Csound: more on “sloppy packaging”

…Just an inflammatory headline to get you interested in reading my ideas.

I had some more thoughts about the Csound packaging discussion. As mentioned before, the big problem I see with Csound is its huge scope and tons of leftover and no-longer-supported components due to its age.

I’ve thought about a couple other software systems and how their developers managed this.


The history of Unix, GNU, Linux, etc. is a lot more complex that I can deal with here, but for our purposes Unix was originally developed at Bell Labs and not really intended to be publicly distributed for free. But students at (e.g.) UC Berkeley extended and developed it and the “BSD” distribution started to be seen everywhere.

Many companies took Unix concepts and “productized” it for sale. For instance, Sun developed “SunOS” (later renamed Solaris) which was basically just a Unix port that was guaranteed to run on their hardware and was supported.

Ironically, you can now get Solaris for free and it’s ported to a number of platforms.

StarOffice and OpenOffice

Late in the 90s and to date, Sun produced a program suite called “StarOffice” designed to compete with/replace Microsoft Office which was an expensive licensed product of Microsoft. Sun actually released a version called “OpenOffice” which is completely free and unsupported.

The point is that now the user has a choice. If you (or your company) can afford MS Office, you’re free to buy it. It will probably amount to a few hundred dollars (US) depending on the configuration you choose. But if you want to save money and don’t absolutely need to use the MS products, you can get StarOffice for USD50. If even that’s too much, you can download OpenOffice which has the same functionality for whatever it costs you to download a few hundred megabytes.

And my point is…?

What I’m obviously getting to is: would a Csound user pay a small amount for a stable, well-documented, software suite that did 90% of what Csound is capable of, if it meant no hassle in installing and using it?

I think a part of this equation might involve something like Steven Yi’s blue Csound frontend / composition environment. Although it’s been very interesting for a few years, it is suddenly at version 2.0.x and more stable and powerful than ever before (why? because it’s being actively developed; by a real software engineer; who is managing the project himself (or with a small group of other volunteers.) )

There are many competing factions at the Csound table. There are the grizzled veterans for whom Csound’s cruftiness is part of its charm; the Linux stalwarts who have to build it from source before using it; the students who are forced to study it in their electronic music curriculum, the fascinated hobbyists, the experienced computer music gurus, etc.

Wonderful thoughts. So who is going to pay for all this fine work?

Well, that is the crux, isn’t it? Look at the example of the amazing music application called “chuck.” My guess it was developed by a couple of amazingly talented grad students at Princeton, who are now probably trying to pay their rent and student loans. It hasn’t had a new release since (I think) mid-2008. That’s not to say it isn’t amazingly powerful and functional as it is — in fact, its forum is still very active. But without dedicated, professional, paid staff it’s hard to see how it can thrive, get bugs fixed, new features implemented and tested and so forth.


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