Open Source

Aussie coders changing the world

Though they may not be household names like Thorpie or Lleyton, Aussie developers rank among the world's best. Simon Sharwood profiles our top five geeks.

Though they may not be household names like Thorpie or Lleyton, Aussie developers rank among the world's best. Simon Sharwood profiles our top five geeks.

Jeff Waugh - GNOME

Jeff Waugh doesn't want to be called a programmer. It's not that he can't code. Instead, he believes his abilities are so modest that emphasising the fact he was once an enthusiastic programmer denigrates the efforts of those he works with on the GNOME project, arguably the leading Linux GUI.

-I joined the GNOME project and hoped I would be able to contribute," he recalls. -I quickly realised that everyone who was on the project was vastly more talented than me and looked for other ways to contribute."

Those contributions have since made his name around the world.

-I joined the release team," he says. -Then the leader of that team moved on, so I ended up running the meetings. After a while he said, 'You're doing my job. Why not do it officially?'"

Waugh took on that role in 2001 and was quickly spun off into what he calls, -a totally new career tangent", in which he worked with the far-flung global GNOME team to co-ordinate releases. He also embarked on evangelist activities to promote GNOME and open source software.

So successful was Waugh in these roles, he now does them for a living.

-I currently work doing business and community development for Canonical," he says, explaining that his employer is the main backer and support provider for Ubuntu Linux. His efforts even saw him named the world's leading evangelist in the 2005 Google-O'Reilly Open Source Awards.

And evangelism is the activity Waugh expects to do much more of in coming years.

-GNOME is on the bleeding edge of getting software to real end users," he says. -We can make server administrators happy with things like Apache."

-But Firefox and Open Office make people like my mum happy."

But he wants his mum - and the rest of us - to be happy about the society we live in as well as the software we use.

-Technology is all around us in things like mobile phones. And that technology relies on rules inside software."

-It is incredibly important those rules are rules we can see. I see Open Source and free software as a way to guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of association, because if we let our software define those rules underneath us our freedoms disappear and we do not even notice it."

-So the desktop is where I want to see open software go, all using GNOME of course!"

And if that means GNOME being used by large corporations, all the better.

-IBM, Intel and Hewlett Packard sponsored Linux Conference Australia this year," Waugh says. -Any embrace of free software means we are going even further into the lives of ordinary people."

Next Page: Rick Bennett - The Omnium Team

Though they may not be household names like Thorpie or Lleyton, Aussie developers rank among the world's best. Simon Sharwood profiles our top five geeks.

Rick Bennett - The Omnium Team

-I've just been in the UK, where they all remember World War II very vividly," says Rick Bennett. -And when I talk to them about collaboration, they all point out that 50 years ago you could get thrown in jail for being 'a collaborator.'"

Yet Bennett is unafraid to promote the benefits of online collaboration, and has been doing so since 1998 when he launched The Omnium Project with the aim of helping graphic designers and others to collaborate online.

-In 1998 I saw the Net was beginning to be used regularly by people outside of the computer industry," he says. -On the same time, I was listening to what my students said. The current ways of doing education did not fit in with their lifestyle."

Yet Bennett, a lecturer at the University of New South Wales's Senior Lecturer College of Fine Arts, did not feel that the Net was necessarily the answer to their changing needs.

-One of the concerns I have with online education is when people see it as a replacement for conventional education. The massive mistake people make is to replicate the real world in the internet."

Bennet instead wanted a collaborative interface that could help his students - and people working in the industry - to work as teams. Yet in those pre-wiki-and-blog days, the notion of online collaboration was easily dismissed as impractical.

But Bennett was sure his idea for online collaboration tools had potential.

-In the visual arts and in design, collaboration was being used commercially all the time. People would go to conferences and deliver papers on behalf of the studio and all the collaborators, not as individually. People do things so collaboratively and so globally that it was mad not to do the same thing for education."

The result of this belief was The Omnium Project, an online space and set of products designed to assist educators in the visual arts by offering online collaboration facilities students can use to work together - or with their teachers - anywhere the internet lets them connect.

-It took until about two years ago before people began to get it," Bennett says. -Now we are suddenly finding ourselves in demand."

