animesh kumar

Running water never grows stale. Keep flowing!

Open Source Gospels

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Last night, I was reading “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” by Eric S. Raymond, an old article (Date: 1998/11/22) about how Linux was developed breaking the then common beliefs and practices of The Programming World and what lesson were there to learn. In general, the article talks about the cultural shift in programming methodologies and guides to open-up and collaborate to cultivate benefits from the crowd.

Eric called them Gospels. I thought I will list them here for my own future revisions.

  • Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.
    Perhaps this should have been obvious; it’s long been proverbial that “Necessity is the mother of invention”.
  • Good programmers know what to write. Great ones know what to rewrite (and reuse).
  • “Plan to throw one away; you will, anyhow.” (Fred Brooks, “The Mythical Man-Month”, Chapter 11)
  • If you have the right attitude, interesting problems will find you.
  • When you lose interest in a program, your last duty to it is to hand it off to a competent successor.
  • Treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective debugging.
    The power of this effect is easy to underestimate. In fact, until Linus Torvalds proved differently, everyone in the open-source world drastically underestimated how well it would scale up with number of users and against system complexity.

    Linus’s cleverest and most consequential hack was not the construction of the Linux kernel itself, but rather his invention of the Linux development model. To this, he comments: “I’m basically a very lazy person who likes to get credit for things other people actually do.” Lazy like a fox, or, as Robert Heinlein might have said, too lazy to fail.
  • Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.Linus was directly aiming to maximize the number of person-hours thrown at debugging and development, even at the possible cost of instability in the code and user-base burnout if any serious bug proved intractable. Linus was behaving as though he believed something like this:
  • Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone.
  • Smart data structures and dumb code works a lot better than the other way around.
    Brooks, Chapter 9: ‘”Show me your and conceal your [data structures], and I shall continue to be mystified. Show me your [data structures], and I won't usually need your ; it'll be obvious."
  • If you treat your beta-testers as if they're your most valuable resource, they will respond by becoming your most valuable resource.
  • The next best thing to having good ideas is recognizing good ideas from your users. Sometimes the latter is better.
  • If you are completely and self-deprecatingly truthful about how much you owe other people, the world at large will treat you like you did every bit of the invention yourself and are just being becomingly modest about your innate genius. We can all see how well this worked for Linus!
  • Often, the most striking and innovative solutions come from realizing that your concept of the problem was wrong.
  • It's often time to ask not whether you've got the right answer, but whether you're asking the right question. Perhaps the problem needs to be reframed.
  • Don't hesitate to throw away superannuated features when you can do it without loss of effectiveness. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (who was an aviator and aircraft designer when he wasn't being the author of classic children's books) said: "Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away."
  • Any tool should be useful in the expected way, but a truly great tool lends itself to uses you never expected.
  • Don't disturb the data stream  -- and *never* throw away information unless the recipient forces you to!
  • A security system is only as secure as its secret. Beware of pseudo-secrets.
  • To solve an interesting problem, start by finding a problem that is interesting to you.
  • Provided the development coordinator has a personality and medium at least as good as the Internet, and knows how to lead without coercion, many heads are inevitably better than one.

Written by Animesh

April 29, 2009 at 6:25 am

One Response

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  1. Good One!


    May 5, 2009 at 5:50 am

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