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GNU is Not Unix

Blender Is GPL 385

BartV writes with a low-key snippet from the new ""Today, Sunday oct 13, 2002, we've launched the Blender sources as GNU GPL to the Internet. Blender has become Free Software forever!" This should be a case study for other companies with software no longer profitable as payware; read some of our previous postings about Blender to follow the story from idea to release.
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Blender Is GPL

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  • Bang! (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 13, 2002 @03:30PM (#4441606)
    MySQL errors before any posts are made to /., now that's a record.
  • UI. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by garcia ( 6573 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @03:34PM (#4441632)
    I was reading through some of the previous articles b/c as we all know, the server is /.'ed.

    I found a lot of complaints about the UI of the program (see one here [])

    Any of the hardcore Blender users planning on actually doing some development on the UI (and some features which other programs have, ie default lighting?)

    I am really interested in doing some of my own editing soon and I would love to see an easy to use program that isn't referred to as " the vi of 3D modelling []"

    Just some thoughts until we can see the actual article.
  • Re:UI. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tjwhaynes ( 114792 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @03:40PM (#4441664)

    I found a lot of complaints about the UI of the program (see one here [])

    But you will also find a ton of people who like the UI just fine. Once you get used to the UI, it is fast, powerful and practical. Blender does have a steep learning curve to begin with, but once you have that over with, the package shows its power.

    You might think that the 'vi of 3D modelling' is an insulting term. Others might view it as high praise.

    That said, I still prefer Emacs :-)


    Toby Haynes

  • by eddy ( 18759 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @04:02PM (#4441756) Homepage Journal

    Was it "worth it"? I don't know the first thing about blender or very much about this buy-out. Was the source available prior to the buy-out so that it could be inspectad/evaluated?

  • Re:FYI... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by garcia ( 6573 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @04:04PM (#4441764)
    I agree. In no way, shape, or form, is the "vi" interface a good one.

    "Steep learning curve" does not make the UI fast. It makes it slow.

    Some people noted that after using the program (and having the manual) any break in usage would result in them completely forgetting what they needed to do.

    Perhaps the "side projects" that have sprung up will be worked on more now that the project is open to everyone.

    Just my worthless .02
  • Re:FYI... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 13, 2002 @04:04PM (#4441765)
    Just so you know, any GUI that needs people to "get used to it" is bad design and doesn't take into consideration human factors and usability.

    Tell that to car manufacturers. I don't know about you, but I wasn't born knowing how to drive a car.
  • Re:UI. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Boglin ( 517490 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @04:20PM (#4441828) Journal
    I started using Blender about four years ago. In fact, Blender was the reason that started using Linux (they used to cripple the Windows version.) I will be the first to admit that Blender does not have the perfect interface. However, I believe some of the complaints have been unfair. The main ones I hear are:

    1) The learning curve is too steep.

    You won't make the next Toy Story having just used Blender for five minutes. However, I think the main source of this complaint is the lack of an on-board help file or manual. To put it in perspective, imagine trying to use POVRAY or BMRT without reading the manual; Blender is far simpler to figure out.

    2) The interface is counterintuitive.

    In and of itself, this statement can be true. However, it is almost always followed by "Why can't it be more like 3D MAX/Maya/Bryce/Lightwave/trueSpace/Netscape?" Blender is its own program, not some attempt to make a free version of your favorite commercial software. As a Blender user, I sometimes ask why these programs can't be more like Blender.

    3) It's ugly.

    OK. You've got me there, although I don't find 3D MAX particularly attractive, either. However, Blender has done a nice job of being consistently ugly. What I mean is that Blender gives you the exact same ugliness on Windows, Mac, Linux, BSD, and the iPaq. Compare with something like Poser, which, while beautiful, is going to give you a different file chooser on two of the platforms, and will just laugh at you if you try to run it on the others.

    4) It doesn't load OBJ files/have raytraced reflections/support displacement mapping/do the Hokey-Pokey and turn itself around!

    These are very valid complaints, but they don't deal with the UI.

  • Re:UI. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by garcia ( 6573 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @04:22PM (#4441846)
    while I agree that experienced people will not have a problem using the "vi" interface, look what it has done for other programs...

    Wordperfect 5.1 used to have LARGE function key stickers so that people would have SOME clue as to what the program was able to do. After using the program for several months, years, whatever, it was VERY fast and easy to do what you needed to do. Would I be able to sit down right now and use the program? Unlikely. Has this form of UI survived into current projects? Not really.

    Any program that causes a steep learning curve is poor. Any person that believes that a steep learning curve and hard to use interfaces are a good idea, is wrong.


