Open source project of the week

This morning I updated the installation and upgrade files for Wordform and converted the mostly WordPress version of the weblog to being a true Wordform application. Aside from running into some DNS problems with the server move, it went remarkably well, and I’ll try the upgrade Practical RDF, a 1.22 WP weblog, next.

In this upgrade, I’m creating new tables and dropping old and editing existing tables and columns along the way. To make it easier to ‘remember’ all the gotchas of the syntax, I use PHPMyAdmin to generate all of the syntax for me, and then just paste it into the code.

Those of you who have a MySQL-based weblogging tool are more than likely very familiar with PHPMyAdmin. It’s included in cPanel and Plesk and many other server management tools, as well as being downloadable, directly. It is a workhorse application that sits, quietly, on our servers, completely disregarded–until that horrible moment when we’ve received 1000 trackback spams we need to delete. Or until something happens to the data and we need to discover what. Or when we’re trying to create a new application that uses the data, and we need to test the SQL, first.

PHPMyAdmin is such a workhorse at times that we can take it for granted. But it is just such applications that we couldn’t do without if we lost them, and this leads me to the focus on this post.


During the recent events with WordPress and the link farm, an issue was raised about the economic viability of open source projects. Suw Charman at Corante’s Strange Attractor wrote:

So where we are at the moment is that ideas are not enough. Creativity is not enough. And there is such a low barrier to entry that lots of people have entered the market, creating a signal:noise ratio unfavourable to the discovery of any individual person’s talent.

Yet there are a lot of people with very good ideas which fulfil the needs of a given community who have the skills to bring those ideas to fruition. What they are missing is a business model to allow them to earn enough money to make development of their idea financially viable. But because there seems to be a fundamental disconnect in many people (not everyone, I hasten to add) between creativity and business acumen, and becuase there is no existing business model to follow, we now have a creative class who are chock full of bright ideas but who just don’t know how to scrape a living from them.

Though I agree with Suw that there are creative people who need help with business models, those who generally work on open source projects are not among them; not because they aren’t creative, but because the open source model is a business model, and has been an effective one for decades now.

The web server that is serving this page to you is based on the open source movement, as is the operating system it sits on and, for many of you, the browser you use to view the pages. The database that handles the data management of my site is open source, as is PHP, the language that drives it.

In fact, weblogging owes as much, or more, to the open source model as it does the colorful and outspoken personalities that tend to dominant this environment.

Some open source projects have a commercial side, most don’t. Some have corporate sponsorship, most don’t. Regardless, what sets these products apart is the open nature of the code, and the desire to share the work. It is this that drives the ‘business model’ behind open source.

Financially, for those open source products that don’t have a commercial side (and even some that do), donations are primarily the main source of income for most of the projects. Contrary to being seen as ‘begging’, donating to open source projects that are distributed without charge, freely, to any and all who need them, is a time honored tradition. More, it is a way for the community that benefits from an open source product to give back what they can–in this case a few bucks.

Sometimes the money is enough to cover the costs of running the project; sometimes not. Sometimes the money is even enough to give the developers some pocket money or, very rarely, a salary and there’s nothing wrong with this! This is no different than you shelling out 150.00 for yet another version of Mac OS X, or 350.00 for that cute little iPod you just have to have. And the open source projects you’re dependent on are probably a heck of a lot more important to you than that little bit of white plastic.

Not everyone uses open source products for every need. You use an open source product because it’s the best, or because you prefer to use open source over closed source products. Regardless of your reasons, when you find the product to be useful, helpful, or that it somehow improves the quality of your life in some small way, you drop a few bucks in donation.

(Well, let’s say, you should drop in a few bucks in donation (or volunteer time with support forums or documentation or other helpful activity).)

People who work on open source projects do so for a variety of reasons: a strong desire to create something; a need for an application and one doesn’t exist; to give back to the community; to improve their coding skills. They don’t do it for whuffie and they certainly don’t do so to become rich. But that doesn’t mean you should give a shout out in thanks to the creator, or help financially (or in other ways), when you can.

To honor the open source movement and those who have helped all of us, I’d like to start an “Open Source Project of the Week” campaign. Each week, with your help, we’ll pick a new open source project to honor, and encourage those people who have benefited from the tool to send a note of thanks to the creators, to put a link in your site to the project, and/or drop a few dollars into the project’s kitty.

(It would be nice to not focus on weblogging-related tools — and I think that Wikipedia is doing okay, right at the moment. Let’s focus on the open source projects that don’t get the recognition they deserve, yet are just as important to keeping our weblogs running as the weblog tools, themselves. I’ll start this process by stating, up front, that I will not allow Wordform to be listed as an Open Source Project of the Week.)

Now, so this isn’t seen as a way for me to get whuffie, what I’d like to do is what the Carnival of the Cats folks do, and pass on the link to each week’s Open Source selection to a new weblogger who is willing to host it. This person will then collect feedback about who to honor next, write the Project of the Week post, promote it, and then pass the baton on to the next weblogger, and so on.

Hopefully with this approach, the Open Source Project of the Week gives anyone who is interested a chance to participate. We’ll all share in the whuffie. More, we’ll make those involved with a project feel pretty damn good about how they spend their time.

So, without further ado, I present to you this week’s Open Source Project of the week: PHPMyAdmin. And to the team members, listed below, my thanks for providing an application that’s made my life a lot easier:

Oliver Mueller
Marc Delisle
Garvin Hicking
Michael Keck
Marcel Tschopp
Michal Čihař
Alexander M. Turek
Robin Johnson

If you use, or have used, PHPMyAdmin, and you haven’t already donated to the project, now would be a good time to consider doing so if you have some cash to spare.

(We’ll try this out a couple of weeks here to see if this idea takes off. It if does, then I’ll need volunteers for hosting the weekly award.)