Open Source Friday Focus: Paint.Net - FAIL! is a great free tool that charades as open source on some lists, but in my book no source code, no open source!

I was all set to give you all a great Friday Focus today on is a great Windows based graphics program that gives you 80% or more of Photoshop for free. I have the screen shots already to go and was doing some research on the license. That is when I ran into a road block that prevents me from giving my wholehearted endorsement.

Any application holding itself out as open source that does not include source code is not open source in my book. I am not one of the open source purists that say an OSI approved license has to be used. I get the commercial nature of open source and that people should be able to earn a living from their labor. But open source has to be free as in freedom, not just free as in beer!

So instead of screen shots showing you the great layer features and effects in and all of the great plugins available, instead of showing you some of the really cool pictures you can make with it. I am going to show you some relevant portions of its license. I am going to give you the inadequate reasons why the lead developer is withholding the source code.

The relevant parts of's license:

Paint.NET is free for use in any environment, including but not necessarily limited to: personal, academic, commercial, government, business, non-profit, and for-profit. "Free" in the preceding sentence means that there is no cost or charge associated with the installation and use of Paint.NET. Donations are always appreciated, of course!

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software (the "Software"), to use the Software without restriction, including the rights to use, copy, publish, and distribute the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so.

You may not modify, adapt, rent, lease, loan, sell, or create derivative works based upon the Software or any part thereof. However, certain icons used in the Paint.NET user interface are from or adapted from those in the "Crystal" icon set,, or the "Oxygen" icon set, These icons are covered by the LGPL license, These icons are stored as "loose" PNG image files in the Resources\en-US\ directory where Paint.NET is installed.

So what are they hiding behind here? Well they are making a big deal that the software is free for commercial or private or educational use. As a matter of fact if you are just using the software to do graphics work, it is free and you are fine. 

They curiously give you permission to distribute the software as well. But you may not adapt, modify, rent, lease, sell or create a derivative work based upon the software. That just puts a stake in the heart of trying to palm this off as open source. How about you have to submit any changes you make back to the community? Or any changes you make are likewise now open sourced and code needs to be made available?

But they don't worry about modifications having to contribute code back, because they don't give you the code to begin with. According to the license if you are working on the code here (reverse engineering it or some such thing), you are probably in violation of the terms if not the spirit of the license. So what if the license violates the spirit of open source.

Also the developers have cleverly kept the icons and such which are licensed under the LGPL in a separate directory as "loose" files. This way in their mind Paint.Net is not tainted by being derived or connected with them and therefore also falling under the LGPL. Well whether Paint.Net catches the icons "cooties" or not, this is just plain devious. It shows the developers true intent to stay away from a true open source license.

Hey thats OK. You don't have to develop your code as open source. But then don't hold it out as open.  Say it is free as in beer, but not free as in freedom. But the authors here don't even do that. They hide behind the "for the good of the community" excuse. On a forum at the site the lead developer says this:

For v3.5, I would very much like to release the source code again. I think many of the changes will prove very interesting for others to study. However, I must protect Paint.NET from "backspaceware" thiefs (who won't even bother to follow the license, mind you -- "oh it's freeware/opensource therefore I can do whatever I want", and I do not have a legal team employed to chase them all down). This is to protect both the Paint.NET brand, and the user community from things like fake Paint.NET releases with viruses, or renamed Paint.NET releases that overwrite/delete/corrupt the real Paint.NET installation. (the ones I saw would remove Paint.NET, but still check for updates from the Paint.NET website, and get things into a horribly confused state -- and this wasn't happening on purpose, but rather because of the "developer's" negligence)To this end, I believe a source code release that omits 1) the installer, 2) the code for Resources.dll, and 3) the main EXE (the "shell"), will allow the community to have access to the most interesting parts of the code while still protecting the Paint.NET brand, the user community, and my own interests.

Well there you have it! What a great thing he is doing protecting us. This is a problem that all open source projects deal with. There are plenty of licenses that will deal with this. But doing as he suggests in releasing a crippleware partial version of the code is just against open source principles.

I have been involved in companies that released free software with a community license. You got the source code, but if you embedded, sold it or otherwise made money from it, you needed a commercial license. I have no problem with that either by the way. Why should others profit from your labor.

But for me a tenet of open source is source code. Otherwise all you have is free beer and not really freedom!

So if you are looking for a free as in beer Photoshop substitute on Windows, you can check out Paint.Net. It is a pretty slick program. If you are familiar with Photo Shop or Paint Shop Pro, you will feel comfortable.

I don't feel comfortable recommending this application to you as open source though. Without the source code, it just don't mean a thing in my book!

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