News and commentary from the cross-platform scripting community.
cactus Mail Starting 4/22/98

From: spearce@spearce.stu.rpi.edu;
Sent at Wed, 22 Apr 1998 16:09:15 -0400 (EDT);
Keep Your Eye On The Prize

Just wanted to say I liked it. Not sure if I full agreed with your article, but it's been proven time and again we are two very different people. =) And I'm also part of the younger generation you speak about.

Anyways, i'm going back to my code and see if I can't get Casbah rolling quicker here.

But still, just wanted to drop you a note to say I liked your DaveNet today and well, I agree with you on almost every point, but I don't. Weird.

From: lennp@microsoft.com (Lenn Pryor);
Sent at Wed, 22 Apr 1998 14:20:11 -0700;
Re:Keep Your Eye On The Prize

I must say I have enjoyed this column the most of any to date. There is a lot of good old wisdom in this piece. Thanks for writing it. I have been grappling with the concept of open source code since Netscape did it. The very concept of renegade programmers writing code for the "better of the society" is hard to take seriously for me personally. You are right in saying that it all comes down to money, artists or programmers all the same.

If open source prevails as a standard way to write software ... what shall we all do to pay the bills? Drive Pizza's for Dominos? Mow lawns? I am perplexed at this concept to say the least. Not that I am a ruthless capitalist, but I have always thought of freeware and open source code as a way to get noticed as a competent programmer so that you can get a JOB at a software company that will pay you for your hours of toiling. Software development is an art, a science, and a gift. Why is it noble not to reap the rewards of your efforts?

From: tlundeen@lundeen.com (tim lundeen);
Sent at Wed, 22 Apr 1998 14:20:03 -0700;
Re:Keep Your Eye On The Prize

It seems to me that open source has to have a sufficiently large group of developers who are actively working in the source. It is a market size issue, where you are selling the open source to the community of developers, and you have to have enough buyers for the source to be viable.

In the case of browsers and Netscape in particular, there is a lot of interest in enhancing, stabilizing, and reusing the source, and there is a very large group of developers who can benefit from this. So, there is a lot of activity with this source, moving it forward.

Watching the activity, and knowing that there is work here that I will do personally (out of my own self interest, but with some resulting benefits to all), my prediction is that in this instance, the open source model is going to succeed. But we'll see :-)

From: jonathan@webware-inc.com> (Jonathan Peterson);
Sent at Wed, 22 Apr 1998 14:19:46 -0700;
Re:Keep Your Eye On The Prize

Great points on open source Dave...

The seeds of open source Richard Stallman planted took a LONG time to sprout. It took the fragmentation unix vendor's standards to make gnu's utilities more useful and widespread than the vendors' own. Linus Torvalds' unix kernel clone was useful and extensible enough to gain the momentum needed to take off only when coupled with the batch of existing gnu utilities. Apache would probably never have been created if the existing NCSA kernel source not been available.

There is a very small group of people with the talent, time and personality to create free software. That group is growing, especially as free development spreads into new areas (doom/quake game level tools, audio extensions to music software, etc.). But most commercial applications are created with an eye towards extensibility through plug-ins, an uncommon model just a few years ago. Who knows what the future holds?

We live in interesting times.


From: cg@gulker.com (Chris Gulker);
Sent at Wed, 22 Apr 1998 14:19:33 -0700;
Re:Keep Your Eye On The Prize

The reason I think is that open source is Darwinian in Nature. It's very difficult to predict what, at any given moment, gets picked up, passed on, evolves and undergoes further "selection".

Like evolution - open source doesn't necessarily track the quality or utility of the software. It's more a reflection of what will fly just at that moment in the complex and seething Life of the Net. The average direction is forward, but the fate of any individual code is essentially unpredictable.

As it happens, my column this week in The Independent is about that :


From: nbornstein@plr.com (Niel M. Bornstein);
Sent at Wed, 22 Apr 1998 14:19:20 -0700;
Re:Keep Your Eye On The Prize

First, I have to tell you, I don't know why they didn't work. I can only guess.

I could be uncharitable about it and say no one was really interested. But I'm sure there's much more to it... for example, your platforms, Mac and now Windows, don't have the history of open source behind them. To build an open source release, you have to have a compiler. Almost every Unix box has one, and if not you can get a free one. Users with little or no programming skills can, and do, build an executable. Most Mac and Windows compilers cost a lot, so only programmers are going to have them. Bang-o, your market is limited to programmers.

