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Category: "Current Events" - Charlie's Thoughts

Category: "Current Events"

The Open-Source Experience (Pt. 2)

08/17/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Current Events, Technology

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This is part two in our look at open source software, this edition covers how open-source software comes into being and is developed essentially for free!


Normal companies like Microsoft, Google, etc. pay people to develop software, but yet there is often comparable software (Linux, OpenOffice, etc.) which is free, if not better. So how do these free applications stay free? Well in the case of large projects such as Linux and Firefox, they are supported by foundations which collect donations and solicit support to help fund the core developers and to pay for the overhead of running a website.

Most projects, however, begin with a spark from one individual or a group which does the initial development. For small things, maybe it’s just some guy who made a tool for himself and decided to share it. For medium sized projects, the initial release is often sloppy and bug-ridden as it is developed (and thus tested) by a small number of people.

As the project gains popularity (If it ever does), people will start to complain about the bugs and to request features. The developers will usually prioritize those requests and work on them in their free-time (I.E. Slowly). As a project becomes more stable and useful however, individuals and companies (like myself) will start to use the projects. Those people may have different requirements than what the software does out of the box. For instance, my company wanted to be able to use IFrames in CKEditor. Thus it became my job to develop a plugin which could handle this task. When I was done, (and since I’m a very classy open source guy), I sent my work back to the project.

Now it isn't as though anyone can just waltz in and alter the code. Usually the code is stored in what's called an SVN system (Subversion Control System). This system is the perfect solution for managing projects. Here's why. First, everytime a new file is saved, a copy is created. Thus if I were to commit some bad code, it could just be rolled back to an old version, no problem. Second, it can do "branching" of code. This in effect creates a second copy of the code which people can work on for specific reasons. For instance, when a large new feature was introduced to CKEditor, it was first created in a branch so that any problems stemming from this feature could be isolated from the rest of the code changes.

It all sounds complicated, but it's really easy to use. To keep things sane, only the core developers can approve changes to the source code. So once they approve my plugin, it will eventually be integrated in and redistributed as part of the program. Thus even though my company didn’t pay for the program, we paid for the program indirectly. Because my company pays me, and it became my job to work on the project, the project as a whole benefits.

More generally, because each user wants slightly different things out of a program. They will expand the program in the direction of their needs. If we look at the entire user base, this will have the effect of eventually expanding and bolstering the project in all directions.

From a companies/users perspective, they could pay 1000$ for a commercial solution, or could pay their developers 400$ to take open-source software and alter it to fit their needs. For the company/user, this is often more lucrative because they are permitted to directly change the program and will benefit from future development, which is not always the case with commercial software.

So how does the software perform head-to-head? That’s something we’ll look at next time.

The Open-Source Experience (Pt. 1)

08/14/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Current Events, Web

So this week version 3.4 of CKEditor was released. CKEditor is a very popular WYSIWYG editor written in javascript. Since we use this program at our office, I spent most of the last release cycle working with CKEditor. I decided to go one step further though and fill the void of support on the forums.

Over the past month I've contributed about 10 bug findings, 15 bug patches, 2 plugins, and lots of support hours. Not all of my contributions made it into this release (Some will be in 3.5), but I wanted to take some time to reflect on my second major open-source project involvement. Especially in light of the open-source movement which is constantly growing and becoming more of a debate in the technological community as various companies "embrace" open-source practices, buy open-source companies, or use open-source software.

This will be a multi-part series about Open-Source software, its pros and cons, project life-cycle, and more! So let’s start with a bit of background.

For the uninitiated, one of the biggest trends in software development right now is the open source model. Source code is the raw programming code which produces the programs and sites you use. For example, when you look at my blog, you see HTML, you cannot however see the source code (PHP) which was used to generate this HTML. Also, when you run Word or any other program, you will not find the code which powers that program. Just the EXE.

