My review of The Open Organization by Red Hat’s Jim Whitehurst. If you’re pressed for time and looking to save a click, I liked it!
Open Advice: FOSS: What We Wish We Had Known When We Started is a collection of essays revolving around just about every aspect of free and open source software you can think of, from coding to community management to package building. It’s edited by KDE’s Lydia Pintscher, who you might remember from this interview. The book is free in electronic form or can be purchased in print. Although it came out in 2012, there’s a lot of great information in it that will appeal to anyone interested in free and open source software.
The strength of the book is its scope. Because it covers so much ground in such manageable chunks (no essay is more than a few pages long), the reader is left with a surprisingly detailed overview of the advantages and challenges of open source software. The chapters are organized into broad sections, giving a few different perspectives on the same topic. For instance, the documentation section is made up of four different chapters, each of which has a slightly different take on the theme.
The various lessons learned, while deriving from free and open source software, are applicable to all kinds of situations. I found the section on conference planning, specifically the pieces by Selena Deckelmann and Gareth J. Greenaway, to be especially helpful.
Some of the more conceptual pieces were also wonderful. Felipe Ortega’s analysis of the different types of teams in open source projects was fascinating, as was Thiago Macieira’s chapter on “The Art of Problem Solving.” The two chapters on legal and policy were also shocking engaging.
If you’re interested in understanding free and open source software from a few perspectives, Open Advice is a great place to start. Like any collection of essays, it can be a bit hit or miss, but for the most part, it’s a great window into how open source projects come together, told from the perspective not just of the coders, but of everyone who works to make open source software projects successful. There’s no shortage of commercial business books designed to help people thrive/survive in corporate settings, but works like Open Advice are much more rare. Skim it for just a few minutes and I’m sure you’ll find at least one helpful, actionable takeaway, regardless of your vocation.
The book is a compilation of his blog posts, but it’s great having everything in one place. There are a lot of really wonderful ideas in the book, some of them explicitly Linux related, and others more related to the Linux/Unix philosophy.
There are a few ideas I found especially provocative. For instance, in chapter 2, aberinkulas talks about trying to wean himself off of buying cheap video games. I understand the desire to not have clutter, either in space or on a hard drive, but if space isn’t an issue and the games aren’t interfering in his ability to be productive, I would argue simple indulgences, like cheap video games, are healthy.
In chapter 3, he talks about the role of trust in software development, pointing out that users need to trust developers for software changes to be successful. It’s an interesting idea, since a lot of developers probably don’t think that they need users. For many, I would imagine the more common thought is that the users need the developers. But as aberinkulas illustrates, software really doesn’t exist without users (and their trust).
There’s also a discussion of defaults in chapter 3. aberinkulas comes down in favor of minimalist distros with no default applications. I actually find it more minimalist to have a lot of standard programs pre-installed. At this point, I really don’t use media players very often, so I appreciate that OpenSUSE chose Banshee as the default player for me. It saves me the trouble of researching players and choosing one to install. A blank distro with no default software is great only if you know every piece of software you want. But if you don’t know and don’t care, defaults can be very helpful and time-saving.
Finally, toward the end of the book, aberinkulas skewers some aspects of the minimalism movement, poking fun at some of the people who seem to be trying to buy their ways into a minimalist life. The minimalism sub-reddit had a thread discussing this a couple of weeks ago.
If you never got around to reading the Minimalist GNU/Linux blog, the ebook is a great opportunity to catch up. It presents a lot of interesting ideas to consider. I didn’t agree with everything I read, but I certainly appreciated the thoughtfulness and clarity of the ideas.
I hope aberinkulas is planning more ebook projects.