    Using single keystrokes and "modes" is not simple.
  • of precedent setting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MadFarmAnimalz ( 460972 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @04:37PM (#4441894) Homepage
    It occurs to me, what with all the debate going on concerning the validity of open source as a business model, that we are missing the bigger lesson from the blender story.

    While I know that those 100 k Euros probably did not really cover all the assets of NaN, all the same, it showed it is possible.

    What would people say to programming teams picking up desired projects, and then 'holding them ransom' and waiting for some form of corporate sponsorship, perhaps?

    Or just doing it the way blender did it, and accepting private donations? That way, the projects that people really deem worthy would be the ones that made it into the open source community. Survival of the most valuable?

    Good idea? Bad idea? Comments?
  • by Picass0 ( 147474 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @04:53PM (#4441960) Homepage Journal
    People who find the UI difficult to use remind me of people who can't read sheet music bitching about how hard it is to play the violin. Perhaps the reason you find blender difficult is you lack a foundation in 3d to base your knowledge upon.

    The other camp that complains about the UI is the Lightwave and Max crowd who are comparing this relatively small program to a full featured suite.

    Blender is a good tool. It is about to get better. I dig the fact that it will be part of Linux distros from now on.

    I believe in Blender so much I gave my fifty and became a member. And yes, I'm very happy right now.

  • Re:FYI... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @04:54PM (#4441968) Journal
    It's only bad design if your goal is to make the program as easy to learn as possible. In the case of Blender, it means that it's a UI optimized so that those who know it can work as fast as possible. Those optimizations may be inconsistent with optimizations that allow somebody to learn it as fast as possible.

    I am not a heavy Blender user (yet), but I have not seen any operation that is significantly improved by being "odd". Can you point out one, by chance?

    Further, the design assumes a middle mouse button, and middle mouse buttons are falling out of favor (because there are already 101 buttons on the keyboard, so why add yet more to the mouse). The keyboard equivs for the 3rd mouse button are horrendus if you don't have a middle button.

    Besides, if the UI scares away newbies, then there will be less users and thus less people willing to support and improve it and make add-ons.

  • by technix4beos ( 471838 ) <> on Sunday October 13, 2002 @04:57PM (#4441973) Homepage Journal
    The project you speak about is called Verve.

    I was lucky enough to attend the conference (two days out of the three), and saw several really Excellent presentations on and about Blender.

    The project you speak of was one of them. I won't give away the end-product's name, but know this: The author gave a really in-depth, and well educated explanation for many aspects of both his system, and how Blender can be extended to make use of it. []

    I was extremely excited to be at the conference and see for myself not just the enthusiasm of everyone involved, but a history of Blender, how to extend it, concepts on improving it's interface and featureset, and more, including discussions about the Blender Organization.

    Some very good things.
  • Re:FYI... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PotatoHead ( 12771 ) <doug@openge[ ]org ['ek.' in gap]> on Sunday October 13, 2002 @05:01PM (#4441994) Homepage Journal
    Your statement is true only if your primary concern is making the app easy for new users.

    There is always a clear tradeoff between new users and experienced ones. Others have said below something along the lines of: "Just look at all the 3D apps out there now, each one of them focuses on the experienced user..." They are right. Once you understand the workflow, things are generally fast --which is the way all of these users want things to be anyway longer term.

    Interestingly, the MCAD market (for Engineers, not entertaiment or styling) is making this mistake. All the major apps are converting their custom U.I. to one that works for new users. Each and every one of them loses their productivity as a result. Each of them are fighting with their user base. Blender will have the same problem.

    One solution is to make *good* documentation with lots of use cases. The Blender folks have done a fair job of this.

    The bottom line here is that complex tasks are complex. The software can only go so far to make performing the task easier. Any 3D app that has a very easy UI, also suffers from the inability to do the little complex things that make the app worth using anyway.

    Why spend time building the perfect UI, when new feature creep from the fast evolving 3D market will slowly erode your interface anyway.

    Personally, I feel the Blender UI is a little out there. It could be a little more standard, but that effort is probably not worth the time. Adding good things to Blender will likely motivate new users to make use of the package given its price and capability.

  • Compiling.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Butthead ( 523905 ) <> on Sunday October 13, 2002 @05:20PM (#4442058) Homepage
    So, now that people have link to the source... has anyone tried to compile it? I have not been able to compile it. Seems as if the makefiles are messed up pretty badly.
  • That is incorrect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Crag ( 18776 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @05:31PM (#4442094)
    Other posters have addressed your error, but I thought I'd illustrate the point more completely.

    Unless a tool is intended for people who will not use it more than a few times, it should be designed for use, not for learning.

