Reflecting on pace and zeal in Open Source participation

The recent O'Reilly article Trust and Zeal in Open Source advocacy caught my eye, and it comes along at a time when I am pondering the topic of participation in Free/Open Source Software. Sure, any of us can have a 6-month or 12-month spurt of productivity, but what makes for long-haul, year-in, year-out staying power?

Since I haven't done that yet, I can only speculate. Right now I would have to say that two key factors in consistent, long-term advocacy and participation are internalization and resolve. If the principles of free/open source software don't click for you, long-term participation may seem more like drudgery. Hell, even when you are passionate about this movement the work of it can be tiresome and at times thankless. So, if the ideals of free and open source software don't strike a chord with your spirit, maybe your time would be better spent elsewhere.

As for resolve, I suppose it's the same as with any long-term commitment. In spite of the hardships, the sacrifices, and yes, even at times - the boredom, you remain fixed in your commitment. You know the alternatives, and it only takes a brief pondering of them to remind you of why you made the commitment in the first place.

Huh, lots of parallels to marriage; coincidence? 8^) Open Source - the closest you will come to marriage without sex or intimacy. That's my cue to stop while I am already behind.

java-package 0.24 uploaded

Version 0.24 of java-package has uploaded today. This version has the following changes:

  • correction of errors introduced in 0.23 for i386 Sun and Blackdown JDKs plugin support
  • addition of plugin support for IBM JREs and JDKs on i386 architecture

Apologies to those who experienced issues with 0.23; the errors introduced for i386 users were entirely my own. In enabling architecture-specific pathing for the Java(TM) plugin, I inadvertenly messed up the pathing for the plugin in JDKs. Those of you who noticed can think of it as involuntary sensitivity training to help you sympathize with those of us on non-i386 architectures. 8^)

For those unfamiliar with java-package, it provides a way for you to package Java(TM) Runtime Environments and Java(TM) Development Kits as Debian packages rather than installing them manually. This allows you to leverage Debian's rich dependency management for Java-based packages. It provides the non-free Java(TM) functionality that the free runtimes for Java(TM) community is working hard to replace with free, open replacements. Think of it as "bridge technology" while things continue to progress in the free efforts.

Entering the Debiosphere

My colleagues in the Debian Java(TM) Packaging project have encouraged me to syndicate my weblog to Planet Debian, so here goes.

Hello, my name is Barry Hawkins, and I am a New Maintainer primarily active in the packaging of Java(TM) applications and libraries for Debian. I currently contribute to maintaining java-package, lucene, and tomcat4. Java(TM) is a big area with much to be done, so it looks as if that will be my main area of contribution for some time. Our work on moving packages to main via free runtimes for Java(TM) is slow but steady, and hopefully we will have big news for Debian users who develop in Java(TM) and wish to maximize their use of free runtimes in the coming months.

The Debian community is an exciting, vibrant, and collegial one; I have greatly enjoyed my involvement thus far, and I owe sincere thanks to Jeroen van Wolffelaar and Jeff Breidenbach for their patient, wise mentoring and encouragement.

Now, time to make a hackergotchi...

If Open Source were a girl, would she dump you?

So I have finally finished my taxes and pushed several back-logged entries out the door and am feeling pretty good. I also just finished watching Shaun of The Dead. If you have seen the movie (and if you have not, this is not really a spoiler), you know that Shaun's girlfriend Liz dumps him early in the story. She basically decides that he is going to continue to be the passive, lazy non-leader that he has been, and is sure that she does not want that. Good for her.

So, what if Open Source and Free Software were a girl, and you were in a relationship with her. Would she dump you?

I ask this because of the take-take-take relationship many developers have with open source software. They have no problem using things like Log4J, Tomcat, Spring, Hibernate, or the Jakarta Commons libraries. They will not hesitate to criticize these offerings or demand more functionality. However, mention so much as filing a bug report and they are backing away.

What's up with that? Do you throw your trash out of your car window, too? Do you never hold the door for people, but get angry when someone does not hold the door for you? Do you actually relate to your significant other that way? If you do, don't be surprised if you find yourself in Shaun's boat, only you won't have a zombie horde to save your ex-girlfriend from so that she gets back together with you. G'night.

My first keysigning

So I attended my first keysigning party. Basically it was a group of us free software geeks in a fantastic Belgian beer bar on W 4th Street near NYU named Vol de Nuit. Excellent place, excellent selection of Belgian beers. My new favorite is Corsendonk Brown Ale.

I ended up meeting an interesting array of folks, and got key signatures for Debian guys as well some other folks outside of Debian. Talking with Benjamin Hill (Mako) was interesting; he currently works for Ubuntu. Mako has been a Debian Developer since he was 12; quite a concept to wrap your mind around if you know what that means. Fun talk about free runtimes for Java(TM), and free software in general. It was truly a great time of hanging out with kindred spirits. Mako, another guy named Greg who actually serves as a lawyer for Debian, and myself kept hanging out after folks left, but I eventually had to bail and head back to the hotel and meet up with my wife. She was very understanding of how important this was to me, but I felt like more than 6 hours was a bit much.

