I just reread all your original posts and your recent replies. I think I dismissed your idea too hastily, and I'm sorry for that. In fairness, I will now argue for the opposite of my original view!
Maple is wonderful when you and the people you work with have ready access to it, but I confess that I too have sometimes wished to be free of Maple's proprietary restrictions. That would enable me to find a larger audience for my work, for example. I live with these restrictions because Maple has an extensive database of mathematical knowledge which is extremely useful to me in my work and because its algorithms are constantly improving. For these and other reasons, Maple is a great prototyping tool. Everything I need is already there, and I don't have to take time to reinvent the wheel.
Nevertheless, I have looked into some free computer algebra alternatives, which you can easily track down with Google. I understand the motivation for projects like Octave and Scilab—Matlab can be prohibitively expensive—even for industrial users!!! It's actually rather outrageous, considering Matlab's academic origins. To return to your original question about freeing Maple, here's what I think it would involve.
Basically, you need an independent party to duplicate the functionality of the Maple kernel, which is both an interpreter for the Maple language and an optimized computational engine for Maple's computational primitives. The representation of Maple's data structures is handled by the kernel, as is memory management and garbage collection. Specifications can probably be found scattered throughout the Maple documentation as well as books and articles published by key architects of the Maple project (e.g., Keith Geddes, Gaston Gonnet, Mike Monagan, Bruce Char, etc.).
Maple itself is a full-featured programming language, and I see no reason why an independent interpreter could not be legally developed to run programs written in this language. In fact, I bet any group which developed an efficient compiler
for the complete
Maple language could make a ton of money, if they were so inclined.
Once there is an independent kernel/interpreter/compiler for the Maple language, you could solicit for contributions to the Maple library. Many authors of existing Maple codes would probably be happy to donate their code to the library at no charge. In other cases, it might be necessary to duplicate functionality of certain library packages by rewriting them from scratch to avoid copyright violations. The more permissions you can get to use existing code, the better for you.
Concerning the third-party proprietary software on which Maple is based, there are often public-domain alternatives. For example BLAS and LAPACK and ATLAS can replace NAG—which is based in large part on public-domain BLAS and LAPACK anyway! NAG is, to some extent, just a proprietary implementation of public-domain software. The multiprecision floating-point library used by Maple is also free software, I believe.
Finally, note that Axiom had lots of proprietary parts which were removed before the code was released into the public domain. The Axiom community has worked very hard to fill in the missing pieces and create a functional system.
All things considered, I don't think your idea to create a free and independent Maple is impossible. It would depend a lot on the willingness of the freelance Maple developer community to find creative ways to fill in the missing proprietary pieces. The first and biggest hurdle would be preparing functional specifications for the kernel/interpreter/compiler, whose inner workings are a deep, dark, proprietary secret.
You might consider writing to the principal architects of Maple and asking them for their views on how to best go about such a project. Some of them might be very sympathetic and have some good technical suggestions. For example, Gaston Gonnet's Darwin
is free software for computational biochemistry and is modeled on Maple. I'm not sure of the precise relationship between Darwin and Maple, but perhaps Darwin (or parts of Darwin) could serve as a starting point for a Free Maple Initiative!
With best wishes,
Frederick W. Chapman, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Waterloo