Opening up to Open Source

It’s funny the turns Life takes.

I started programming in the eartly 1980s, on Timex Sinclair, Commodore 64 and TRS-80 computers in short order.  In those wild days when high-level languages were really coming into their own, free and open source software seemed more readily available than retail equivalents.  Hobbyist magazines, online bulletin boards and even the fledgling internet (pre WWW) were stuffed with code just waiting for eager learners like me to take and tweak.  There wasn’t much in the way of formal free and open source protocol at the time– that evolved soon enough though.

But as I evolved myself, from hobbyist to ad hoc developer for various employers, I found myself drawn in deeper and deeper to the closed source world.  I discovered I had a liking and knack for Visual Basic and thus fell into the Microsoft development vortex.

It’s a seductive and powerful sucker, too.  It was all too easy to be “bought off” by events with (ironically) free training, free food and even giveaways of free software.  I ultimately joined a Microsoft program that dumped thousands of dollars of tools in my lap for an embarrassingly small outlay.  Resistance was futile.

Yep, I was assimilated.

Flash forward to 2005 when Nokia hired me to do data mining/management for factory quality assurance.  At first it was the usual: Microsoft SQL Server, the Office suite, VB.NET and even Oracle.  The only real challenge I faced at the time was ramping up SQL skills to an enterprise level.

Then, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the Nokia 770 internet tablet burst into my life.

At first it was an utterly alien object, this Linux-driven refugee from an old Star Trek show.  I only knew it mobilized the Internet like nothing else at the time… and I wanted to put it to work.

I eventually took on a new role as quality engineer for certain Nokia products and that included the 770 and then the N800, which I helped launch.  Supporting the tablets meant getting acquainted with something I had marvelled at from afar but never touched until then:

Linux.

At first I had to perform all device flashing from a Linux command line.  A helpful colleague introduced me to Ubuntu and after acquiring a laptop for the work I dug in.  Just not too deeply– I was still using Windows tools for the bulk of my labors so I didn’t really have time to invest in becoming a Linux guru… although the desire was certainly there.

And now a few years and turns later, I find myself in another role where the old trusted tools need not apply.  I haven’t even coded in VB for over a year!  Couple that with my current employer’s strong desire to save money and wham!  I’m back in the open source world.

Which is fine because I’m embarrassed that after a few years embedded in the Maemo culture I’ve barely picked up anything.  I want to do more application testing and even some development but I still lack the foundation.

So I’m excited by the opportunity I have in my employment to investigate a process workflow solution (more on that in another article) that’s completely open source and takes full advantage of the open source ecosystem (MySQL, Apache, OpenBravo, Knowledgetree, Zimbra).  This is my chance to pull free of the Microsoft vortex, at least a little bit, and gain some proficiency in what I think will ultimately become the status quo.

I’m ready now to get into Qt… Python… and whatever else looks useful.  How-To posts like those at talk.maemo.org showing how to get Windows developers onto Maemo devices are just adding irresistable fuel to the fire.

Hello (open source) World, here I (finally) come!

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16 responses to “Opening up to Open Source

  1. Great post, Randy. Of coursxe, you are using WordPress, so you’ve been dipping your toe for a little while, anyway. ;)

  2. …but you should install it on your own server so that you actually have access to the code.

  3. Great story! I’m nowhere near as far down the road as you. You’re an inspiration. :-)

    Tonight I’m going to write me ‘Bear’s guide to Open Source’ after trying to explain to to colleagues (who don’t even know what an operating system is…)

  4. Pingback: ProcessMaker: workflows from Open Source « Tabula Crypticum

  5. Excuse my hijacking your post, but the opportunity to communicate with someone in your position at Nokia is too good to resist.

    I’m a fan of your internet tablets (N810 and family), but there’s just one major change I’d like to see, that’ll turn them into a real killer device: an e-ink screen! Very happy to give up all the entertainment crap for a screen I can use comfortably in daylight, and (with ARM processor and solid-state storage) a really good battery life!

    You could wipe the floor with the Netbook market. Or AN Other (such as Apple) could, if they get there first.

    • You may have a point, and I would be surprised if Nokia wasn’t looking into that… but my position with them was eliminated a year ago and I’m getting further out of the loop as time goes by.

    • my position has not been eliminated (yet?) but the very question of e-ink arose several times, and all these times product management said we need then to hire some other kamikaze to run such a product segment – they say it is already overcrowded, and one has either to be idiot to run there as market segment or to have real revelation with vision which makes it from point A (only vision in one head) to point B (money pour into coffers)… granted there is no way to figure out difference in the beginning, we leave it upon others to try going down this path – some of them might succeed but most will fail… meanwhile we are 250% busy with tablets-now-phones, so… but you can try yourself to make device and show to the world that it rules ;)

  6. Update: I bought a 4 gig USB flash drive tonight, downloaded the latest Ubuntu iso, and installed it to the drive using UNetbootin. A few changes to my laptop’s BIOS, and boom: a very fast boot into Ubunto. And it took me mere seconds to realize that even after over 2 years away from it I could still navigate in it easily.

    Hands down the absolute simplest and fastest OS install and boot I have ever accomplished. :)

    Reference: http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/linux/create-a-bootable-ubuntu-usb-flash-drive-the-easy-way/

  7. I have to agree, this is a very cool post (and discussion). Upon my runnings about online tonite, I started thinking of an open-source PBX/IMS/IM/VoIP solution for the firm I work for. I think that if I can find one that is solid, and offers the kind of UX that keeps it easy to manage that I’d just make that proposal. Posts like this give me the encouragement that if I do my homework in this area, then things would work out fine.

  8. @ARJWright – have you looked into Asterisk?

  9. Pingback: What MeeGo can learn from Microsoft « Tabula Crypticum

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