Are you an open source developer?

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From: DaveNet email (
Date: Wed Aug 23 2000 - 12:36:23 PDT

DaveNet essay, "Are you an open source developer?", released on 8/23/2000; 12:31:10 PM Pacific.

***Are you one?

Following the theme started in yesterday's DaveNet piece, let's start routing around the softballs and puff pieces, and figure out what integrity means in software development.

Since the high ground in software integrity has been captured by the "open source" developers, we're going to start by figuring out exactly what an open source developer is.

There's been a lot of writing on the subject, mostly by people who love the idea, but there is no commonly agreed-to definition. There are lots of different license agreements, some highly political, some which eliminate developers who do any commercial code at all, and others that say roughly "here's my gift, use it as you please and don't bother me."

Most of the agreements are silent on the subject of patents and disclosure of prior art. Perhaps there's an opportunity to channel the generosity of most programmers to offset and prevent greed by others, if there's a consensus that being pro-open source is consistent with being anti-patent.

There are also gatekeepers at work, people who decide who is an open source developer or not. If being accepted by a gatekeeper is part of what makes someone an open source developer, let's get clear on who they are, and understand how their process works. Preferably, whether you're an open source developer or not is a matter between you and your conscience. I prefer to trust people by default, and do the whole thing without any gatekeepers at all.

Greed and manipulation are the way of life in US business, but often it's not so with programmers. There's a higher ethic among good developers, that's why the whole open source philosophy, as weakly as it has been defined, has a strong ring of truth. "Sure I share what I create!" is a common ethos, dating back to the beginning of computers and software, on all platforms, because programmers, like all artists, are suckers for love and appreciation. We share what we create because that's an essential part of what we do.

I'm in favor of programmers doing that, but let's not be picky about who we accept our gifts from. That's my own personal opinion, of course.

***A discussion

If you create software, I'm interested in hearing what you have to say about this. I want to know what it means when someone says they're an open source developer.

I'm working with Eric Kidd, a 24-year-old open source developer with excellent qualifications. Wherever possible I'm taking a backseat and letting him run the discussion. He writes excellent code and has great integrity. I know all this because I've programmed with Eric at UserLand. I trust him.$19977

If you're any kind of programmer, open source, closed source, open mind, closed mind, whatever, come participate and help get to the core of what being an open source programmer means, and then let's work outward from there, and hopefully include as many people as possible.

However if you don't write code as a daily activity, you're welcome to watch, but this is for us to decide, not for outsiders. Thanks.

Further if this subject is being discussed elsewhere, send me pointers and I'll link to them from Scripting News.

Dave Winer

PS: I see this as exactly analogous to the debate in music between artists and the industry. The artists should define the industry, not the other way around, of course, imho.

PPS: It's also parallel to the debate in the medical industry, between doctors and the HMOs. Now that software development has been going full force for fifty years, it's time that we take responsibility for defining what we do. If we don't do it, outsiders are happy to do it for us.

(c) Copyright 1994-2000, Dave Winer.
"It's even worse than it appears."

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