Dr Nic

How to make a good home-made Open Source

Want to be the funniest person at the next hacker’s picnic? Point at a bottle of red ketchup with its lid next to it on the table and pronounce “Hey look, Open Source.”

Be ready with follow-ups like “Can you pass me the Haml?”

If you’ve used Ruby on Rails, Apache, Emacs, or Linux then you would have been impressed by the awesome quality of these free bits of software which are so important to us. They are free, they are important, and they are awesome.

Paying money for poor commercial software makes awesome, important free software appear even more awesome and important.

The facts seem gloomy. You are a humble developer. Awesome, important free software is a Herculean achievement.

Conclusion? You implicitly believe you will never write awesome, important free software.

But “never” is an awfully long time. And is the only goal “awesome, important free software”?

Reasons to write?

Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever created an open source project that is either important or awesome. I think my motivations for open source — my own projects or stuff added to other’s projects — is either:

“Wouldn’t it be cool if you could do XYZ?” or “Seriously. Why can’t I do XYZ?”

I was either amused or annoyed. Dr Nic’s Magic Models was a joke. ChocTop was vented frustration.

Perhaps there are different reasons. I find the following examples inspiring.

I think the late Why the Lucky Stiff created entertaining free software.

Tim Lucas created artistic free software (‘View Source’ to see the header comment)

Christian Neukirchen created liberating free software.

Ryan Davis created free tools.

Chris Wanstrath ports free software.

Is there a muse that you can choose?

What other reasons are there for writing examples? Perhaps leave comments below and I’ll add them to the list above.

Who? Me?

And “awesome” sounds awfully challenging to aim for. Surely, “Awesome” is just one end of a scale with “Worthless” at the other end. “Moderately Good”, “Average”, “Below Average”, and “Where are the test cases?!” are in the middle.

Have you ever visited a friend who you find putting on the finishing touches to a 6’ by 4’ canvas painting of their entire family from their last Christmas dinner together, and they say “want to help?” Unlikely. Fortunately open source software “paintings” are a free-for-all.

You can write Libraries, Adaptors, Applications, Frameworks, Tools, Extensions and Services.

You don’t even need to create new free software. Fix something that someone else broke. Add a feature that was missing. Write documentation after you eventually figured out what to do.

Mid-Year’s Resolution

It’s now April. If you’re still looking for a 2010 New Year’s Resolution, borrow this one: “Write some open source software.”

If you’re going to RailsConf, perhaps come along to my tutorial The 8 Steps to Contributing to OSS or let’s catch up in the corridors. It’s going to be a great RailsConf!


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