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GNU is Not Unix

Interview with L. Peter Deutsch of Ghostscript 31

Tsarnon writes "This is an interview of the L. Peter Deutsch who wrote Ghostscript. Good discussion on free software liscensing issues. " An interesting point Peter makes is that he shopped around for a free softare project to do, rather than experiencing ESR's proverbial itch to solve a given problem. He also discusses thorny IP issues such as patents, copyright and the Aladdin Public license.
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Interview with L. Peter Deutsch of Ghostscript

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you have a copy of Aladdin Ghostscript installed and that version is released under the GPL does the licence on the version you have installed change?
  • Yes, that's the only thing i can think about that we are lacking..

    Well, it'd be kinda nice to have GNU tools for set-top boxes and "smart" toasters and the like. And maybe a Free Software substitute for stuff like Pro Tools or Delphi. And maybe a fully-open implementation of streaming audio and video standards (and compression algorithms)... The list goes on and on, and it will grow and grow in the future.


  • I for one hadn't read this before and was glad to have my attention drawn to it. It's interesting to see LPD advocating that Netscape release their browser as free software...
  • I think it's about more than RMS's credibility.
    The FSF requires that they own the copyright
    to everything they distribute. That's OK as long
    as you can trust the FSF to use that ownership to do only one thing
    -- defend the license. As soon as they use the
    copyright as an asset they damage the credibilty
    of the FSF and every other piece of software they maintain.
  • Having worked a bit with Aladdin as a beta tester and a minor contributor I can say that they are a great company, and Peter is very helpful. It's a shame that GS 5.50 can't be included on the Red Hat CD's - although I don't know why RH don't licence it from him - I'd rather have the improved printouts that 5.50 gives me than the backup utility that I've never used.
  • If I had used the AFPL on packet drivers, instead of the GPL, I am confident that I would be retired from the world of paid employment (and hacking all day long).
  • This interview, or at least a majority of it was previously published in the journal of the USENIX association [], ;login:. It is an excellent piece, and I do recommend reading it, but it did see print before this site. Just another reason to join USENIX for all of you.
  • I think Peter hit on a good solution to the problem with GPL, the problem being, the programmer doesn't get paid no matter how the product is used. Philisophical debate aside, at the present time, people do need to get paid for their work and a process that doesn't allow it probably won't be as successful as a process that does.

    The idea of software being free (as in beer) any paying for support doesn't work out in many cases, such as when a person or group of people write software then a larger unrelated company decides to support it, thereby eating the lunch of the developers.
  • Let's not forget that the overwhelming majority of our excellent free software has been developed by people who got no pay for doing it. Even if people can't figure out how to make money from it, free software will go on without them.

    We welcome business, of course we'll go out of the way to help people succeed in Open Source(tm) businesses. However, if Red Hat were to go out of business, or if Linus were to take up another hobby, there'd still be people working on Linux. We do not depend on any business for our survival.

    Yes, Spencer Kimball and Peter Matthis aren't working on the GIMP any longer. However, the GIMP team is taking up the load, and other people are ready to put in free time just as Spencer and Peter did, as a way of paying back with their time for all of the free software that others have contributed. Frankly, after Spencer and Peter spent all of that time on the project, working on something else is not a bad idea.

    We should not feel ashamed if we happen to have non-Open-Source jobs or if we even make non-Open-Source products. Not everything has to be Open Source, and if we can finance Open Source developments with income from our non-Open-Source enterprises, that's fine. I think an honestly non-Open-Source product is much less of a problem than a fence-sitter, a product that attempts to take advantage of the benefits of the Open Source community without really engaging in the full quid-pro-quo of Open Source.

    I really have to wonder if GhostScript would not be developed faster if the main source thread was GPL-ed and many people worked on it instead of mainly Peter. It's worked for Linux.

    Russ Nelson could have retired if he'd used the Alladin license on the packet drivers, but only because they are sold into a market where proprietary software is the norm. Linus could not have retired if he'd used the Alladin license on Linux, because he would not have had the tremendous free developer participation that comes with Open Source, which is the only thing that has made Linux successful.

    Stig, all of your interviews are editorials. Editorials are OK. Interviews are OK. Mixing the two is not the best of journalism.


    Bruce Perens

  • I'm glad your GhostScript patch was accepted. I'm not sure you constitute a "wide developer community", though. I know that i'm not going to be submitting GhostScript patches, because I'm using the GPL version.

    What did we get from businesses like Sybase et al this year? Recognition and publicity. Many of them didn't even ship a product. They decided our market was going to become significant, and thus they'd better get on board and say so publicly rather than get left behind. We got all of the way to that point without them. If Sybase decides to turn away from Linux, it might be bad publicity but we will go on.


  • Peter says:

    Well it has. It's been way too much of a pleasure.

    Well, it's probably a language thing, but could
    anybody explain what he could possible mean by
  • "I would like a lot more people in the community to be aware of the cost, the difficulty, and the perceived value of having polished software: software that is well tested, well documented, and well supported. To understand that making software that crosses the chasm does take a lot more effort, and that it's by having the software that has crossed the chasm that you're going to attract a lot of people to an alternative way to getting nice software produced. Because I think that is really where UNIX lost out. I think that is why Microsoft now pretty much owns the desktop. UNIX hackers, who have the best system technology, never really made a mental connection with the world of the user. If cooperative software development and free software distribution are going to continue to expand and to start creating a change in mind-set, then there has to be a lot more awareness of that chasm and what it takes to cross it. "

    this space left intentionally blank

  • i have been toying with a business model that includes open source software, something along the lines of deutsch's developing additional functionality for ghostscript for money. i'm having a difficult time (more difficult than i anticipated) figuring out how to make a profit (much less get rich). what made it feasible for deutsch?
  • I am much confused by the licensing issues that swirl about the open source community and this was a great way to get a bit caught up (though the weird purple bars kept throwing me off).

    The interesting distinction that I caught for the first time was that Ghostscript was initially released GPL, but LPD retained the copyright (rather than assigning it to RMS and FSF). That way, he was within his legal rights to change the licensing to his new AFPL. Do I have this right?
  • I get from the interview that his itch was to create some free software, to be involved in it, to learn something from it. I don't think an "itch" has to be connected to a particular tool that needs to be brought into existence... Deutsch's itch seems more along the personal growth variety. A more intangible thing than an OS, but just as valid.
  • You're absolutely correct about the freedom to relicense your work if you retain copyright, but you must've missed Sun's new shift in licensing strategy.

    LinuxWorld published my analysis of the SCSL and I mention a few things about the SCSL that I like on my dev/Linux site [].

    dev/Linux (ORGanized, NETworked, COMmunity)

  • Bruce, I put "conversation" in the title for a reason. I acknowledge the presence of my own voice and I'm glad to have it in my work. The intent of the piece was to educate and I have lots of experience and perspective to share.

    As for journalism? I write, but my degree says Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering. I read books on business, psychology, and philosophy these days. I do not aspire to simply report on doings of others while avoiding all personal involvement. I do my best to not misrepresent others, but I will not suppress my own voice for the sake of "journalism."

    dev/Linux (ORGanized, NETworked, COMmunity)

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead