with playing those video games; many though that video games would go the way of Bell Bottoms, Disco, and the Hula Loop.

 

[1] The Regan-era greed was only starting to take hold, and ideas that became normal during the dot-com era, such as buying out a company and then firing most or all of its employees, had not become mainstream. Good workers back then were valued a lot more in Silicon Valley than they are today.

 

[2] Personally, I think what killed Pac-Man was the flickering. Ms. Pac-Man still has some pretty bad flickering problems. This probably could have been minimized by having only three ghosts, and using missile instead of player graphics for the floating fruit (giving it an abstract form).

 

[3] I looked at any new 2600 game that came out after 1983 and said to myself “what’s the point?”. For example: Montezuma’s Revenge and, later on, California Games. Both of these games are considered examples of the best games ever made for the 2600. Both games do not hold a candle to the home 8-bit computer or NES versions of the same game. Anyone with money to buy a new video game had money to get a better system than the 2600 to play the game on.

Edited by samiam

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I watched as that company making 2600 games was getting formed with the dreams of hitting it big and retiring young, only to have, just a year later, 2600 game companies dying like flies left and right. The startup I saw up close and personal was very lucky—they were bought out for pennies on the dollar; the management structure was retained and most workers kept their jobs for years after the 2600 no longer was a cash cow.

What company was that? Those were wild times.

 

I don't think it was only about the money, lots of people just thought it was cool to do games. Like Apollo was making film strips for schools...how boring is that? Getting into games was very exciting for them. Like the sales people seemed to love selling games, plus they were selling a lot. Everyone's jobs there I think got really exciting really fast. Hard to separate out the money though. It's part of the excitement, part people really liked making games.

 

I always thought the crash was because of crappy games too, but I just saw a video of David Crane talking about that. He had a slightly different take and he changed my mind. More games than the market could handle. Companies started going belly up and the problem was their inventory was sold for a few dollars and all dumped onto the market at $5 in the bargain bin in front of the store. I remember those. And that Christmas parents bought those instead of the $40 games. That was the big whack. Then everything went into the bargain bin. The glut of inventory was just too big to wait out. Even Demon Attack ended up in the bargain bin.

 

I do still blame Atari's problems on Atari's management of ET, Pac-Man, but really just their lack of understanding the market. A company of their size could have weathered the storm.

 

lousy not because the people making them were bad programmers

At Apollo they ended up with something like 25 programmers. Ed Salvo was the only one I knew that had any experience, though I wasn't around for most of the hires. I had like maybe a could of dozen hours experience with 6502, maybe 100 hours of Apple BASIC. One guy was a COBAL programmer. The joke was you only needed to be able to spell 6502 to be hired. Maybe not bad programmers but we sure were inexperienced.

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I’m a little reluctant to reveal the company’s name because I’m a bit worried about protecting the privacy of the people involved, since most of them are still alive today. While there is no scandalous gossip for me to share, I have over the years lost touch with those guys, and I am not 100% sure if the people involved in that startup want the story of their rapid rise and fall as remembered by a then young child made public on the Internet.

 

I will Google around and see how much of the story of the people involved is already a matter of public record.

Edited by samiam

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I don't think it was only about the money

 

Naturally, it wasn’t. That said, as someone who has his own open-source project—a “long tail” DNS server [1]—I have become really jaded by the hordes of “freetards” on the Internet who expect something for nothing. I finished that program and put the project on the back burner (bug fixes only) nearly three years ago, but I still get in the occasional flame war with someone because I no longer implement features “for fun and for free”. It wasn’t a total loss—the project has its own Wikipedia page and gave me the job I have today—but dealing with freetards has changed my entire attitude towards Linux and the entire Open Source movement.

 

I always thought the crash was because of crappy games too, but I just saw a video of David Crane talking about that. He had a slightly different take and he changed my mind. More games than the market could handle. Companies started going belly up and the problem was their inventory was sold for a few dollars and all dumped onto the market at $5 in the bargain bin in front of the store. I remember those. And that Christmas parents bought those instead of the $40 games. That was the big whack.

 

I think David Crane is on to something there. The sense I got (again, as a young kid) is that, come 1983, Atari 2600 games started to get the perception as being “lame”, in a large part because the most marketed 2600 games out there (Pac-Man and ET) were quite lousy. Seeing 2600 games being sold at the local KB Toy Store for $5 a pop strengthened the perception that 2600 games were not worth anything any more.

