To Build or To Better?

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Sunday, October 23. 2005 in Open Source

Almost every programmer runs into that question on at least a weekly occasion: When writing something, do you build it from scratch or do you take something that already exists and adjust it for what you need? The availability of Open Source makes this an even more viable question, and one which is usually answered via the latter. As much as I enjoy the craft of designing and coding from start to finish, I also find it worthwhile to take and existing project, and enhance it in ways in which I, and I hope others, find useful. A good case in point was a webmail interface. I had created an original work, in PHP, and it did a fine job. When I started thinking about releasing it to the world, research showed that there were already a large number of such applications. The vast majority were way to "heavy" for my tastes, until I came upon Uebimiau. The design goals of this little project were the exact same as mine, and so I decided that instead of putting energy into improving my version, why not help this project, which at the time seemed to be suffering from neglect. So I fixed some code, made some improvements, folded in improvements proposed by others and started releasing the so-call "Jimjag" patches of UM, which seemed to be warmly received and used. I'm up to patchlevel 3 and hope to release patchlevel 4 some time this month. The UM community also seems to have seen a re-birth, now that people are seeing that a few of us are still taking care of the application. Again, we see how Open Source takes something which, at least in part, is a selfish desire ("I need something so I'll use this") and turns it into something good. Open Source is the alchemy of development and community, turning lead into gold.

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