That demand has been created, in part, by Creative Waves 2005, an online project that saw 107 participants, 61 students, 35 colleges, 22 teachers/mentors and 21 special guests from 22 countries all work together on a series of design projects.

No professional online collaboration on this scale had ever been attempted before and the fact it succeeded and much of the work is online further enhanced the Omnium Project's reputation as one of the world's leading examples of the Net being used for collaboration among professionals.

Bennett and the rest of the team - Sam Bauers oversees its software and Charles Santoro serves as graphic designer and online co-ordinator - now plan even more online collaboration, all delivered through software delivered by the project.

Omnium Portfolio lets users post their work online and allows third parties to comment.

Omnium Studio offers an online design studio for a pre-defined group to share.

Omnium Community, its latest product, allows collaboration on almost any aspect of a design project, among large numbers of users who can form themselves into design teams spontaneously.

More than 4000 users worldwide already use these products and Bennet expects many more to come aboard this year as the project creates a vast online community.

-We are starting a worldwide creative network," Bennett explains.

-Anyone in the world can come online and be provided with really interesting discussions, have little activities and projects, with a very ethical base. We might take projects in places like India where people can come together to do some worthwhile work online."

Omnium's ability to enable this kind of collaboration means Bennett is in demand to explain the project's workings, and not just to the visual arts community. He regularly travels to speak overseas to evangelise online collaboration, but feels the world has come a long way since World War II paranoia.

-Today, if you do not have collaborators, you won't get funding for your project!"

Previous Page: Jeff Waugh - GNOME
Next Page: Andrew Tridgell - Samba Superstar

Though they may not be household names like Thorpie or Lleyton, Aussie developers rank among the world's best. Simon Sharwood profiles our top five geeks.

Andrew Tridgell - Samba Superstar

Probably the best-known Australian programmer, Andrew Tridgell - the creator of Samba - once did something downright un-Australian.

The year was 1980 and Tridgell, then aged thirteen, sold his bike. The cash was not destined to buy the one footy card needed to complete his collection, nor even for a new set of Dungeons and Dragons tomes. Instead, the young Tridgell acquired a chess computer, the better to indulge his passion for chess.

He later went on to write a chess program that dominated the Australian computer chess scene for some time and later hacked Tivo to work in Australia. His rysnc algorithm and associated file transfer software, also written during his student days, won global acclaim.

But the work for which Tridgell is best-known is Samba, the software that makes it possible for Linux to connect with Windows. The mere existence of the software is generally deemed to make Linux far more acceptable to the commercial world, as by allowing the upstart OS to co-exist with the inevitable Microsoft presence in the enterprise, it makes Linux both more useful and less risky to operate.

As recently as 2003 Tridgell claimed that much of the ongoing work on Samba is carried out using what he calls the -French Café technique."

-Imagine you wanted to learn French, and there were no books, courses etc available to teach you," he writes online. -You might decide to learn by flying to France and sitting in a French Café and just listening to the conversations around you. You take copious notes on what the customers say to the waiter and what food arrives. That way you eventually learn the words for "bread", "coffee" etc."

-We use the same technique to learn about protocol additions that Microsoft makes. We use a network sniffer to listen in on conversations between Microsoft clients and servers and over time we learn the 'words' for 'file size' and 'datestamp' as we observe what is sent for each query."

However he does it, Tridgell is in demand. He currently works for IBM's Alamaden Research Centre, but on the 1st of February completed a one year term as a fellow of Open Source Development Labs, where he was just the second to win the title. Linus Torvalds himself was the first.

The culmination of the term saw the completion of Samba 4's first technology preview. The software was released on the 26th of January, before he visited New Zealand to deliver a speech at the Linux Conference Australia.

Tasks he prioritised in his presentation to the conference include an improved management interface for the software, adding print support by porting routines used in Samba 3 and ongoing LDAP work to improve interoperability.

Previous Page: Rick Bennett - The Omnium Team
Next Page: Clive Finklestein - The Father of Information Engineering

Though they may not be household names like Thorpie or Lleyton, Aussie developers rank among the world's best. Simon Sharwood profiles our top five geeks.

Clive Finklestein - The Father of Information Engineering

Every time you interact with a business application - either passively when your phone bill appears in the mail or actively in your working life - ideas developed by Clive Finkelstein make a massive contribution.

