Who used the license model first?

This is not the recurring question how the licensing model of Tinderbox works (upgrades are included for a year and even if you don’t upgrade then you can use the latest version of the software before your license expired for as long as the operating system and your hardware permit).

By now, this model is used in a number of programs (e.g. Aeon Timeline, Agenda to name a few).
The first program I have come across using this licensing model was Tinderbox though and I wonder if it had been used before Tbx. Does anybody know?


An interesting twist with Tinderbox, IMO, is the unusual degree of attention legacy support and the pick-up-anytime aspect of ‘upgrades’. There are some easily overlooked nuances there that makes the model disjoint with the ‘annual maintenance’ that’s been around since I started using software in the early 90s. Indeed, the practical vs. conceptual aspect of updating from, for example v5 to v9, hinges on the unusual attention paid by Eastgate to supporting past data.

†. features no longer supported tend to be for reasons beyond the developers control: OS changes, changes in the frameworks used to make the app, or the counter-party in inter-app stuff disappearing or no longer engaging others.

‡. Going one further, Tinderbox’s older sister Storyspace will happily open a Storyspace v1 file, off a Microsoft OS floppy from the 1980s. Impressive.

I believe Eastgate invented the model, originally used for Storyspace. It is increasingly widespread.


Here is a really cool article on the history of software licensing (Licenseware, 2023). It suggests that IBM, in1966, was the first to institute a software license. It also explains the background of “copyright” vs. “copyleft” and other interesting concepts. Pretty good article.

Licenseware. (2023, January 16). A brief history of software licensing. Licenseware. A brief history of software licensing

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@eastgate, I’d love to learn the history of Eastgate, Storyspace, Tinderbox, etc., and to understand how all the pieces came together and how they, you’ve been, been able to sustain the over to nearing two generations.

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A small corner of the early history, though distant from Tinderbox, is covered in

Ensslin, A. (2022). Pre-Web Digital Publishing and the Lore of Electronic Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://amzn.to/3DYHce3

But the pieces are still coming together…

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I suspected as much, excellent, thanks everyone for the insight into the history of the IMO fairest compromise between user and developer interests. Not the only thing we owe Eastgate.

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Curiosity about the origin story of Tinderbox has surfaced before. FWIW I’d also love to hear more. I’ve always gotten the feeling that it was a case of
Mark B. needing a tool that didnt exist, and thus hunkering down and coding it….

Well, this discussion was more about the license model than Tinderbox itself.

The origin is partly that I needed a tool that didn’t exist, but not primarily that.

In the early 90s, a delegation from Harvard’s department of Anthropology/Sociology came to call. They were using Storyspace for field research in rural Northern China, and they had a bunch of feature requests. One was, simply, to be less coy than Storyspace used to be about computation: social scientists in the '80s and '90s embraced math in a way that English and Comp. Lit. professors did not.

Another was, simply, that the name “Storyspace” was always queried on their purchase orders: what did stories have to do with research. (A decade later, it would have been obvious, but that was no help at the time.)

The analytic mission of Storspace had always been in tension with the narrative mission. I saw an opportunity to split them. (I didn’t foresee the bitter reaction against postmodernism, in which Storyspace would be caught up. That was blindness, but then again, it’s nice we had Tinderbox at hand to weather the storm.)

The key thing I wanted was inheritance, and James Noble’s book provided the key to doing it in a way that wouldn’t require a computer science degree.

Noble, J., Taivalsaari, A., & Moore, I. (1999). Prototype-Based Programming: Concepts, Languages and Applications. Springer-Verlag Singapore Pte Ltd.

I have no idea at all how this book came to my attention. I wish I knew. My intuition at the time was wrong: almost every Tinderbox user habitually creates class objects (prototype notes) and instances. But because they’re all just notes, a lot of the mysticism around objects was dissipated and that let the good stuff shine.


A corner of aTbRef has this article Some Tinderbox pre-history though in truth it’s more about the period close before and after app launch. The article arose from me parking some info it took me a while to run to ground. Tip: the Internet Archive certainly doesn’t keep everything (especially if using weird proprietary web plug-ins) but don’t overlooking if after something that used to be on line but whose original URL has gone dark.

and thankfully our experience is all the richer for it!

Thanks for this. Always interesting to hear the concrete conditions of a tool’s invention. History is chock-a-block with impetuses like a name raising the eyebrows of a bursar, and a field team knocking on an inventor’s door of a day… Also good to know of that prehistory corner of atbref… I will reward myself with it once done with the tasks of the day. Thanks again.

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