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