On the open-sourcing of OpenLaszlo

My friend and colleague Sarah Allen has a nice little essay on her blog Ultrasaurus about what it was like to be part of a project that took a closed-source platform (“Laszlo Presentation Server”) and made it open (OpenLaszlo).

Like Sarah, I found that changing to the “open” way of doing software development took a little getting used to. One of the most profound, and yet most mundane differences is how you use email. Before we went open, if I had a technical question for, say, Tucker, I would send him an email; perhaps I would copy a few other interested parties.

Now, however, if I have technical question for Tucker, I send it to him and copy the OpenLaszlo Developer’s list or the OpenLaszlo User’s list. Which means that hundreds of people, at least, may be reading my messages. Similarly, all development work (including my baliwick, the documentation) is driven by tasks and bugs listed in the OpenLaszlo JIRA database. All of our code, communication, and planning, is in the open.

Sometimes this does make one feel a little awkward– like when you have to ask a question that you think you should know the answer to, and are embarrassed. But the “upside” is tremendous, as you often get helpful answers from people you’ve never heard of, in far off places, who are part of the OpenLaszlo community.


  1. You always write well, John – spelling aside.

    But for the rest of us, knowing that that a question is ‘for the record’ and open to scrutiny, I feel it tends to make us focus the email. Do I really need to say that? What do I really mean to ask? Or assert? Is the distinction clear?

    A terrific early experiment in public Internet discourse was part of Al Gore’s (really!) “re-inventing government” project. http://www.cl-http.org:8001… They forced users to categorize their comments as agreeing, disagreeing, adding to, etc. Slashdot and the like are all about this sort of thing, although I think they get a little too heavyweight.

    The point is just that taking care has it’s cost, but is generally a good thing.

  2. I guess what it comes down to, in my experience with OpenLaszlo, is that everybody who participates on the mail lists is interested in either advancing the platform/language itself, or learning how to use (or helping someone learn how to use) the platform.

    Nobody is interested in putting anybody down or vaunting themselves up. That may happen when the community becomes astoundingly large, but for now (in my three years of experience), I see no reason to fear the openness. As you say, Howard, the fact that hundreds of people may be watching does kind of encourage you to think twice before posting anything. But once you get comfortable & accept that you are among friends, working in the open seems the only way to go.

    It’s particularly gratifying when something you say on a list has a side effect of helping somebody out, somebody that you had no idea was reading. That’s happened to me a few times, and it beats the heck out of working without feedback, as in the old “closed” model.

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