Originally Published: Tuesday, 7 August 2001 Author: Jessica Sheffield
Published to: interact_articles_live/Live! Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Community Voices: Come In, We're Open

The Open Source Directory's Steve Mallett and Jason McGillivray took time away from promoting stable open source software with their website to answer some questions for Linux.com. Come back on Thursday to ask them your own questions about OSD, open source, and anything under the sun.

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The Open Source Directory http://www.opensourcedirectory.org provides the community with a central place to learn about stable open source software. Steve Mallett and Jason McGillivray, the site's maintainers, answered some of our questions about the project. Check it out for yourself and come back for their Linux.com Live! event on Thursday to find out more about the OSD.

Linux.com: What prompted you to start OSD?

Steve: Three things: I was working on a project that was going to be like dmoz (http://dmoz.org) & but the idea was that the underlying code was also going to given away. I had emailed the FSF for an opinion on whether the dmoz license (for the directory content) was considered 'free'. RMS had seen my msg with accompanying signature..."steve@opensourcedirectory.org" and asked if OpenSource Directory was like their Free Software Directory. We went from being opensourced directory software to a directory of opensource software in the blink of an eye. Two, ESR said that they (OSI) didn't have the resources to do it, but that it was needed. Good enough for me. Lastly, and most importantly, it was the proverbial personal itch. I personally found it difficult to find what I was looking for as a linux and opensource newbie.

How many hints does a person need to understand that fate wants them to do something? So, we aren't a 'project'. We're more like a mission.

Jason: And me... I helped :)

Linux.com: What are your short-term and long-term goals for the site?

Steve & Jason: Short-term - Keep knocking on doors to get developers/authors/maintainers to register their products.

Long-term - Plant OSD in closed-source people's faces at every opportunity once there are enough products to show off & the listings have had a good chance to go through enough scrutiny to be considered high quality. Our recent XML release of the product database is the beginning of this scrutiny.

Linux.com: Can we have the technical stats of OSD? (what code engine, server stats, etc.)

Jason: Our firewall is a 233MHz machine with 80 megs of ram running OpenBSD. Our web/database server is a Pentium 600MHz with 256 megs of ram running what else but Linux. :)

Steve: Well, our backend is LAMP (linux,apache,mysql, (perl [some], PHP). It is the code that runs SourceForge with some mods. We don't follow hits stats per se. I guess we still consider ourselves at the very beginning of what we see OSD doing & becoming. Once we really get some momentum going though I guess we'll have to.

Here's a couple of interesting stats for all you convertable IT managers to consider: We built this site (not including labour costs) for approx.: $2,000.00 Cdn. Total. We've been slashdotted twice and didn't go down either time & haven't rebooted except once to install a new nic and one other time because our office had been hit by lightening.

Linux.com: How is the site run? Do you moderate everything that's submitted or is it an honor system?

Steve: Both.

People will submit their products & that submission will come to me for approval. This is just a brief thing to make sure it's not bogus. I'll view the submission & approve or delete it. We call it the 'bogus product filter'. Then the product listing is setup to be completed in in its entirety by the submitter. Most products that are at the stable stage will *very* likely have an established webpage, mailing lists, etc. so it is very easy to check if it's valid up front.

The interesting issue with OSD is that we can't test every product that comes in to make sure it's stable or be sure that the product information is kept up to date and accurate. So, we've employed Linus's Law & applied it to the OSD data. Anyone visiting the site can contact the 'product listing author' to ask for changes in the listing to make it accurate. If there is a bogus product that slips through or something become terribly out of date ultimately the community is looking at it & it will be removed or corrected. "Given enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow". In this case inaccuracies.

Also, our Social Contract with contributors is pretty direct. "Open-Source Directory may insist on factual accuracy of content or remove content that does not meet this standard at any time." In other words, if there are problems with a listing the buck stops with us. We'll look after it. Either deleting it or contacting the maintainer to address the problem. So, yes it is the honour system, but applying Linus's Law to the data is a wonderful safeguard to insuring factual accuracy.

Linux.com: Who is the intended audience for the directory?

Steve: The audience that will benefit the most from our work are newbies to opensource. So, that could be anyone who is a desktop/enduser, sys admin, programmer etc. and can be very experienced computer people to total newbies. I was a total newbie not so long ago and frankly the opensource world was a cold & lonely place. I was lucky that I wanted to use it bad enough to slog my way through. Many people aren't that patient or don't have that kind of commitment to it. It has to be easier for these people to join the community. It just has to be. For instance, I was going to install StarOffice a couple weeks ago. I hadn't realized it wasn't opensource. I happen to know more than my fair share about licensing & stopped when I saw the license terms. Now, Sun is thankfully working on openoffice (LGPL, SISSL), but I thought it was a pretty safe assumption that StarOffice was opensource. I guess not.

Anyway, *I* think its the newbies, but we get email all the time from people who obviously aren't fresh to opensource who like what we're doing too. Experienced opensource people like the idea of seeing a product's meta-data.

Jason: As a programmer I find the directory very usefull when looking to create or implement something in one of my own projects because I'm almost assured that the products on OSD will be stable and I will be able to get the source code.

Linux.com: Is the site your profession or a hobby? If a hobby, what are your day jobs? How did you get involved in Open Source?

Steve: Its not a hobby or profession. It's my passion, day and night. I am lucky enough to have a *very* flexible day-job though. 8^)

Jason: All of the above.

Steve: I started getting into opensource when I was following the original dmoz-ish plan for OSD. It was the hacker culture that attracted me at first. Resisting control, the inventiveness, fixing what is broken. Now, I can't think of a reason why a user would chose to use closed source products.

I don't want to sound too corny here, but I personally see the future being seriously wrapped up in code and licensing terms. I want that future to be opensource. From the code being transparent to it being 'free as in liberty' and 'as in beer'.

Linux.com: Are you looking for help with the site? How can people get involved?

Steve & Jason: We are *always* looking for help. In no particular order heres what you can do: register your stable & open-source product, nag your friends to register their's, link to us (you can all do that), use our XML product info (don't shy from being inventive with it), push your project to the finish line; go stable!, write to us detailing any suggestions, look for errors in the product listings, write code for us (see question below) and anything I haven't listed.

Linux.com: Why do you use the term products instead of projects?

Jason: It's stable or at least has a stable version.

Steve: Let me answer that with my own question: Are Apache and the like really projects now? Nah.

Linux.com: Are you working on any other projects besides OSD?

Steve: Yes. However, it is directly related. Its called Trovesend:(http://sourceforge.net/projects/trovesendtwo/). The idea is: you put the information for your product in a client & it updates SF and/or FM and/or OSD... and other trove based sites at the same time without having to login and change all those listings. This is possible because, these three sites anyway, are based on loosely the same interface, data & category map(trove).

It is essential that product information is disseminated. Yet it is an unsexy job & frankly a bit of a pain. Especially if you don't have a dedicated maintainer or have more than one project. We think this one ranks pretty high on the usefulness scale.

Linux.com: Tell us about OSD's place in the community. Why is it essential for the future of Open Source?

Steve: Bringing the products to the people is the last mile in the production line. If opensource newbies can't find them, be reasonably sure they work and that they are opensource why bother at all? Its that easy. Our focus is none other than bringing these products to the people.

Jason: It's a pain to find this stuff otherwise.

Jessica Sheffield (starlady@linux.com) is the Interact section editor for Linux.com.

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