28 February 2006

Open Source, Opener Source

Brian Behlendorf is an interesting individual: one of those quietly-spoken but impressive people you meet sometimes. When I talked to him about the birth of Apache - which he informed me was not "a patchy" server, as the folklore would have it, just a cool name he rather liked - he was working at CollabNet, which he had helped to found.

He's still there, even though the company has changed somewhat from those early days. But judging from a characteristically thought-provoking comment reported in one of ZDNet's blogs, he's not changed so much, and is still very much thinking and doing at the leading edge of open source.

In the blog, he was reported as saying that he saw more and more "ordinary people" being enfranchised as coders thanks to the new generation of programming models around - notably Ajax and the mashup - that made the whole process far easier and less intimidating.

If he's right, this is actually a profound shift, since ironically the open source model has been anything but open to the general public. Instead, you had to go through a kind of apprenticeship before you could stalk the hallowed corridors of geek castle.

If open really is becoming opener, it will be no bad thing, because the power of free software depends critically on having lots of programmers, and a good supply of new ones. Anything that increases the pool from which they can be drawn will have powerful knock-on effects.


Anonymous said...

I recall reading PC Magazine >10 years ago, when MS was coming out with OLE, they quoted Gates as saying "People will just mix and match and make cool stuff with all this".
Truth is, a lot of people can.
Also true: a lot of people don't.
It will be interesting to see if this high-speed stuff lowers the barrier below apathy.
I rather hope it does.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I'm not sure AJAX leads to accessibility though. Whereas HTML is easily accessible, javascript is incredibly hard to use especially for dealing with XML.

But I was very strongly reminded of your post when I read a 20-minute tutorial on how to build a wiki in python using TurboGears (http://www.turbogears.org/docs/wiki20/index.html). These people seem to have a lot of enthusiasm for openness in many senses.

Glyn Moody said...

Good point about Javascript. What I had in mind was not low-level programming with Ajax, but the kind of pseudo-programming it allows - the drag and drop kind of stuff that lets you do things without needing to program.