Amidst the news of GigaStudio’s demise, we’ve heard some isolated calls to open source Giga itself. There’s even an Open GigaStudio petition (via musicradar.com). The likelihood of open sourcing a code base as large as Giga’s, though, seems extremely slim. Making an open source project from a commercial developer successful requires a number of critical ingredients. You need the will of the company that owns the code, of course, but also:

  • a code base that is accessible to people who have never seen it before
  • code that’s free from "encumbrances" or code or concepts proprietary to a third party, such as licensed libraries or materials covered by patents (and thus usually requiring removal)
  • an active community of developers
  • a process for maintaining development

Or, put more simply: you have to fully own the thing, you have to want to share the thing, and there has to be a group of people who can work on it productively. Even satisfying one of these is unlikely here, let alone all of them.

Ownership, in particular, is an area a lot of people underestimate. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Tascam/Teac wanted to open source the code — and they almost certainly don’t. Even if they did, they might be unable to do so, because they may not own all of its contents. Then there’s the question of whether Giga would really be an ideal framework for open development. Keep in mind that, while Mozilla’s Firefox grew out of proprietary Netscape code, it was also an independent platform, and setting up that platform — one that would be better suited to open development — took years of work.

There are some really terrific open source sound projects out there. CSound, for instance, once proprietary (though free for non-commercial use) is today covered under the open LGPL license. As a result, it’s made an appearance in karaoke hardware. Pure Data (Pd) was recently incorporated into interactive music design for the upcoming EA game Spore from Will Wright, as composed by Brian Eno. Neither of these products is as end-user friendly as a typical commercial product, it’s true. But each has been incorporated into other projects in a way that would be impossible with a proprietary application. I love Max, for instance, but licensing Max for Spore wouldn’t have made any sense; Pd happens to run easily in a "headless" operation, and it’s open source.

Open source code (or free software, if you like), is just one part of what this software industry needs. We could really use better interchange file formats, more extensible applications, and more standards for communication between software and software, software and hardware, and hardware and hardware. Even if you use exclusively free or exclusively proprietary software, these are important.

In fact, if we weren’t stuck with a mess of formats for files and communication, the death of one application might not be so damaging. And given that artists are wildly loyal to specific tools for artistic reasons, it seems, even pragmatically, that format lock-in is overkill. All our real-world evidence says people stick with software because they love the tool and have a good relationship with the company that makes it.

When it comes to open source code, though, you need a community of people investing time, often without direct profit. I think there’s more excitement now about doing that than at any time in recent memory in music technology. OpenGiga may never see the light of day, but you can expect progress on free projects like Pd will accelerate.

See also yesterday’s story and accompanying discussion:

Life After Giga: A Call for Open Source Sampling Development

The discussion there was about an independent project that would make sense for open development, not an open Giga or Giga clone.

  • Darren Landrum

    I think people are going to point to the open sourcing of Blender than any other application, for precedent. Yes, it is possible for enough people to get up to speed on a foreign codebase. But even Blender, encumbered by no patents, wanted $100,000 before they would open the code. The Blender Foundation managed to get enough donations to secure that amount. GigaStudio, an application that sees much wider use than Blender ever did, would surely ask for many times that, since the precedent is there.

    Or we might all be pleasantly surprised. Who knows? It doesn't change my plans any.

  • Darren Landrum

    Sorry, I screwed up my link to Blender:

    http://www.blender.org/

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, and that illustrates my point, too. I love Blender. But it'd be fantastic to have a much simpler 3D tool with code that was more manageable and understandable. (There are some projects that resemble that, but they're quite dated.)

    Anyway, the OSS world already has some terrific, heavyweight fruits, especially on the server side (MySQL, PHP, Linux, OpenSolaris, Apache, etc., etc., all of which are allowing you to read this comment.) And in music, we're lucky enough to have Ardour, Pd, Csound, JACK, and many others. So I think it's reasonable to say, at this point, if you want more, you have to build more. :) And maybe it doesn't *have* to be — shouldn't be — a giant, monolithic app. OSS has an opportunity to do something much more lightweight. (Csound, in many ways, has endured because it's very elegant and doesn't do everything.)

  • Penguins Go To 11

    Peter,

    A few things to clear up. I run a couple of open source projects in Fedora space. To open source a product properly, you don't need an "active community" to start with, by open sourcing things, even ugly things, you have a chance to build a community. Things travel by word of mouth. It is true the best projects are the ones that start as open on day 1, and are constantly in tune with their users to work together to improve them. With an existing app, there is freedom to deconstruct it, so you might be suprised at what sort of community that may grow around it if the upstream knows what it is doing. In any case, it's about communication and transparency, and accepting all comers — more so than having interested parties on day 1. Open Source "marketing" in that case, is the antithesis of how it is typically done in proprietary space. If your application sucks, people won't use it — if it doesn't suck — they will.