I certainly was excited about the idea of releasing the source and having other people do the work for me. Did I underhype these source releases? I did the best I could with what I had at the time.

As I see it, that's part of the joy of open source. You put it out there, you do the best you can with it, and if it achieves critical mass, good. If not, you try again. Much the same as with any software project, except that you're putting out source with it. It's not so much having others do the work for you (though that's certainly part of Netscape's rationale) as it is having others work *with* you.

Speaking for myself, that's why I'm into open source. I have a job that pays well (and I would certainly not encourage my employer to release source, especially for free!), but I'm learning new, cool stuff in my open source project. And I'm working with some really smart people -- smarter than me, to be sure.

When I think about artists, sure, I wonder if they make money from their art. But the better question is, do they care if they do? Obviously at some point, they've got to make a living. But how many artists work day jobs and do their art for some sort of cathartic release?

I hope you don't interpret my advocacy of open source as "want[ing] to replace [your] team". I don't expect you to release your source, you've been very clear on that. And I don't expect to supplant Frontier on the desktops of the masses. My eyes *are* on the prize -- and the prize is not money, it's self-actualization.

From: fast@lights.com (Karl Fast);
Sent at Wed, 22 Apr 1998 15:01:58 -0600 (CST);
prizes, open minds, cultural differences, and absolutism

I spent the morning thinking about your piece about keeping your eye on the prize and your comments on the open source debate. Here are some thoughts about prizes, open minds, and absolutism. It doesn't really hold up as an essay, but you might appreciate some of my views.

To begin, the technology industry is obsessed with debate over cultural differences. Consider operating systems. People who use Macs have a different relationship with their computer than people who use Windows. One can't definitively say this relationship is better, or worse. Just different. Hence the longstanding and often vicious debate.

Of course it doesn't stop with culture clashes between operating systems. Consider the ceasless debate over various programming languages. There are arguments about Word versus WordPerfect. The examples are endless. These are merely the most visible. And of course there is the current debate about open source software.

Unfortunately, we tend to think along narrowly defined paths. I'm a Canadian, and when I state this fact most people immediately, and automatically, begin thinking of cold winters, maple syrup, hockey, and Toronto. But I live in Saskatchewan (Saskatche-where?), have never been to Toronto, am not interested in hockey, and haven't had maple syrup in years (as for cold winters, we get some of the worst in the country). The point is that people usually think Canada is a distinct yet homogenous culture. This is as untrue for Canada as it is for the US, Sri Lanka, or any other country. It's no different than believing only artists use Macs, Windows is for business or people who don't know better, and Linux is reserved for hackers.

In the end we often limit ourselves by shoehorning everything into a box and giving it a convenient label. But most things cannot be easily classified. Are all Mac users artists? Do all Canadians play hockey? Are all Linux users open source advocates? Is open source the solution? Is there one solution?

You say the the real revolution will be open minds, not open source. But how does one achieve this revolution? How do we achieve open minds?

I do not claim to have the answer, because I believe that there is no one, single, answer. The technology industry is famous for trumpeting each new advance as the silver bullet; as the one, single, answer to all our problems. Recall the promises of how GUI's would simplify computers so that any idiot can use one, object oriented programming would make software development painless, and Netscape would slay Microsoft. But these messianic predictions never came true. At least, they never came completely true. The GUI is here, but computers are still too hard for most people to use. OOP is perfect for many project, but it hasn't made programming painless and many programmers have ignored it. And of course Microsoft is very much alive, but Netscape has certainly made an impact.

And what are we hearing now? Linux will save us from the tyranny of Microsoft. XML is the only document format we will ever need. Open source will cure all that ails the industry and lead us into a techno-renaissance.

Does anyone really believe this? I don't. I won't. I believe that Linux is important, but it won't kill Windows. I believe XML will gain widespread acceptance, but other document formats will persist. And I believe open source is an important software development model, but it's not the only development model.

Considering the number of eggheads in the computer industry, I find it discouraging that we keep hearing so many absolutist predictions. What's worse is that so many people believe them.

Of course, I could be wrong. I don't believe I am completely right, but at the same time I don't believe am wholly wrong either.

From: wesley@scripting.com (Wesley Felter);
Sent at Wed, 22 Apr 1998 14:54:46 -0500;
Re:Keep Your Eye On The Prize

OK, you hooked me on this one. As a member of the younger generation I feel obliged to reply. :-)

First, some gross over-generalizations. One reason I think open source is successful for some software but not for others is because some software was designed to be developed by teams and some was not. This is why Java lends itself more to open source software than C: Java was designed around the premise that different people would work on different parts of a project and the project could be so large that no one even understood all of the code, but it still works because OO programming is centered on APIs, not on code. But then I'm not an expert on large software projects or OOP.

