Tag Archives: software

Q: How do I get involved in Open Source?

Congratulations on discovering the importance and opportunity in Open Source software. The first step, in my opinion, is to start using Open Source yourself, wherever possible. You have probably already started on this path. The easy steps are using Firefox for browsing, and programs like OpenOffice.org and Thunderbird for productivity. (If you’re nervous about the whole Oracle thing with OpenOffice.org, fear not, there are forks that have occurred which will keep it open.) For development, you should look at the Eclipse project as well as the many other interesting development tools that are out there. There is a vast (and incomplete) list of interesting Open Source applications available in Wikipedia. You can also find a rather complete repository of Open Source projects (including the good, the bad and the really ugly) at the grand-daddy of all Open Source sites, sourceforge.net, a free repository for project owners to organize and share their project.

Of course, you should also consider taking the Open Source plunge and running Linux. (That link is not the official Linux kernel site, but a good starting place.)

Like I said, you are probably already using Open Source software to some degree, but the more you use the more you become aware of how the Open Source world works, how the community drives development and support and what you think is missing from the equation that you can contribute.

To get involved on the development end, you have a few options. One is to take a project that you use and identify something within your skill set that needs help. You don’t really have to ask permission to offer a solution, but you should follow the protocol for the project. Every project will have information about how to contribute. If they don’t, then write to the key players of the project and let them know that you have something to contribute. They will likely be very pleased. If they’re not, then go find someone else to help!

Another interesting thing to do is to look at the list of projects at sourceforge.net. They actually have a list of “help wanted” projects that you can dive into. If you dig around, you may even find projects that have lost their maintainer (which happens for a variety of reasons). Picking up that work could be a great project and a valuable service to the community.

Don’t forget that there are open projects that need more than just coding. There are needs for testing, documentation, translation and just about anything that you can imagine in the business of software development. Simply writing excellent tutorials with good manuals and video demos could turn a project around… and this is typically the sort of work that the deep developers don’t find very interesting. There are even other opportunities, like the proofreading help needed by Project Gutenberg. Unusual projects like the Open Prosthetics Project, which try to accomplish goals for the general good.

It’s not hard to get involved in projects. It takes time and a little discipline to stick with it, even though you don’t have a manager demanding that you produce. However, I think that you gain the same satisfaction from this work as you do from any sort of good volunteer work that you might do, and you actually get to benefit from the work yourself by having greater functionality and improved skills.

Comments and pointers to opportunities are certainly welcome!

Amazon signs a deal with Microsoft

This was written when I was working for IBM, so that’s why there are the protestations.


I suppose I should begin this one by reminding everyone that, while I am an employee of IBM, what I write here are my own thoughts and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the position of IBM on these matters.

So, I’m trying to enjoy my morning cup of tea and I come across this article from Reuters and many others talking about a new and mysterious deal that Microsoft has signed, this time with Amazon, to protect them as users of Linux.  A lot of speculation went up about similar deals done with TomTom and Novell.  In the case of TomTom it seems pretty certain that the issues had something to do with their use of the FAT file system.  The others are more mysterious.

My preferred solution for TomTom was for them to switch to an open file system, like ext3, and then load an ext3 driver onto Windows as part of their software installation.  I understand that the Windows driver may need a little work, but it would be nice to pay that money to open development rather than into Microsoft’s protection plan.

I’ll admit that I’m someone who is primarily curious about technology and what I can make it do.  I’m probably pretty naive when it comes to matters of big law and big business.  Yet I just don’t understand this game that is being played about the dark secret that Microsoft has about Linux.

I envision this scene in a conference room where a group of lawyers and business executives all sit around the table.  Someone speaks:

“We’ve examined this issue in great detail.  We’ve had our patent lawyers search and we just don’t see what the issue is with Linux in our environment.  We don’t see why we should sign this deal.”

Another figure across the table, dressed in an elegant, yet timeless way, with piercing eyes and a face that will reveal nothing but mild amusement responds in silvery tones.

“I understand.  It is a confusing and difficult matter at best.”

“So you’ll have to pardon us if we just don’t understand the benefits of this deal.  We’re going to need to see exactly what you are talking about.”

“But of course.  That is to be expected.”

The figure raises a gloved hand and snaps his fingers.  A misshapen little man comes in bearing the weight of an ancient looking, ornate box and lays it gently on the table, as though he is afraid to disturb the contents.  His gaze turns to the man who summoned him, his body wracked with anticipation.

A cold, soulless smile breaks across the face of the figure at the head of the table.  “I think that this will make everything clear.”

The little man opens the lid of the box and the conference room is bathed in a sickly green light.  The executives and lawyers turn  pale  as each man finds his own place between utter terror and total astonishment.  After a few moments the box is closed again.  Each man looks at another, trying to make sense of what he has just witnessed and imagining what would happen if such a thing were unleashed against the world.  The feeling slowly fades and, with resignation, men reach for their pens.

OK.  That’s probably a little melodramatic and reveals more than is necessary about my choices of fiction.  Yet,based on the information that I’ve been able to determine about the so-called infringements of Linux and open source I can’t throw it out completely.  I followed the previous attacks on Linux and open source and they really seemed to lead nowhere.

I certainly don’t think that this is the time to develop unfounded fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the future of open source.  I think that many analysts and people who thrive on conflict for the sake of conflict will try to make you think that “the big one is coming.”  I think that many people selling something will try to convince you that you need to buy a little insurance.  I would rather that you look at great examples like the Ernie Ball corporation who made the move to Linux and open source years ago and never looked back.  There are other companies that have happily made the move.  (Here’s an incomplete list.)

Again, I’m not speaking for IBM.  If you want to know the IBM position, watch for the press releases, if any.  I speak to you as someone who has happily used open source software for years now.  I know that it works.  It gets better for me every day.  It’s not to be feared, but embraced and enjoyed because it really will change your use of technology forever.

The future of software delivery?

I just had to laugh a little when I came across this article: Microsoft Click-to-Run: The future of software delivery?

Wow!  They invented the idea of getting software over the Internet when you want it!  Anyone who has used open source software has been enjoying functionality along these lines for years.  In Ubuntu if I try to execute a command which doesn’t exist I’m given suggestions on how to install it now.  Tools point to on-line repositories of existing software which is installed easily with a few clicks and kept up to date for you as you use them.

Now it’s a new and innovative idea?  *sigh*

In other news is this story “Mozilla Drumbeat Aims to Expand Web Participation.”  I’m intrigued by this project and the upcoming live site.  I’ve been consistently impressed by what is accomplished through open source development.  Yet I also recognize that the nature of open source makes it more difficult to organize and tackle certain kinds of problems.  Mozilla and Apache are both open source groups that immediately get my attention, and a certain level of trust, when they put out a project.  I plan to watch this space and see what they do next.  You can see the progress on the official Mozilla Drumbeat page.