Not much going on lately. I felt like I should post something so you didn’t think I’ve been spending an entire month grieving over my cat :P. I still miss her, but Katie and Keesha have been keeping my litterbox-cleaning skills from fading out ;). They’re cute, and they’re fun, but they’re teenagers, and not declawed like Sheba was when we adopted her. We’re hoping our furniture and carpets survive.
In other news, I’ve recently started an open source project I’ve called JTax. Yes, think TurboTax or TaxCut, only cross-platform (meaning it will run on Windows, Linux, and Mac) and free.
What’s open source? And why would you just give it away?
In a broad, general sense, software consists of a series of text instructions called “source code” that are compiled into a program or “executable”. (Note for grammarians: Yes, “executable” is generally an adjective; here, it’s not. Language is like that.) Whenever you buy software from a company like Microsoft, all you’re really getting (and all the computer needs) is the executable. The source code that created the executable remains Microsoft’s business secret, and for good reason. They spent a lot of time and money creating that software, and their business model depends on the fact that you can only buy it from them. If the source code were freely available, anyone could change it and sell it on their own, and Microsoft would soon be out of business.
The downside to that is that if there’s anything wrong with the software, or if you think of an improvement, you’re out of luck unless Microsoft does something about it. The open source software (OSS) movement is centered around the idea that you should have the ability to fix or modify your software. A common rhetorical question thrown out in the OSS community is, “Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?” It’s not a perfect analogy, because having access to your car’s engine doesn’t allow you to create exact clones of your car and make a profit that should have gone to Ford. But it’s a useful question for trying to explain our mindset.
In a nutshell, open source software is software which provides access to the source code to anyone and everyone for fixing and improving. It’s usually free, although it doesn’t have to be. There’s lots of open source software out there, most notably the Linux operating system and the vast majority of software written for it. The Mozilla web browser, of which Netscape is the commercial, value-added derivative, is also open source. I feel like I’ve already gone on too long about this, though, so if you’d like to know more about what open source is, check out the Open Source Initiative website.
So why would I give away my work for free? Well, for one thing, I’m doing this as a hobby in my spare time. I don’t have the time or resources at my disposal to create a commercial product that could compete with TurboTax or TaxCut. And I like open source software in general, and like the idea that anyone can improve my code or pitch in and contribute their own. Basically, money isn’t my motivator here. I’m doing this for fun, and want to do it in an open and public way to see where it goes.
So, that said, JTax is currently hosted at Sourceforge, an incredible resource for open source developers. They provide an unbelievable amount of features and resources, completely for free. The JTax project page is here, but at some point when I scrape up a few extra pennies I hope to buy the jtax.org domain. There isn’t much to see at this point because I haven’t released any files yet, but I’m getting there. And I have no illusions that I’ll have something workable out in time for this year’s tax deadline, but I will be looking for people who have copies of this year’s TurboTax or TaxCut to help me verify my algorithms and such. If anyone’s interested, drop me a line. My email address is <my first name> at <my last name> dot net.