I think your survey was right: People use software because it does what they want. That fact that this software is largely open source is more of a coincidence. When I use software, the budget comes first because I have no control over it. Then I evaluate all the zreo-cost software that does what I want. I often choose open source software, but that's not a reason in itself.

So if you make bad software into open source, that doesn't mean people will use it or contribute to it. Also, the open source community is almost completely a subset of the UNIX community. Period. MacBird, DocServer, and Frontier are not UNIX-like, so UNIX people just don't even see them. There's no way you could make Frontier UNIX-like without re-designing it (which is what Casbah is doing). Don't get me wrong; I like my software to be Mac-like and Windows-like, because in my mind that means user-centered, not programmer-centered.

Now speaking specifically, the source to MacBird doesn't interest me very much. FaceSpan does more than MacBird. Swing does a lot more, and it's free (but not open source). I'm not interested in the source to DocServer because I made a vow to myself that I would never learn the Mac toolbox.

Now I'm off to put down a deposit on an apartment with that money I'm getting from developing proprietary software...

In response to your Slashot comments: As a person coming from the Mac to Windows, I had few problems. I found other converts willing to help me. Even Windows die-hards were glad that I had finally seen the light (whatever that means). But as a Mac person coming to the UNIX community, I don't feel welcome. They want me to renounce my past, as if UNIX is some new religion. Sorry, I don't do that.

From: alderete@be.com (Michael A. Alderete);
Sent at Wed, 22 Apr 1998 11:28:52 -0700;
*Frontier* is open sourced!

I think you've missed an area where Frontier itself is open sourced, and therefore *greatly* underestimated the improvements to UserLand products.

Why do I say this? All of the script code in the Frontier.root file is open sourced! Much of the move from the Frontier 4 to Frontier 5 root file was done with open source, and I'd bet if someone were to analyze the archives of the Frontier-Work mailing list, the results would be hundreds of suggestions, dozens (if not hundreds) of bugs found, and hundreds of lines of code. Many proposed by unpaid, non-UserLand employees.

Going back to Frontier 4, did Mason Hale do the work on his version of the CGI framework for money? If UserLand didn't pay him, that's a benefit of the root being open sourced (and without that framework, I might never have become a Frontier addict). I'd bet there are dozens more examples, most less dramatic, if you look at how Frontier has evolved since Aretha.

I'm not saying this to minimize the work that UserLand has done on Frontier, both originally and recently. By far the vast majority of the real work was done by real UserLand employees. But in your narrative above, I think you're overlooking contributions made by people which would have been impossible if the Frontier.root file's scripts were not essentially open sourced.

Nor am I saying that the press and others are not overhyping open source. Of course they are, you're definitely right on that; but then again, that's their job...


From: robertson@rocketmail.com (Andy Robertson);
Sent at Wed, 22 Apr 1998 12:28:35 -0500;

Nice article, Keep Your Eye on the Prize. It'll probably become required reading. I had never seen your site before, good job. (I found it via slashdot.org)

How did you go about getting people to use your code? At this point several things come to mind when you talk about your attempts with open source getting no where. Do you think if you targetted a different community than the Mac world you would have fared better? What kind of license did you use?

From: deanc@ici.net (Dean Chouinard);
Sent at Wed, 22 Apr 1998 13:30:12 -0400;
Open Source Code

Is it possible that some of the people calling for open source code have never really maintained a large system before.

I'm responsible for a large base of source code for a computer reservations system. And, as you are probably aware, modifying code written several years ago by some long gone programmer is neither easy nor fun.

I have forgotten the name of a famous programmer that once said, "If you thought building it was hard, try changing it."

If you hire a new programmer to work on Frontier how long does it take before you feel comfortable with him making changes? I know it takes me a couple of months before I am comfortable with someone new making changes in our system.

The source code for Windows? Oh my god, is that guy kidding. Has he ever programed the Win32 API?

As your experiences with open source code show, it takes extreme dedication to modify these systems -- more dedication than most people can muster, unless, of course, its how you are making your bread.

This page was last built on Wednesday, April 22, 1998 at 3:53:41 PM, with Frontier version 5.0.1. Mail to: dave@scripting.com. © copyright 1997-98 UserLand Software.