Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Inefficiency of the StarLogo TNG License

A new beta of StarLogo TNG has been released by the MIT Teacher Education program. The Linux version seemed to install and run OK on my Feisty laptop, although it did peg one of the processor cores and generally seemed slow. My laptop doesn't have much of a video card, so that might be an issue. I don't have time to play with it right now, but one key question is whether or not students would find it easy to transfer the visual lego-block programming techniques between Scratch and StarLogo TNG. Introducing StarLogo TNG on Scratch's coattails would be helpful.

StarLogo TNG is released under the StarLogo TNG v1.0 license, which is a non-commercial license that allows use, modification and redistribution for educational or research purposes. The problem with this kind of license is that it prevents the software from being redistributed through free software distribution channels, such as Linux distributions, because non-commercially licensed software does not fit the definition for either free or open source software. Every year, these global channels get stronger and more far-reaching. There is no equivalent for non-commercial un-free software, and there is unlikely to ever be one. Adopting a non-free, non-commercial license closes off the two most reliable ways of disseminating software.

That MIT would choose such a license is not surprising. The failure of US universities to not only not lead in this area (particularly wrt K-12 ed-tech), but to not follow the commercial or increasingly governmental sectors is unfortunately quite evident. Fine. What they do with their IP is their business. However, this project is funded by an National Science Foundation grant. I don't understand why the NSF allows grantees to limit the distribution of software written with public funds in this way. It is a waste of my tax dollars.


robertogreco said...

Hi Tom,

My clicks have been landing me at your blog a lot lately, so I have now added it to my feed reader.

This is a bit off topic, but I was wondering if you've used Processing. Having been away from programming (save for HTML/CSS coding) for at least a decade and a half, I just recently started tinkering with it. I chose Processing after repeatedly learning that it is the tool of choice for some of my favorite designers and artists. So far, it has been wonderful. My kids (7 and 8) are Scratch users and they too have been playing around with Processing.

One last thing, while I don't necessarily agree with all the writer says, I just found this year-old Salon piece on BASIC and thought you might find it worth the read if you haven't already seen it.

Roberto greco

Tom Hoffman said...

Hi Roberto,
That's a pretty crazy project you've got going.
I have looked at Processing. I haven't used it because I'm allergic to Java, and I don't actually need to do that kind of graphic programming myself. But it definitely looks cool and has a good license (GPL).
Nice to hear from you.