The West-Australian resident is acknowledged as the -Father of Information Engineering," which he calls -an opportunity to build, capture and reflect your enterprise's business plans in the information systems used to operate and manage your organisation."

Finkelstein's ideas were first articulated in a series of six articles for Computerworld, published in 1981 and were quickly hailed as significant for their idea that IT should be shaped by the needs of a business plan, not the dictates of a technology department.

-We had found that business experts with a knowledge of the enterprise could learn business driven methods that enabled them to develop data models that reflect that knowledge," he said in an audio interview with SQLsummit.com in late 2005.

-And they could do that in partnership with IT professionals who were systems experts and could apply their methodology knowledge. The result was generally better models ... defined in a collaborative way in partnership with the business experts. The result was much higher quality databases and systems, generally built faster than had been the case up until that point when IT people generally interviewed the business experts."

The power of the idea is evident in the fact that these ideas sound like common sense today. Whether or not they practice it consciously, IT professionals use Information Engineering (IE) almost every day.

Finkelstein has since worked on business-oriented variations of IE and applied his expertise to emerging application development methodologies including the various agile flavours.

He also holds positions at two companies. Information Engineering Services offers consultancy and training. Visible Systems sells software that assists enterprise application development.

Finkelstein also continues to be active as an author, most recently co-writing -Building Corporate Portals with XML" with Peter Aiken. The book aims to explain how to link all of an enterprise's data assets into a portal using XML.

Previous Page: Andrew Tridgell - Samba Superstar
Next Page: Steve Outtrim - The Dotcom Darling

Though they may not be household names like Thorpie or Lleyton, Aussie developers rank among the world's best. Simon Sharwood profiles our top five geeks.

Steve Outtrim - The dotcom darling

The Ferrari was bright red and Steve Outtrim - at the time a somewhat naïve twenty-something programmer - seemed more than happy to tell Australia on A Current Affair that he had made the money to buy it by doing something with this -Internet" thing people were starting to hear about.

The money came from an HTML editor called HotDog that Outtrim reputedly wrote in his bedroom. Coded in Visual Basic Outtrim was only too aware was not entirely adequate for the task, the program nonetheless sold like well-grilled sausages on a cold afternoon at the football.

The snappy company name Sausage Software helped the hype to build and Outtrim soon found himself hobnobbing with other Internet A-listers. Indeed, in 1996 your reporter met Outtrim a few days after he had encountered Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang in Australia. The two posed for then epoch-making photos of -The HotDog guy" meeting -The Yahoo! guy". The two met as peers in those heady days.

Like Yang, Outtrim soon found himself atop a listed company whose stock was rising like a rocket. Unlike Yang, Outtrim had a bumpy ride. Sausage was eventually devoured by Telstra, then spat out after various corporate shenanigans.

Outtrim, however, managed to escape before the bubble burst and sold out of Sausage in 2000. In 2004, BRW rated his personal wealth at $73 million. He now invests in various ventures and founded Majitek, a company he serves as a Director and which aims to create -... a cohesive suite of software platforms that realizes the dream of ubiquitous network computing - Any Service, Any Network, Any Device, Anytime ..."

Outtrim's name is still well-known today, and his contribution as a visible, flamboyant and - above all - Australian presence in the first wave of the Internet boom has surely done a lot to boost Australia's reputation as a source of innovation.

Five Other Australian Developers Worth a Mention

Nick Bradbury - Writing the XHTML/CSS editor Topstyle and RSS Reader FeedDemon have given this expat a high global profile.

Peter Mitchell - Coded The Hobbit and other ground-breaking adventure games for Sinclair and Commodore PCs when working at Melbourne House in the 1980s.

The Animal Logic Team - Over a fifteen year period, coders at digital animation company Animal Logic have been at the forefront of their craft. Their work on the -bullet time" effects in The Matrix make them a standout.

The Fairlight team - Australian synthesizer pioneers have been involved in digital music since before MP3 was a gleam in Fraunhofer's eye!

Robert Elz - Made significant contributions as a coder to BSD. Later administered the .com.au domain space for several years. Also pioneered online cricket scores with some of the founders of Cricinfo.com, a hugely influential and popular website.

Previous Page: Clive Finklestein - The Father of Information Engineering

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