I was introduced to open source nearly 15 years ago by a friend when I asked him what that foot thing was bouncing around on his screen saver. He then explained what GNOME was and what open source software was. I was hooked immediately; the philosophy and methodology made perfect sense to me. It took awhile for it to become the focus of my career, but it's been an incredibly rewarding path.
Sometimes a gift just falls in your lap. This month, it came in the form of an e-mail out of the blue from Jared Nielsen, one of two brothers (the other is J.R. Nielsen) who created The Hello World Program, "an educational web series making computer science fun and accessible to all". If it had been just that, I might not have been interested.
But when I looked at it, I saw it was hugely about Linux. And the human story was interesting too. Wrote Jared, "Working in rural Utah with minimal resources, we combine technology and craft to make educational yet entertaining videos and tutorials. Learn to code with our cute and clever puppets." So I said I'd like to interview them, and here's how it went.
I’ve been using Linux since around 2003. I think my first distribution was Slackware, followed by Debian, but it wasn’t very long before I discovered SUSE and since then I’ve been hooked. I started contributing with the great ‘opening up’ of the distribution that came with the launch of the openSUSE Project in 2005. In terms of ‘upstream contributions’, I’ve contributed to GNOME, ownCloud, Spacewalk, Cobbler, and a few other projects over the years, but normally through my involvement with openSUSE. I guess you could say I’m a little ‘Geeko-centric’ that way.
Dan Allen: I can understand the programmer's dilemma in having to write documentation. It can be a long and painful process. Documentation in open source is often a missing link. There are four major pillars of developing open source software. Each one has it own elements of problem-solving associated with it. These are design, code writing, testing and documentation.
openSNP is a non-profit, open source web application project that allows users to take consumer genotype tests and upload the raw data so that it's accessible to everyone. The tool parses and annotates the data, and lets users share it with others. I spent some time chatting with one of the founders of the project, Bastian Greshake, about why he started openSNP, what technology the project uses, and how they actively try to scare their users away before getting them to sign up.
I don’t think you can compare Red Hat to other Linux distributions because we are not a distribution company. We have a business model on Enterprise Linux. But I would compare the other distributions to Fedora because it’s a community-driven distribution. The commercially-driven distribution for Red Hat which is Enterprise Linux has paid staff behind it and unlike Microsoft we have a Security Response Team. So for example, even if we have the smallest security issue, we have a guaranteed resolution pattern which nobody else can give because everybody has volunteers, which is fine. I am not saying that the volunteers are not good people, they are often the best people in the industry but they have no hard commitments to fixing certain things within certain timeframes. They will fix it when they can. Most of those people are committed and will immediately get onto it. But as a company that uses open source you have no guarantee about the resolution time. So in terms of this, it is much better using Red Hat in that sense. It’s really what our business model is designed around; to give securities and certainties to the customers who want to use open source.
Red Hat has done a lot of work with CDOT, lately specializing in Fedora for ARM processors. Pidora, the Fedora Linux Remix specifically targeted to the Rasberry Pi, was primarily developed at CDOT.
Another company that we have been working with lately is Blindside Networks. They do a lot of work with CDOT on the BigBlueButton project, which is a web conferencing tool for online education.
NexJ is a Toronto-based software development firm that has worked with CDOT on various aspects of open health tools on the server side and integration of medical devices with smart phones.
We have recently started working on the edX platform, where developers around the globe are working to create a next-generation online learning platform.
No matter how good the code review process is, or how high the standards for acceptance, applications will always have bugs, says Joanna Rutkowska, founder and CEO of Invisible Things Lab. So will drivers. And filesystems.
“Nobody, not even Google Security Team, can find and patch all those bugs in all the desktop apps we all use,” Rutkowska says in the Q&A interview, below.