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May 16 2009

Open-Source Software Shout-Out

(OSSSO?)

Here’s two great bits of code that’ll never get attribution from my workplace, as they’re being used on internal-facing projects, so I wanted to give them shout-outs here where someone might actually notice.

First is a pure DHTML-and-Javascript date picking applet, simple but efficient and well-documented for any beginner Javascript programmers, which I’ll be grafting into a helpdesk type ticketing system. It’s a wheel that gets reinvented over and over, but I particularly like this implementation, as it’s rather low on resources, themeable to match your site, and does exactly what it should do and nothing more. A number of open-source products have that ethos: do one thing, but do it extraordinarily well. The end product, if done extraordinarily well, can be reused by other components in the operating system. In fact, if you’re running Linux, almost all of the apps you use daily are mere GUI frontends to command-line utilities that predate them.

Secondly, there’s a great chat applet I’m implementing at work presently built out of — get this — Javascript (AJAX), PHP, MySQL, Flash, and Ruby. I’ve already hacked out quite a few features in it, such as the ability to private message, in order to prepare it for widescale use in the office. That’s another great thing about open source software — if it doesn’t suit your needs, you’re free to modify it, as long as when you redistribute it (*if* you redistribute it — if you keep it within the company, you can turn it into spaghetti if you want!), you include the source code and changelogs indicating who did what.

I actually had a fight with one of my higher-ups over that fact once — and I went to the mat for OSS. His stance was that a business could not rely on open-source software without exposing itself to liabilities, and thus we should only be using BSD code. I countered that we weren’t redistributing anything, and the only requirement is that we deliver the code as well upon redistribution of the program, and we could even sell modified forks if we chose, with impunity. I don’t think I necessarily won the debate, but I know people who actually know the law about this stuff would side with me — if not with every nuance of the argument I made, which honestly I can’t remember any more. I do know that my stock in the company is up (lately at least), and I’m not hurting for having argued on the side of the long-haired smellies, so I’d consider it a victory.

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