Dvorak: Time to Rescue Old Code by Letting It Go Free

Recently, I suggested in my online column (go.pcmag.com/opensourceosx) that if Apple ­ever switches to the Microsoft Windows OS, it should put the Mac OS X code in the public domain as open-source.

This would keep its usefulness alive and provide good coding ideas that can be used elsewhere. It's time that we stopped reinventing the wheel. It's killing us.

In fact, I would like to see all orphaned code brought into the public domain as open-source. Here are some past projects and categories whose code should be pulled out of the filing cabinets and released.

OS/2. IBM moans and groans about Microsoft dominating the desktop. If IBM had put OS/2 into the public domain, who knows how things would have turned out? (One factor with OS/2 and other elaborate packages is that they contain lots of rented or licensed code that can't be given away.)

I sure hope someone knows where OS/2's code is. Hey, boys, take it out, and document where it was and what it did. It's nuts to let this code die.

DR-DOS, Wendin DOS, and the DOS clones. The dozen or so DOS clones out there are collecting dust. The likelihood that any of them contain valuable licensed code is nil.

GO-OS. Some years ago, when I first promoted the idea of open-sourcing orphan code, this product was at the top of my list, and it still is. This slick OS was used for one of the most innovative pen-based machines ever, the GO computer. There were a bunch of apps for it that should be released too.

Mainframe and minicomputer systems. There is actually an open-source version of VMS with an active user group. But what about systems like Multics or the Pick OS? Pick, which is still used, would greatly ­benefit the world, since it pioneered the database as a disk file management system that even Microsoft cannot duplicate.

Word processors and spreadsheets. There are tons of dead word processors and early spreadsheets that were both innovative and snappy. Whatever happened to the source code to Volkswriter? It's a prime example of a once prominent software package that's gone. And what about the code to the original Boeing Calc, a slick 3D spreadsheet from 1986? Even Lotus rolled out all sorts of variants that have disappeared. This code isn't doing the company any good buried in a filing cabinet.

What about Bob? No matter what the cynics will tell you, Microsoft Bob, originally code-named Utopia, was quite an innovative and creative OS executive layer. The company botched the marketing, and that was the end of it. But where's the code? Microsoft should embrace open-source programming and dump its old code into the public domain. Swallow your pride, Bill!

A problem with this scheme is that today's commercial developers will think it's a personal attack on them. This has always been a problem with Microsoft and its relation to open-source. This code will help commercial developers by minimizing wheel-reinventing.

Microsoft took much of its TCP/IP code from OpenBSD, and it improved Windows in the process. They sure don't complain about that.

Who can coordinate the rescue of old code? The Open Source Foundation has done little to encourage the release of more code, preferring to monitor a few new projects, so some sort of archival organization is needed to oversee this.

The longer we wait, the more arcane the code gets. But since I'm mostly talking about x86 code in a world that remains x86-centric, we have plenty of time.

Everyone will benefit. Let's do it. Get the conversation started.

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