New curses project (gcurses)

From: Jason Evans <>
Date: Tue, 3 Jun 1997 11:29:53 -0700 (PDT)

The actions of Eric Raymond on the ncurses list over the past several days
have demonstrated that ncurses is not free. It has strings attached, in
that if Raymond doesn't like you, your ability to use the library is
severely limited. You cannot make your own version and redistribute it.
This in itself makes ncurses a crippled library for many OS platforms.

For the above reason, I am beginning a new curses clone, tentatively named
gcurses. This library will be released under the GNU GPL/LGPL, and when
sufficiently mature, the copyright will be assigned to the FSF. Any
substantial contributions from others will (unfortunate evil here) require
copyright assignment. ncurses is not even close to free. The GPL won't
make gcurses totally free either, according to Raymond's defintion. The
key problem with ncurses though is that it isn't free enough. gcurses
will be.

gcurses will be prone to splits and hijacking, according to Raymond. This
is not a concern for me, for two reasons:

1) Every long-lived split I can think of has had definite benefits to the
software community.

2) Unlike Raymond, I'm more concerned about producing a useable curses
library than I am about my ego. If Dickey runs off and makes his own
gcurses distribution, more power to him. In the end, I'll be content,
because there will be a useable, sufficiently free curses library.

If you are interested in helping with gcurses, please contact me. With
proper coordination and willing people, gcurses can soon be a working

Jason Evans

Jason Evans: [MRC System Administrator]
e-mail: []
office phone: [(208) 885-7226]
home phone: [(208) 882-6745]
quote: ["Invention is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration." - Thomas Edison]

Following are a few comments on Raymond's free software theology.

On Tue, 3 Jun 1997, Eric S. Raymond wrote:
> The simplest solution to RMS's problem would be to hand ncurses to the
> FSF and GPL it. At some future time, the present copyright holders
> may be willing to do that. Right now I have reservations about
> the LGPL which are not relevant to any of the ncurses issues but
> which are fairly strong; these foreclose the simple solution for
> the present.

If you, or whoever you delegate ncurses rights to, makes the decision (to
assign the FSF the ncurses copyrights) soon, it will save me a lot of
time, reduce software fragmentation, and generally make a lot of people
happy to use ncurses. If ncurses is never made freely modifiable and
redistributable, then most likely, ncurses will eventually fade away.

> In connection with the "common usage" part, I want to start by
> pointing out that RMS's "hole" exists mostly in his imagination. The
> huge Linux community, and the smaller but significant
> SpinoffGroupOfTheWeekBSD communities, are going to go right on using
> ncurses whether FSF blesses its license terms or not.

The user community may be willing to deal with ncurses for the moment, but
only because they don't have any better alternatives. I doubt there are
many people who prefer your license to one similar to the Berkeley or
GPL/LGPL licences.

> I will now argue that RMS's definition is instrumentally bad, in that
> we would all be worse off if we accepted it than if we accepted the
> weaker one implied in the ncurses license.
> The reason is reputation incentives. ...
> This norm also serves the valuable purpose of minimizing the
> wasteful duplication of work.

This would possibly be true, if only ncurses were a unique entity, without
a standard interface, and not a part of the standard Unix platform.
However, as it stands, if we, those of the free (not your definition)
software community, continue to rely on ncurses, you have a strangle hold
on an important part of the system we rely on. This is an unacceptable

You have the power to fix this whole problem, but you're too caught up
with "reputation incentives". In light of your handling of ncurses, your
reputation is severely tainted in my eyes. You have amply demonstrated
that scoring "reputation points" is more important to you than the needs
and interests of those who would find your software beneficial.
Received on Wed Jun 04 1997 - 06:35:46 EDT

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