Open-Source programs on the other hand, usually require that the program be distributed with its source code, and that the source code be kept in a publicly accessible place. So when you use CKEditor on a website, it’s shrunken down, translated and basically unreadable…but it’s easy to get the source code to make changes.

Since the raw-code is available, open-source programs are usually free to use under certain conditions. These include: 1) The source code must always be distributed, 2) The license may not be altered (It’s at the top of every file), 3) Attribution must remain, 4) It may not be used in commercial products. Since this doesn’t fit everyone, many people will offer a second type of license for commercial applications. This allows companies to pay a certain amount of money for a different license which lets them remove references to the original product and to use it in a commercial program.

For example, if I were to use CKEditor to allow you to comment on my site, that’s fine. But if I used it in the same was (for editing comments) in a Content Management System which I sold to companies, I would need a different license. Anyways, there are some core CKEditor developers who presumably use this money as their salary (Including the guy who the editor is named after).

One of the biggest sites for Open-Source software is where all projects are open source (or are supposed to be). Projects here include Filezilla, eMule, Azureus, Bittorrent, 7-Zip, Audacity and more. Did you know Firefox is open source? As is the entire Linux operating system. Anyways, it’s kind of a big deal.

Well now you know a little bit of backround about what exactly an open-source project is. There is, of course, a catch which is, it’s all distributed free…and who would work for free? Well that’s something for next time.

Info, Information ya'll!

04/07/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Current Events, The World

People have long been calling the post-millennium years the Information Age, but only recently has that name truly become a way of life for consumers and businesses across the globe. Partially created by globalization and partially by the rapid advancement and shrinking of technology, this trend which treats information as currency seems to be the new unit of trade in the digital millennium. Read on for my full analysis after the jump...

Full story »

Superbowl XLIV and Commercials

02/08/10 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Current Events

So today, I'm adding my 2 cents to the discussion, and reviewing the Super Bowl. First, I'm happy to say that the game itself was pretty fantastic. But who watches the game for the game?

Fox ticked me off early by over-using their super high-speed camera. Really guys, it is not necessary to show a super slow mo clip after every play. Review the video, if it's interesting, show it to me. Otherwise, I don't want to see a guy getting arm tackled in slow mo. To their credit, the 2-point conversion review was very well shot, there were 3 very conclusive angles, and it was a baller play to watch.

Moving right along, the halftime was superb. Probably the best part of the whole production. Despite the fact that they didn't let people up close, they compensated well by making an INCREDIBLE stage. The lighting configuration of the stage was absolutely stunning. Add to that the laser light show out of nowhere (Where did they put all those lights in the stadium!?), and it was a really good show. Oh and it was the Who.

Most importantly though, are the commercials. Admittedly, they were a bit lack luster this year. I think there were only a couple very good commercials. Jump to read and see more!

Full story »

Death to Scammers!

06/16/09 | by Comp615 [mail] | Categories: Current Events

Scamming is an illegitimate and pathetic career choice. I mean, at least be a gangster or something with some respect. But anyways, Slashdot reports:

ectotherm writes: "The nice people behind the recorded phone messages stating 'By now you should have received your written note regarding your vehicle warranty expiring...' — the ones who instantly hang up when you ask for the name of the company — have been busted. Fox News did a little background digging on the four people charged." Don't know about you, but I received three or four postcards in the mail from these scammers, as well as uncountable robocalls. The FTC says they cleared $10M since 2007.

The full story can be found on Fox News. I guess they aren't so bad after all (Fox that is, scammers still suck).

Adding my story to this. I think I got at least 3 calls on every line I own from them. Our dorm room phone which isn't published anywhere even got calls from them. Finally I pushed a button in hopes of talking (Read: cursing out) with someone one day and they didn't even pick up for me. Just goes to show you that scammers have no manners. Well anyways, glad that the auto warranty phase of my life is over now!

Tags: scams

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A collection of musings from my time at Yale along with some thoughts about my "Freshman year of life" in San Francisco.


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