In praise of open source communities

English: Conceptual Map of the FLOSS (Free/Lib...

Conceptual Map of the FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) Polski: Konceptualna mapa FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the best things about free and open source software (FOSS), and Linux in particular, is the community spirit. Many of the people who use and build these bits of code are genuinely passionate and dedicated to the products and projects they are involved in.

In the FOSS world, a development team is the core of the community, and the symbol of one’s demonstrated ability is the right to commit source code to the core software. Bigger communities, like openSUSE and Ubuntu, have structures for other community contributors.

The openSUSE Project logo

The openSUSE Project logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been a proud member of the openSUSE Community since nearly the beginning in 2007. To be a community member, the openSUSE project board of directors confirms your “continued and substantial contribution to the project.” My primary contribution was having written openSUSE Linux Unleashed and the many posts I’ve written on openSUSE and other FOSS topics. Learn more about the openSUSE Community here.

Tux, the Linux penguin

Tux, the Linux penguin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Goes to show how wired in I am to the world of Ubuntu, but I completely missed Ubuntu Community Appreciation Day yesterday. I’ve been involved with (mostly as an observer) the Ubuntu community for the last year or two, but I’ve played with Ubuntu regularly for much longer.

Ubuntu has a similar membership process as openSUSE, described at the Ubuntu Community site. Someday, I hope to join this community as well.

While I will not suggest for a moment that these communities are electronic Lake Wobegons, peaceful and friendly at all times, I will say that I typically find them helpful places. Then again, occasionally fights break out over issues like systemd (like this one, that ran for over a month!) religious wars between distributions, desktops, and text editors, and whatever else annoys people on a given day.

As we approach Thanksgiving in the United States, it’s a good time to think about giving back to your favorite open source software. A long time ago, I had some suggestions for working with free software if you don’t code. Many of the items on the list involve contributing to the community (filing bugs, getting help, giving help) and overall the list still looks pretty good to me.

If you’re already part of an open source community, you certainly have my appreciation, today and every day! If not, and you use the software, think about giving back.

BarCamp Milwaukee 9: Another Useful Day

Last month, I went to BarCamp Milwaukee 9 for a daylong exercise in stretching my mind. I’ve written a lot about BarCamp over the years (I’ve only  missed two of the  nine events), and I’ve always found it useful (the attending AND the writing about it). Let me share some of what I learned. These are some notes on the sessions I attended with about 70 folks, a nice crowd.

Open Source Ecology

Some days before BarCamp, I received an invitation to join a new Meetup in Milwaukee called Open Source Ecology. It was the first time I’d heard the term, but as an “open source guy” with an environmental bent, the idea was pretty attractive. I needed to learn more before signing up, so when a group of folks showed up and introduced themselves as from Open Source Ecology, I was very pleased, and said so when it came my turn to introduce myself.

Here’s the elevator speech description of Open Source Ecology, from their website:

We’re developing open source industrial machines that can be made for a fraction of commercial costs, and sharing our designs online for free. The goal of Open Source Ecology is to create an open source economy – an efficient economy which increases innovation by open collaboration.

It’s an intriguing idea, and begins with what they call the Global Village Construction Set, a set of 50 machines designed to build other industrial machines to reconstruct civilization independent of today’s global capitalist economy.

English: Depiction of the 50 machines composin...

English: Depiction of the 50 machines composing the “Global Village Construction Set” by the “Open Source Ecology” project (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here in Milwaukee, they are working to build a machine that can turn buckets of ordinary dirt into bricks that are strong enough to build housing that meets modern building codes. Someday, instead of the old rural barn-raising festivals, we could see brick-house-raising parties for genuine Habitats for Humanity. Community building at its finest!

The Milwaukee group is also trying to partner with local educators to create a course focused on building the LifeTrac tractor, which sure sounds cool!

The discussion focused on the practicality of realizing this idealistic vision of building a new economy beside the existing institutions. Side note: they’re keen on finding better technical writers to help non-engineers build these machines.

These are good folks, and I’ll be following their progress. You can too, on their Facebook page.

