Friday, March 18, 2016


A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend a private address by Vice President Joe Biden. It was actually because of my new job; I work in local government. Only a limited number of folks were invited to the event, something like 200 of us there.

Biden is an incredible speaker. While his address focused primarily on transportation benefits from a federal stimulus package, Biden spoke on several other topics too. I felt motivated by one particular point he made about America.

Vice President Biden visits Union Depot in St Paul, Minnesota

At one point in his remarks, Biden reflected on a visit to China, several years ago. During his tour, China's president Xi Jinping asked him what made America great. "One word," Biden told him. "Possibilities." America is great because we have so many possibilities. And the future of America will be strong, said Biden, because so many enterprising Americans find opportunity in those possibilities. We continue to explore new technology, new innovation, new ways to grow.

This point connected with me. Afterwards, I reflected on Biden's story and realized that is one reason why I am so invested in open source software. It's about possibilities.

Open source software exists because a developer saw something that didn't exist yet, and wrote a program to fill that need. As an open source community, we explore possibilities. How can we do this thing? And now that we've done that thing, how can we make it even better?

My first experience with open source software was in 1993. The term "open source software" hadn't been popularized yet, but the concept of Free Software was already alive. I discovered tools that a community of developers created, then gave away for free. And that software was on par with (and sometimes better than) many commercial programs of the era. Even better, you could download the source code and make improvements or fix bugs, then give away your changes so others could enjoy them.

I was amazed at Free Software in 1993, and quickly realized the potential of a group of developers working together to create great software. So in 1994, when Microsoft announced that MS-DOS was "dead," I realized we could leverage the Free Software concept to create our own free version of DOS for everyone to use. With that, FreeDOS was born.

More than twenty years later, I continue to engage in open source software because of the possibilities inherent in that ideal. Given enough developers, we can do anything. Look at the reach of Linux. At its inception in 1991, Linux was a neat experiment, a promising small Unix operating system that would run on home computers, but didn't do much. Today, even Microsoft plans to support products for Linux.

My professional career keeps me pretty busy these days, so I don't have as much free time to write code for open source software projects. Instead, I have shifted my open source focus to usability testing. I want all open source software to be easy to use. That's how I contribute and work with others in open source. Because when we work together, we seize possibilities and make open source software truly amazing.
photo: mine

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