 

By 1984, it made no sense whatsoever to make a 2600 game. Compare Montezuma’s Revenge on the 2600 and on the then almost as inexpensive Commodore 64 or Atari 800XL [2]. I didn’t even see the financial point in making a port for the 2600. It was a cheap system for cheap games which did not hold a candle to all of the low-cost 8-bit computers and consoles out there.

 

By the time Super Mario Brothers revived the video game industry, I had lost almost all interest in video games and programming, and fancied myself an electronic musician.

 

[1] MaraDNS. I call it “long tail” because it has never been one of the “big 2” DNS servers. When I started MaraDNS, the “big 2” were BIND and DJBdns (and the flame wars were really ugly); these days the “big 2” are BIND and Unbound/NSD, and the discussions about which DNS server one should use are much more dignified and quiet.

 

[2] Here’s another story: I remember Atari employees coming out and selling us 800XLs for pennies on the dollar. The story I heard—and this is probably as apocryphal as the story of Atari filling a truck with unsold ET cartridges and burying them in the desert—is that Atari was giving employees pallets of Atari 800XLs and other merchandise to sell themselves instead of paychecks.

Edited by samiam

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Naturally, it wasn’t. That said, as someone who has his own open-source project—a “long tail” DNS server [1]—I have become really jaded by the hordes of “freetards” on the Internet who expect something for nothing. I finished that program and put the project on the back burner (bug fixes only) nearly three years ago, but I still get in the occasional flame war with someone because I no longer implement features “for fun and for free”. It wasn’t a total loss—the project has its own Wikipedia page and gave me the job I have today—but dealing with freetards has changed my entire attitude towards Linux and the entire Open Source movement.

I've stayed away from Open Source because of that very thing. Users talk about greedy developers but some demand free service as their right. I don't understand it.

 

I think David Crane is on to something there. The sense I got (again, as a young kid) is that, come 1983, Atari 2600 games started to get the perception as being “lame”, in a large part because the most marketed 2600 games out there (Pac-Man and ET) were quite lousy. Seeing 2600 games being sold at the local KB Toy Store for $5 a pop strengthened the perception that 2600 games were not worth anything any more.

You're no doubt right about kids thinking the games were lame. That didn't help. And bins of discounted games sure doesn't help with coolness. I think the glut just focused the problem to come to a head really fast and sudden. Otherwise the 2600 could have just faded over the next year or two.

 

By 1984, it made no sense whatsoever to make a 2600 game. Compare Montezuma’s Revenge on the 2600 and on the then almost as inexpensive Commodore 64 or Atari 800XL [2]. I didn’t even see the financial point in making a port for the 2600. It was a cheap system for cheap games which did not hold a candle to all of the low-cost 8-bit computers and consoles out there.

In the fall of 1983 we couldn't find any distributors that would even talk about buying any games at any price. Sure seemed done to me.

 

[2] Here’s another story: I remember Atari employees coming out and selling us 800XLs for pennies on the dollar. The story I heard—and this is probably as apocryphal as the story of Atari filling a truck with unsold ET cartridges and burying them in the desert—is that Atari was giving employees pallets of Atari 800XLs and other merchandise to sell themselves instead of paychecks.

I never heard about Atari missing payroll at least in the Warner days. When Atari was bought by Tramiel pretty much everything was up for grabs. Was that the time? The 800XLs would have been stolen imo as no one threw out inventory. There were lots of dumpsters full of office supplies however. A few of us were in there pulling out stuff. I got so many staplers I haven't reloaded a stapler in 30 years. I just toss it when empty. Great staplers too.

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I've stayed away from Open Source because of that very thing. Users talk about greedy developers but some demand free service as their right.

 

Wise move. I think open source caught on big time during the dot-com boom because, with the way Microsoft was taking all of the oxygen away from Netscape [1] (or anyone else who dared to stand in their way), the only strategy for software developers that could at all withstand Microsoft was to give it all away. This is why Google spends to this day millions of dollars both developing both their own Chrome and financing Firefox; it is to ensure that the Internet never becomes a close standard defined by a single company.

 

I don’t regret my project; it kept my skills current while I lived and worked in Mexico for a few years, and gave me two job offers during one of the worst recessions when I came back.

 

I never heard about Atari missing payroll at least in the Warner days. When Atari was bought by Tramiel pretty much everything was up for grabs. Was that the time?