Qt on Android and iOS (And windows, mac, linux)

Qt Logo

Qt Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BarCamps are by and for various types of geeks, but inevitably, there are sessions about programming. Sometimes I get attracted by these, despite not being a programmer. I actually tried one session about building a boot loader (software that allows you to run multiple operating systems on different hard drive partitions), but found myself drowning fairly quickly. I wasn’t the only camper who invoked The Law of Two Feet on this session, I’m afraid. This is the BarCamp principle of “if you’re not getting what you need from a session, walk away and find something useful.”

In the next session window (what turned out to be my last of the day), I was excited to learn that someone was giving a talk on using the Qt development framework to build applications for multiple mobile devices. Why get excited? Well, among the mobile devices that has adopted Qt as its default platform is Ubuntu. Technically, I’m writing a book on Ubuntu mobile devices (on hold until such a device appears in the US), and finding what programmers find cool, useful and unique about this framework is very helpful for writing that chapter.

So I watched this talk with keen interest, and learned much about how to work with the Qt Developer integrated developer environment. This young man had written an app to deliver dynamic schedules for Chicago Metra trains using Qt’s QML language (as does Ubuntu), and shared his process. If the book project resumes, I think I’ll be in pretty good shape.

After that session, I was dismayed to learn that I’d developed an ear infection and needed to get home. But BarCamp Milwaukee did help me yet again. I’ve always said that I would not be who I am if not for BarCamp, and look forward to next year!

Making Better Software by Building Stronger Communities

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) thrives on the support from its community of


English: Conceptual Map of the FLOSS (Free/Lib...

English: Conceptual Map of the FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) Polski: Konceptualna mapa FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


users. Every user can make their mark on the software they use. Every so often, one project or another puts out a call for some intensive work to get ready for a release. Case in point:



Depending on your skills and talents, one or both of these events may be right for you. If you’re neither a programmer nor teacher, but you’re not exactly new to FOSS, I’ve got another idea for you to contribute to (keep reading!), but that’s not really what I’m jawing at you about today.


Continue reading

Let us mourn for

UPDATE 6/19/10: Lisa Hoover tweeted at me earlier this week “… Consider the source before you believe this crap.” I do plan to keep an eye on freshmeat; I sure hope she’s right. MM

Robin “Roblimo” Miller reported this weekend that the future looked bad for pioneering free software repository, the parent company of,,,,, and, has told employees that it will be closing and This information has not yet been released to the public, but we’ve heard it from more than one employee.

While not exactly shocking, it is a sad moment for many longtime Linux geeks. In the days before broadband Internet connections and automatic distribution updates, freshmeat (yes, it’s still there as I write this) was the go-to site for new and interesting open source software. A decade ago, when I was first getting acquainted with Linux, you’d read about assorted new projects to make a Linux version of, say, a desktop publisher. The article, whether it was online or in print (usually  Linux Journal), would invariably conclude with a link to the project’s freshmeat page. This is how I found the Scribus desktop publisher, among other things.

In those days around the turn of the century, you’d be lucky if the developer(s) made up an RPM package for easy installation into a Red Hat Linux system. Sometimes those RPMs would even work on SUSE Linux. More often, though, you’d just get a tarball; the source code bundled into a GZip archive with standard instructions to use make to compile the code into your system. Occasionally your idiot scribe would get these applications to work without breaking any other important piece of the system.

It’s not like Linux was brand new, but the idea of ordinary people using Linux and other free software for ordinary tasks outside of programming and networking was still a bit odd. That was also what made freshmeat exciting–Granted it was cooler to help develop it, but you really did feel like you were on the cutting edge simply downloading this stuff and trying it out.

Roblimo’s piece outlines the corporate history of freshmeat, and some of the changes that brought the site to this point. I’d guess that the development of ever-easier ways of adding software to a Linux system (including openSUSE’s zypper, and the always terrific and ever-improving apt-get) played its part too.

There are lots of projects that debuted on freshmeat that never became household names, but the site probably inspired more than a few of today’s army of software developers. For now, let us have a moment of silence for this fine project, and the people who have worked on it over the years. Many thanks!