    You say "Open source code (or free software, if you like), is just one part of what this software industry needs". I agree — the best way to get there is an open development process and through building more open source applications. It's hard to NOT do good interchange formats when you realize that the entire Linux/Unix philosophy is about making small tools work together with other tools. Take the simple shell pipe for instance. Simply by having more open applications, there will be a demand to have them interoperate. This is much better than trying to create a proprietary standard, that is likely governed by standards commitees — let things evolve organically.

    I'm not sure what your ultimate point of this piece is, but if folks are interested in more open source music applications, joining some of the existing communities would be a great start — or putting together a group to build a new one also flies. The petition of course can't hurt, and should be encouraged — in fact, owners of the application may actually benefit provided licensing is done in such a way where it does not turn off potential contributers.

    You say with blender you would like something simpler and more managable — thankfully you have the ideas from that project to use as a starting point, should anyone want to choose to create one. You are not wired to contributing just to blender. Freedom to fork is one of the virtues of Free Software.

    Ultimately the greatest benefit from any application being open source is the highly unpredictable network effect of what people may do with it — often things you would never expect. This network effect builds exponentially the more tools are in the ecosystem.

    Tascam has the opportunity here to show extreme leadership and to help create some very exciting technology, provided they take advantage of available resources and expertise in how other applications build successful communities of contributers.

    I could see some high quality LGPL'd library companies being hugely beneficial.

    So, let's see more people take the leap, and while they may not get "free developers overnight" (which is almost never the case) what they may see could be equally amazing. In the worst case, it's a lot of excellent free documentation (in this case code), for others to help generate some exciting new apps and ideas.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, I'm not suggesting you should wait around for a community to show up — nor am I saying we shouldn't open source things; that's about the last thing I'd suggest. The issue here is, I think people need to adjust their expectations. People don't recognize the fact that all of these ingredients are necessary for a successful project, and then they jump to the conclusion that open source doesn't work. By the same token, you could point to a proprietary project that didn't have a proper development process in place and say proprietary code doesn't work. It doesn't make any sense, but you do hear it.

    As for simple projects versus big, monolithic ones … yes, you can fork projects, but that's obviously not always the best approach.

    My ultimate point is, it may be unrealistic to expect an open-sourced GigaStudio. That's it. I think it's better to recognize that now, because otherwise people could unfairly assume Tascam is holding the code "hostage" (which may or may not be the case), or that, at the opposite extreme, open source is incapable of producing great software (which is simply wrong).

  • http://keithhandy.com Keith Handy

    Open source code (or free software, if you like),

    I think I just heard the sound of Richard Stallman pounding his head against a desk somewhere…

  • Downpressor

    Keith

    Nice to imagine but unfortunately he's unlikely to end up silencing himself (permanently) that way.

    Peter,

    Maybe the question here is which is more valuable to creator in the long run, the GigaStudio software itself or the sample libraries they have invested in. I suspect it might be the sample libraries. If so, it might make more sense to aim for opening up the file format rather than the software. Of course even that may be encumbered with ownership issues, but I have a gut feeling that its a more achievable goal.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Downpressor: Nope, I agree, entirely. Of course, that does assume that the sampler on the other end has the same capabilities, but I think this would be a huge help. In the meantime, of course, you've got loads of Giga importers, and I expect this may encourage people to make sure they work and try to snap out the migrating user base.

  • http://remaincalm.org Dan

    Even if the source has sections that are third-party owned (e.g. VST support? some of the VST license is weird), they could always just excise those sections and open source the important bits in non-functional format. If people want to use it, they'll get it working.

    Whether or not it'll be better than something else out there already, that's a different story.

    My guess is that Tascam will probably just try and sell the codebase off, though. Or maybe they already tried to do that and failed to find a buyer.

  • http://jackit.sf.net/ Paul Davis

    The most important thing here has nothing do with Giga{Sampler,Studio} the software. What really matters are data formats. The LinuxSampler guys and others have managed to reverse-engineer most of the .gig format, but there are important pieces still missing AFAIK. Only a handful of users care about giga the app, but anyone can see the virtue of being able to use the data available on the sample library discs. If the data format is well documented and available without a license, you will see many cool new pieces of software that can handle all the details that .gigs contain, which will be even better than having giga-the-app open source.

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  • Paul Binns

    I totally agree with you Paul Davis (and others who's comments were in the same vein). The value here is in the sample file format and technology. One can be sure the competition were approached to buy up the rights only to find that no one was interested. I think that is because they have all spent huge sums developing their own GIGA reinventions. Now to turn back and acquire GIGa rights would seem like they tried to do it but failed.

    No I think you will see a total fade away from GIGA except for the hobbyist programmer who just wants to see how it ticks. And the whole golden age will pass into the ancient yore, like Amiga.

    I am not saying that is where it should go, just that it is the reality of the marketplace. Many of the best inventions of the 20th century were flops…. and look at the brilliance of Tesla… a genius we are only now beginning to appreciate.

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