If you don't know about GPG keys, encryption, etc., I urge you to check it out. If you send sensitive data via email, GPG encryption can give you peace of mind. GnuPG is a free, open source implementation of the security offered commercially by PGP. You can establish quite secure trusts between individuals and send encrypted emails that can greatly improve the privacy of your electronic transmissions.

In New York for the week

In Manhattan for another week of work. Glad to be here in one sense; the weather is great, this is one of my favorite places, but I have a ton of work to do at home. That includes, but is in no way limited to, my income taxes. The big plus is that I will be able to attend a keysigning on Friday that will have a few Debian Developers. Getting my key signed by at least one will help me check off another to-do on my list for the Debian New Maintainer process.

The Java Trap, and what the open source community is doing about it

OpenOffice has raised the ire of some of its community with the news that version 2.0 of the increasingly-popular alternative to Microsoft Office will require a Java(TM) Runtime Environment, or JRE. Tying the primary open source office application suite to Java(TM) is an example of The Java Trap as described on the GNU site. The Java(TM) platform is an excellent one, with a flourishing legion of open-source libraries that can save you many hours of work, but ultimately, all of the beautiful applications you build upon it are doomed from being totally free (as in freedom).

I have held this entry in draft so long that it may be hard for me to convey the spirit of this issue. So there's all this open source, free code for people to take advantage of and contribute to, but alas, it is ultimately resting upon a foundation that mars that freedom. That foundation, the Java(TM) Runtime Environment, and the Java(TM) Development Kit (JDK), is no small thing; replacing it, or implementing an equivalent foundation in free or open source software is a mammoth task. So, what are we to do? Should we throw up our hands in despair, declare c'est la vie and have another latte?

No. Enter the free runtimes movement. There are a body of open source/free software advocates and developers who have taken on this task, and they have made some quite impressive progress. Projects like Kaffe, GNU Classpath, SableVM, JamVM have taken up the gauntlet, and things are coming along nicely. I regularly compile against these virtual machines and runtime environments and I am amazed at what I find.

I remember the first time I heard a discussion about an open source Java(TM) implementation. The concept was being scoffed at during the time when IBM was calling for Sun to make Java(TM) open source. It was at my local Java(TM) User Group meeting; almost nobody was in favor of the idea of Java(TM) going open source. The Java(TM) community has this strange, dysfunctional relationship with open source. They love to consume, utilize, and demand more from open source, yet the idea of giving back to it or supporting a completely free implementation turns them off. Weird.

Like it or not, free runtimes are a reality, and they are gaining ground on the closed, proprietary implementations. The proven model of bazaar development is yielding some pretty impressive results. If you are into the geek thing, and if you admire the innovations of the computing era like GNU/Linux, Apache, etc. well, guess what? This is the new frontier, kiddo. Want to make your mark? Join us.

My book review made it onto Slashdot

I submitted my recent book review of Andrew St. Laurent's open source licensing book to Slashdot, and it was accepted. A friend notified me in time to see it on the front page. I snagged a screenshot before it got knocked too far down the page, since it was a busy day of posts to Slashdot. I was pretty psyched; my wife suggested we celebrate (it is so great to have a wife who supports your geek tendencies), so it was wine and hot wings for dinner. Yes, the wine and hot wings was my choice of combination. I had pizza for lunch, so that unfashionable combination was not an option.

The comment thread on the Slashdot posting has been interesting; I jumped in on a couple.

Debian Lucene source package is online

My first official participation in open source made it online today. Jeff Breidenbach and I have updated the lucene source package for Lucene uploaded to Debian. This release is 1.4.3-2, based upon the upstream sources for 1.4.3.

For those who aren't into this stuff, this is basically a piece of software known as a library, which is used by other programs to perform searching, somewhat like Google does. Packaging it for Debian GNU/Linux means that we take the software and package it in such a way that Debian and Debian-based Linux distributions can install the software easily without creating conflicts or failing to ensure that any dependencies have been met.

Lucene is an open source Java library. Currently, our package only compiles with the Sun 1.4.x JDK. The next big initiative is to get it to build and test with open source Java compilers and Java virtual machines (JVMs). The first JVM to test will probably be Kaffe, followed by SableVM.

My day job makes the news

Well, I don't really consider GovExec to be part of "the news", but my project from last year is the subject of an article in the December 2004 issue of their magazine. The article is titled "Social Security computer system may reduce disability overpayments". I was the database technical lead/DBA and the architectural second lead on that project. It's one of the few instances where my work is publicly mentioned on a resource that can be found outside of the SSA firewall.

For those who now wonder exactly what my day job is, I work as a subcontractor to Lockheed Martin IT for the Social Security Administration through Compuware Corporation as an hourly employee. How's that for convolution?