Non-GPL packages for R

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Re: Non-GPL packages for R

Douglas Bates-2
On Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 1:48 PM, rudjer <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Comrades,
> When talk turns to the purity of the revolution, and purge of packages then
> the guillotine can't be far behind.  We all remember Lenin berating the
> "renegade Kautsky" for his "pragmatism," and we know where that led...
> So let me put in a good word for pragmatism, and incidentally for saving one
> of my
> own packages, SparseM, and perhaps eventually my neck.  Last week Kurt asked
> me to look into a SparseM licensing quirk based on an inquiry from the
> Fedora
> folks.  SparseM is GPL except for one routine cholesky.f written at Oakridge
> Lab by E. Ng and B. Peyton.  Our version of the code was redistributed in
> the
> package PCx which was copywrited by the U. of Chicago, who specified that
> commercial users should contact someone at Argonne National Lab.  Since the
> beginning we have retained this language in the License file of SparseM,
> even
> though the code in question was not actually developed as a part of PCx.
> I contacted one of the original PCx developers who responded as follows:
>        The routine you mention was distributed with PCx but not part
>        of it as you see from the legalese and not covered by the PCx
>        copyright.  I tried to interest the authors of that code
>        in legal issues in around 1997 but could not get them
>        motivated (frankly I also can't get too interested).
> To which I heartily concurred.  If someone who is worried about getting sued
> would like to dig into this can of worms, then fine.  But life is too short
> for the rest of us.  This is quite a murky business, we shouldn't create
> incentives to make it murkier by covering up relevant language on licensing.
> But surely we can also all agree that CRAN has been a fantastic success, and
> adding new constraints on its operation is ill-advised.

It is unfortunately common in the numerical analysis community,
especially those still using Fortran, to have a rather vague approach
to licensing. ("I'll send a copy of my code to anyone who asks for it
but put in some language that if someone is going to get fantastically
rich from it then they owe me money too")  In the Open Source
community licensing is very important - it is what makes Open Source
software, including CRAN, possible. Most non-lawyers don't find the
study and discussion of licenses to be terribly fascinating but they
are the foundation of Open Source software. If the authors of Fortran
subroutines feel that it is too much of a bother to pay attention to
licenses (or to learn post-1950's programming languages) then
evolution will run its course and they will be left behind.  It's
annoying in that so little software from the numerical analysis
community is covered by suitable licenses but that will change.

Tim Davis's C and C++-based sparse matrix code that is incorporated in
the Matrix package is licensed under the GPL or LGPL.  Why mess around
with antiquated software and vague or non-existent licenses when there
are better alternatives?  It is painful to need to recode old Fortran
routines in modern programming languages and under real licenses but
it is the only way we will ever bring numerical analysis into the
post-Beatles era.

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