 

This happened late 1984, early 1985, right around the time of the Tramiel takeover. They may even have been stolen in a “they missed payroll” kind of way, but the story we were hearing from the guys selling us the stuff was that their boss said “We can’t make payroll. Get a truck and we’ll load it with a palette of 800XLs.” The guys were too visible and high-profile for it to have been downright theft.

 

In the fall of 1983 we couldn't find any distributors that would even talk about buying any games at any price. Sure seemed done to me.

 

My sense with the post-crash 2600 scene is that, come 1984, it was impossible to sell a new 2600 game. Once all of the overstocked 2600 inventory was liquidated in late 1984 or early 1985, the stores started to stock, on a very limited basis, low-cost 2600 consoles and games again. I saw 2600s for sale as late as 1987 or 1988, with the very occasional new 2600 game, but, by then, everyone was playing Nintendo instead.

 

Atari only held on to the 2600 for as long as they did because they didn’t have another hit to replace it with. The tiny trickle of money they were getting in the late 1980s from $50 cheap 2600 consoles and the very few new games released for it was better than nothing, and probably the reason why they held on to it until 1992.

 

[1] I remember when Netscape had a hugs campus in Mountain View. Today, the buildings have been repainted and the big “N” logo has been replaced with Symantec’s logo. I remember visiting Be’s headquarters; they were bought out by Palm, who could not get any traction post-iPhone and recently died after being bought out by HP and renamed webOS (anyone else remember the 2600-style clearance of webOS devices from just a couple of years ago?). SGI ended up competing with Windows NT, and their buildings are now all offices for Google. These are just three companies whose tombstones are best captioned “Here lie companies that dared to compete with Microsoft in the 90s”

Edited by samiam

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I think there were a number of factors that brought about the video game console crash. Myself, like the majority of my friends, put the Ataris and Colecos1 in the closet and started gaming on our new home computers. Add don't forget how easy it was to pirate games on computers vs consoles.

 

The arcades stopped pushing the enveloped, there were games in the 90s were still using less than 320x200 resolution. Why spend money at the arcade when the quality at home was significantly better?

 

1 I don't recall any of my friends having an Intellivision.

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Myself, like the majority of my friends, put the Ataris and Colecos in the closet and started gaming on our new home computers. Add don't forget how easy it was to pirate games on computers vs consoles.

 

That’s what I did after getting bored with all those 2600 games I got for $5 a pop. By 1985 a new Atari 800XL was to be had for $100, which cost far less than a 2600 console did just a couple of years before, and was fully programmable to boot. The XE series and inexpensive ram expansions, as well as Turbo Basic kept them going for quite a few years—what little gaming I did was either on that 800XL (I was playing and programming it as recently as 1993) or on the family Amiga. PC gaming just wasn’t there until the Internet and FPS (first-person shooter) revolution a few years later.

 

I don't recall any of my friends having an Intellivision.

 

I knew one guy who owned one. The Intellivision’s problem was that, while better than the 2600, with hacks like the 6-digit score hack, it was possible to make games almost as good on the Atari. Atari’s better ability to secure home gaming licenses for coin-op games was the nail in Mattel Intellivision’s coffin. By 1982, Mattel was selling “M-Network” 2600 games.

 

Also, I get the sense that the 6502 is a lot cleaner and simpler to code in than the CP1610 was. It took a David Crane level of programmer to want to program one (he made the Intellivision port of Pitfall, which arguably was the best game for the Intellivision—but I’m happy to be refuted by any lurking Blue Sky Rangers out there).

Edited by samiam

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sigh.

 

Another "I burned out" "Free/Open Source Software" story.

 

If I may provide my insight here,

 

I've been a software developer, for the majority of my life (I even started getting my first paycheques, working with my father, when I was 8 years old). I grew up, not only on computers like the Atari 800 (my first love), but also on UNIX and VMS systems. I submitted my first patch to some GNU software, in May of 1988 (to 'make'), and witnessed GNU collect, bit by bit, enough of a UNIX system to rival even the Net/2 distribution that Berkeley was putting out alongside its BSD distribution... I saw the birth of 386BSD, of Minix, of Coherent, of Linux, first hand, and saw the communities built around them which allowed these things to flourish,

 

and I must make a very simple observation: The crowds have changed in the free software world, drastically, and for the worse.

 

In the beginning, ARPA/Internet culture was full of academic, affluent; very intelligent individuals who wanted fellow colleagues to more easily see their work. They cut their teeth on systems built from collections of software that were passed around from minicomputer, to workstation, and saw that this was simply the way of things. This was especially prevalent in the earlier days of computing because the vendors themselves saw themselves as just pushing hardware, and the software was just...there... but... this is all academic, I'm sure most of you know this already; I am merely reminding this to prove the point.

 

Today's internet crowd is significantly larger, and growing up in a world where everything is traded freely, many of these people are kids, who are still figuring the world out, and honestly, they're assholes...can you remember how big of an asshole you were at 13? I can. Unfortunately, it seems that today many of these kids don't...really...grow up... and we throw all this together, with a world in which on one end, you have the old media companies trying to grab onto everything they can, squeeze out every buck they can, and try to cope with the fact that on the OTHER end of the spectrum, you have the pirates, and the people who believe that EVERYTHING should be free as in money (I believe in libertas, not gratis, and this cognitive dissonance where most gravitate towards gratis only adds gasoline to this fire), is it any surprise that there is a weird tension in the middle?

 

So for me, the free/open source software is merely a means to an end, I put my software as free software, because I not only want it to exist; I want it to survive anything that could possibly be done to it. It does not mean that I sacrifice my livelihood (I make money solving other people's hard problems so I can work on the free stuff), and sometimes I even get paid from it, it's all in how you lay out your cards.

 

Anyway, just my $0.02 ...which is rapidly becoming more worthless by the day due to our wonderful government policies to ensure that our status as the world's reserve currency, and all the little perks it buys us, are numbered... oh sorry. wrong meeting...TOMORROW is the meeting by the docks... :P

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I didn't have a clue how the Open Source stuff started, so thanks. Makes sense.

 

The biggest problem I have with Open Source is I'm a bit dyslexic and have a hard time understanding the licenses. Before Open Source programmers either added a copyright notice or "public domain" which I understood. Even the Open Source licenses that seem to say "public domain" go on and on with legalese that lows my confidence that I actually understand it. I assume most people don't understand the licenses either and just use the software however they like. I can't imagine that most authors ever track down and kill any abusers.

 

Also, I've tried to get into a few Open Source projects but I don't have any experience with the tools and lingo. I've done almost no Unix or Linux programming. So I never have a clue what's going on. Huge barrier to entry for me. It took me a long time to just figure out TAR balls. Everything in that world seems like a kluge and the tools very primitive to me. I'm sure if I worked in that world I'd understand it better. I started out with command line compilers, make files, etc. But wouldn't like to have to go back. And the IDE projects never seem to have the same IDE version I have so that's a mess.

 

So far what I've had to do is use Open Source code to understand algorithms and rewrite the code from scratch. While that sounds pretty dumb the code I've used had pretty cool algorithms but the code wasn't too hot, so I end up with a better understanding and better code. And since I sell the software I really have to support it and understanding the code and making it less error prone has value to me. If I released my code as Open Source I guess I could just wish users good luck, but I wouldn't feel right (proud) about that.

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Similar to what I said in another thread, I'd like a Star Trek style future where you create things to express yourself or challenge yourself or just to have fun. You won't have to do anything to make money because everyone will be able to have just about anything they want, including food. Nobody will go hungry.

 

When the need to earn money finally goes away and we can just do things for the sake of doing them, the world will be a nicer place. We can say goodbye to copyrights. Software piracy will no longer exist.

 

Of course, survival and greed are powerful factors that keep people motivated. If companies only make useful products so the guys in suits can make millions, they'd probably stop making medicine, diapers, hammers, TVs, and everything else.

 

If everybody essentially turns into a rich man overnight, will anyone make anything besides art and software? Maybe that Star Trek style future isn't as great as I thought. But if we have replicators, maybe we won't need companies to make things, except for replicators (unless replicators can make replicators).

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First of all, please pardon the long off-topic diatribe. :)

 

The biggest problem I have with Open Source is I'm a bit dyslexic and have a hard time understanding the licenses. Before Open Source programmers either added a copyright notice or "public domain" which I understood. Even the Open Source licenses that seem to say "public domain" go on and on with legalese that lows my confidence that I actually understand it.

 

You don't need open source software to get mired in thick gobs of legalese. Just look at the end-user license agreements attached to any Microsoft or Adobe product.

 

Different licenses, both open-source and closed-source, have different intentions. One of the most famous open-source licenses, the GNU Public License, intends to allow you to use and modify the software any way you want for your personal use, however, if you intend to sell or give the code (or programs compiled from the code) to others, you must offer the same license, even if you modified the code. The intention is to prevent people from turning an open-source project into a closed-source off-shoot. Other open-source licenses, such as the different flavors of the BSD license, are less restrictive, and allow code to be added to closed-source projects, sometimes with the condition that proper credit be given to the original developers. Regardless of a license's intention, however, the lawyers figure somebody out there is going to try and bend the rules to their liking. So, we get these encyclopedias of stipulations, which strive to make sure all bases covered in case anyone misbehaves.

 

Open-source licenses tend to get more of a spotlight for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the clash of ideals between proponents of "free software" and those in favor of more traditional software distribution methods. Even so, the fact remains just about every piece of software written nowadays has a license attached, and it would be wise to have a good understanding of that license, especially if you plan on incorporating that code into a software project of your own. At least with open-source you tend to have a better way to "try before you buy."

 

Also, I've tried to get into a few Open Source projects but I don't have any experience with the tools and lingo. I've done almost no Unix or Linux programming. So I never have a clue what's going on. Huge barrier to entry for me. It took me a long time to just figure out TAR balls. Everything in that world seems like a kluge and the tools very primitive to me. I'm sure if I worked in that world I'd understand it better. I started out with command line compilers, make files, etc. But wouldn't like to have to go back.

 

Yeah, that's a culture thing. Speaking for myself and those around me, open-sourcers love their command-line tools. :)

 

...ince I sell the software I really have to support it and understanding the code and making it less error prone has value to me. If I released my code as Open Source I guess I could just wish users good luck, but I wouldn't feel right (proud) about that.

 

Open-source doesn't mean you're simply tossing the software out to the wind. It can mean that, certainly, but usually what it means is, "here's this code, if you want to maintain it yourself, you're welcome to, or you can pay me to keep it working for you." Nowadays Canonical Software, the makers of the linux-based Ubuntu operating system, is the biggest success story in making money off of open-source software. The OS and all bundled applications are avialable for free to anyone who wants to use them, and the source code is also available to anyone who wants to modify or maintain the code. At the same time, Canonical offers service contracts to those who need more personalized support or guarantees of service. In other words, you can "buy" the Ubuntu OS and get all of the same features and protections you would with any closed-source OS.

 

Also, on the development side of things, some open-source projects offer multiple licenses for their code. If you see something you like and want to add it to your project, but you don't want your project to be restricted by whatever stipulations the "free" license for that code requires, you can instead pay for a different license that better suits your needs.

 

[A]s someone who has his own open-source project—a “long tail” DNS server [1]—I have become really jaded by the hordes of “freetards” on the Internet who expect something for nothing. I finished that program and put the project on the back burner (bug fixes only) nearly three years ago, but I still get in the occasional flame war with someone because I no longer implement features “for fun and for free”. It wasn’t a total loss—the project has its own Wikipedia page and gave me the job I have today—but dealing with freetards has changed my entire attitude towards Linux and the entire Open Source movement.

 

Welcome to the Internet. You will not find a more wretched hive of greed and idiocy. I'm sorry you had that experience, but for what it's worth, those people don't understand the open source movement's intentions. It isn't about getting "something for nothing"; in many ways it's the exact opposite. I could go off on an even longer tangent, but I won't. You have my sympathy for having to deal with Internet morons, but I promise most open source users are not simply looking for a hand-out. Those that are probably pirate other, closed-source software anyway.

Edited by FujiSkunk

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FujiSkunk, thanks for the explanation. For using software I've never felt I needed to understand the license since I never thought I was close to running afoul of anything. But for using Open Source code in my projects I feel like I have to understand the details or I put the entire project at risk. That's been the problem for me.

 

I was just reading a thread on the Stella emulator and the programmers trying to get permission to use code from another project. They tracked down one programmer who gave permission but he thought another programmer had code in there too and he had to be tracked down. To me it seems very complex. The opposite of what I think they all were trying to do.

 

I'd like a Star Trek style future where you create things to express yourself or challenge yourself or just to have fun. You won't have to do anything to make money because everyone will be able to have just about anything they want, including food.

The no money Star Trek concept is very compelling...right up until you want to buy some tribbles.

 

My guess is human greed existed before there was money and greed will exist should money ever go away. As Chakotay said, it's our nature.

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