    Overly simplistic example:

    No tool at all: no learning time, a unit of work takes half a day.
    Tool A: a day to learn, work takes an hour
    Tool B: a week to learn, work takes a minute

    Anyone who will do less than three units of this kind of work IN THEIR ENTIRE LIFE is better off not using either tool (if time is the only consideration). Anyone who will do more than 40 units of this kind of work EVER is better off spending 40 hours learning tool B. Everyone else is better off with the "easy to learn" tool A.

    Ease of learning only matters once. Ease of use once learned always matters. This is why I recommend 'friendly' tools to people who don't want to do a lot of the kind of work the 'expert' tools accelerate.
  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @05:48PM (#4442154) Journal
    People who find the UI difficult to use remind me of people who can't read sheet music bitching about how hard it is to play the violin.

    Music notiation is an anachronism. A (modified) piano-roll grid style is much more simpler and intuitive. It is almost like reading a spectragrph. Durations are purely visual, no duration notation to mentally translate into actual duration. Long dash, play long. Short dash, play short. KISS at its best.

    (Last time I said this it started a huuuge flamewar.)

  • Re:FYI... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @06:06PM (#4442209) Homepage
    Yes, if you are allowed to make mistakes in the process without dying (such as a holidek).

    Great. So a UI is "intuitive" in your opinion if you only need technology from a sci-fi program set 400 years in the future in order to make the cost of attempting to use the interface without substantial training bearable. :)

    But you're right, the car has a fairly intuitive interface. The reas for that is that, really, the car is a simple device. It turns, it goes, it stops, and correspondingly there are 3 knobs or levers you have to manipulate. Some cars have a 4th thing you can do (change gears), and you'll notice that is the one most people started to get confused about, and they had to get rid of. That's where the boundary lies between "difficult technology" and "simple appliance". Three things. So if your device has to do much more than go, stop, and turn left or right, it's going to be tough designing a truly intuitive interface.

    And seeing how people around here drive, I'm inclined to think that three things is a bit too much.

    That's why it's going to be tough to find an interface that doesn't "take a while to get used to to" for something like Blender. Which isn't to say the interface is good. I'm just saying the threshold of good should be lower than making it intuitive.
  • Re:FYI... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PainKilleR-CE ( 597083 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @06:17PM (#4442245)
    Further, the design assumes a middle mouse button, and middle mouse buttons are falling out of favor (because there are already 101 buttons on the keyboard, so why add yet more to the mouse). The keyboard equivs for the 3rd mouse button are horrendus if you don't have a middle button.

    Most mice sold today have at least 3 mouse buttons. Mine has 4 + mouse wheel. Given that most of *nix assumes a 3rd mouse button, I fail to see the problem here. It's not like Blender is designed to run on Macs.

    Besides, if the UI scares away newbies, then there will be less users and thus less people willing to support and improve it and make add-ons.

    How many 3d and CAD packages have you used? Very few are newbie-friendly, and very few people learn to use them without a book or extensive tutorials. That being said, there's certainly room in most 3d software for improvement in the interface. However, something like the 3rd mouse button should be considered far less of a factor in improvement than making it configurable enough for those without a 3rd button to be able to use it (and while we're on it, using 4th and 5th mouse buttons would be a good thing too). When you're using a mouse-intensive application, the only keys that matter are those on the left side of the keyboard, and every mouse button you can add helps.
  • Re:Why??? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @06:19PM (#4442254) Homepage
    > Why is everyone making such a big deal about
    > Blender?

    Everyone isn't (I'm not, for example). Only those who care are. There just happen to be a lot of them, and they care enough to actually do something.

    > And going so far as to buy it as a community to
    > GPL it?

    The community that bought it is the community of those who care. It's their business how they spend their money.

    > Why the hell doesn't the community get organized
    > and purchase [Bynari's Insight server]?

    Why the hell don't you get off your ass and organize it to do so?
  • Re:FYI... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pseudonym ( 62607 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @08:46PM (#4442779)
    Then how do you explain the ui of every in house 3d tool in the industry?

    They're designed for fast workflow, relative to the way that house works.

    Incidentally, most current in-house tools are packages built on top of a commercial system like Maya or Houdini. The key here is that you can customise such a tool to suit your own workflow. Any system which does not support this runs the risk of being a toy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 13, 2002 @08:50PM (#4442794)
    Is there a generally accepted term for the situation in which closed-source software is ransomed off to become open-source? Something like freeware, shareware or postcard-ware. Perhaps ransom-ware? Hostage-ware?

    I ask because it seems to me that this payment model may become popular as an intermediate between the closed-source and open-source worlds. Basically, "ransom-ware" is similar economically to how patents work; monopoly rights are exploited for a short time, after which the technology enters the public domain.

