As you may know, back in 2007 I ressurected the development of GrafX2. this old pixelart program, made only for DOS, was left out 6 years earlier by the authors, that had moved on to more modern computers. Today, graFX2 is amongst the best tool for pixelling, particularly on Linux or other alternative operating systems. Many people are using it daily to draw really nice pictures. The newer versions added a lot of features such as layers, and there's more to come.
This was possible only because the authors decided to release the source when the project stopped. The code wasn't perfectly clean; it was tied to ms-dos with some optimized parts written directly in assembly language and accessing the video card hardware directly. Of course, getting an SDL-based version out of it was not easy. But still, it took considerably less time than rewriting everything from scratch. Also, part of the userbase for the old GrafX2 upgraded to the new one. For some of them it felt like getting back home after years of using suboptimal tools.
During the revival of GrafX2, I had to develop my web searching skills a lot. First, the original GrafX2 website was offline, and the sourcecode was gone with it. Thanks to filewatcher, an ftpsearch engine, and the web archive, I was able to locate a copy on some russian FTP. Then, I wanted to get in touch with the authors to let them know their software finally found some use.
But grafX2 isn't the main purpose of this article. Last month, I downloaded APlayer, a music player for BeOS. After some hacking to get it working on Haiku (which eventually led to uncovering and fixing a compatibility bug), I noticed that most musics from Burned Sounds, my preferred chiptune collection, didn't load. The strange thing is that most of them were in formats supposed to be recognized by APlayer. But looking closer, it turned out they are packed using the Shrink algorithm. This is a packing system from Amiga days, which can be unpacked only on amiga for lack of any sourcecode or format information. Well, that was until yesterday. Using my high web searching skills, I found the author of Shrink and kindly asked him by mail if he was willing to release the sourcecode for hissoftware, the last version being from 1996.
He was a bit surprised to see there was some files using Shrink still around, but he had a linux version of the archiver. This version is now released as GPL sourcecode at sourceforge. This is an important step for me in getting more open source software available ; but also in preserving old files packed in this format. I hope some other people will find it useful too.
I forgot to mention I also made possible the release of a whole lot of other BeOS software made by Arvid and Jonas Norberg. This include the sawteeth sound synthetizer, as well as the backslash n demo, and also some other unfinished code.
The overall message is, for developpers : think about opensourcing your old projects. Even if the source is not as clean as it could be ; even if they are of no use for you ; even if they only work on a dead since 10 years operating system : someone, somewhere, may find it useful. You can visit the Unamintained Free Software page to get some examples of how passing on a project to someone else may work. But not everything goes through this website.
For non-developpers, don't hesitate to get in touch with the devs, even for unmaintained apps, and ask for an open source release. If the software is dead, the author isn't going to get anymoney for it, so why not release it so other people can improve it ? This is the fastest way to get more open source software. And don't be shy, developpers are, above all, normal people, and they do like hearing from users.