My first dabblings in open source

When I started this job, I had a hunch that I'd be living a little more in the open source world, and working more with FOSS-type people. This has turned out to be true, and on WG4 I've been involved quite a bit with people who are trying to make money from open source (Novell, IBM, Oracle etc) and also with some truly free pieces of work (most notably Office-o-tron and Jesper's IS 29500 validator). So far, hardly any of those involved have had beards.

It seems like a sensible thing for me to do would be to contribute to an open source project myself, just to get a better handle on how that whole approach to software works. Apart from a few forays at university, I've so far been involved with closed-source, paid software. I spent a lot of time working in investment banking (where we'd fight bitterly with our own internal departments for source code) and then went to work for Microsoft, who are primarily closed-source software manufacturer. However, since I saw Stallman talking in London back in the mid-1990s, I've always been curious about how the open source model might work and this job seemed like an ideal chance to experiment.

But what project to work on?

One of the other things I did to, erm, increase my understanding of the working of WG4 was to buy a Nikon D40 and start attempting to take photos with it. Once I'd uploaded a few photos to my Flickr profile, I thought it might be fun to use my best photos as my Windows wallpaper. Flickr being as popular as it is, surely there was an app that did that.

There wasn't anything hugely obvious but after a bit of digging I found one, written by a gentleman named Rush Frisby. It existed as a .EXE attached to a blog post of his, and I enthusiastically downloaded it. It looked like just the thing I needed - no complicated UI, it lives for most of the time as just a taskbar icon, and off it goes and downloads pictures from Flickr. It worked very well, although it wouldn't let me pick from my own photographs (I had to use a keyword search instead) and it had a few bugs in it, mostly where the computer had no internet connection. The bugs looked pretty simple, so I emailed Mr Frisby wondering if I could fix them for him. He very kindly dug up the entire source code from his archives, and sent me it. I fixed the bugs, added a couple of features and sent it back. I was really just intending using it myself, but it seemed decent to send the changes back to Rush.

After a few more changes, I (tentatively) suggested to Rush that he open source the project. It would appear he's done more of this sort of thing, and he uploaded it to Codeplex almost immediately. Since then I've checked in a few more changes and built a setup file, so it should be reasonably usable by most people.

Screenshot for Wallpaper Flickr

The app is available now at:

I'd be very interested in thoughts on the app, and very interested indeed in anyone else who'd like to help develop it. I've so far not experienced any of the integration headaches that I know can exist with open source - as far as I can see I just check in changes and they magically appear on Codeplex, so it's possible I'm a project editor, or something similar to that. Or it's possible that I've misunderstood generally how Codeplex works...

More on this experience as it continues. In the meantime, Merry Christmas.

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