    Consider a simple example: if a company would normally make $1M off of royalties from a patented technology over the lifetime of the patent, let's say that instead they ransom it for the same $1M. Now companies that want to use the technology would have a strong incentive to reach the $1M mark as soon as possible. This could very well lead to companies adopting the technology faster and more pervasively than they would under the old patent royalty scheme. The patent system rewards users for waiting until a patent expires to adopt a technology; the ransom system rewards users who adopt the technology as soon as possible. Obviously, some people will try to exploit the system by waiting for others to pay the ransom, but hopefully this won't compromise the advantages. In the case of Blender it hasn't.

    I'm sure there are plenty of flaws in my brief analysis of this kind of payment system, but I'd sure be interested in hearing more about it.
  • Harder than Maya (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EnglishTim ( 9662 ) on Monday October 14, 2002 @03:15AM (#4444147)
    Maya is definitely easier to use than Blender. At least with Maya, previous experience with other GUI applications will help you, whereas with Blender it's almost like learning a whole new GUI system.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday October 14, 2002 @03:51AM (#4444242) Journal
    I agree. In no way, shape, or form, is the "vi" interface a good one.

    Huh? It's fast, it's efficient and it's easy on your fingers. How is that a bad thing? Just because you don't like it doesn't mean everyone has to agree.

    Hear hear!

    Back when I got my first unix box (FAR enough back that, when then entire list of email-connected sites fit on three pages, mine was there), I wanted to build and try emacs. But there was this little problem - the machine had only 2 megabytes and no demand paging. Emacs (even back then) wouldn't fit. (A tongue-in-cheek claim was circulating that the name was an acronym: Eight Megabytes And Constantly Swapping. B-) )

    So I learned to use vi.

    And then I was VERY active on a bulletin board for several years - using vi. And I got very fast with it.

    Some time later I had access to a bigger machine and a colleague pointed out that emacs had a vi emulation mode - so I could ease in without having to learn new navigation keys right off the bat. I looked into it - and it had TWO distinct vi emulation modes. Oops. With one I might have tried it. But I didn't have time to find the better of the two. So I dropped it.

    A little later a Netnews posting demoed a potential attack on those who used emacs as a news reader or mail reader. Seems that emacs had a little-know feature: You could include a snippet of lisp code in the comments in a program file, and emacs would run it. This was intended to set up tab stops, language editing modes, and the like. But this also worked in mail and netnews reading modes. The demo's lisp code would pop up a "See, I got you!" window and delete itself from the display of the item itself. But in principle it could do anything you could do from emacs - which is anything you can do from any shell, with a lisp interpreter handy to do complicated stuff. No clicking on attachments - just LOOK at the letter or news item and you're owned.

    Windows macro virus vulnerability? Emacs had it first, and BETTER! B-) Imagine a lisp worm in netnews forging postings in your name, both replicating itself on "nice" groups and faking love letters on Or dumping the contents of any "src" directory you can read to an alt.binaries group. (And heaven help you if you read news or mail when logged in as root...)

    Of course this "feature" was on by default in the standard distribution. In those days, or days not too much earlier, RMS' approach to security was rumored to be having a blank password on root in his personal machine and letting this be known - in the belief that if there was no skill needed to break in, and thus no reputation to be gained, nobody would bother. (Apparently that worked with MIT students. But don't try it with the general population net-connected.)

    Well, I had spent years doing classified research, which made me itch about security holes. So I decided to stick to vi for a while longer - along with the plethora of unix utilities that do essentially anything I need done that's beyond vi's power.

    Since then I've occasionally seen an emacs-ism that has tempted me - like colored displays of comments vs. declarations vs. code. But every time I'm tempted I watch a colleague doing simple text editing with emacs, and count the keystrokes he has to use to do the simple stuff that constitutes the bulk of my editing work. And it always seems to take him a lot more strokes with emacs than it takes me with vi. So I'm generally not tempted for long.

    Vi was designed for a very different world - the world of dumb character-based computer terminals in the days before ANSI standardized their behavior. There were literally HUNDREDS of different terminal designs, with a boggling array of differences in display geometry, control-character to cursor-motion mapping, and other odities. Vi (actually the "visual" mode of the "ex" editor) encapsulated these idiosyncrasies in a "termcap" (terminal-capability) definition file, thus letting the user do full-screen WYSIWYG editing on ANY of them using a common set of keystrokes - and letting the sysadmin add definitions for new terminals as they came out. This brought the user out of the dim world of command-line-only editors (such as "ed" and "teco") into the instant feedback of a screen display - halfway to the window systems that weren't available yet.

    And - much to the surprise of its author - it did it very well. So well that people like me (who now have the vi commands "hard-wired" into our nervous systems from long use) still use it when we have serious text hacking to do.

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant