|337 k3y f0r f1r3f0x (that's Leet Key for Firefox)

I was playing around the other day and came across a Firefox extension that gave me a bit of a chuckle. I found it in a article called,"Firefox extensions you DON'T want." At first I thought, "I should report this in my blog (for whatever reason; I have no idea.) Then I thought, "No it's really not newsworthy." But then I started thinking about the possible "why" this extension came about. And then I realized it actually was kind of a good story because it applies to the very core of the open source movement.

You see, to me, the open source movement is about covering needs. Someone, some random coder out there, has a need to fill. Say, for instance, that coder needs to create an application that counts beans but it does so in a such a way to toss out, oh I don't know, random numbers simply because that coder has this strange quirk about random numbers. This need isn't something common, but it's a need that must be filled by that coder. So said coder sets out to create the perfect program to fulfill that need. In the process of doing this, that coder happens to create something really elegant but really niche. Fortunately, this coder applied the GPL to his code so other people could use it (if there happened to be someone out there who needed to count beans in the same way.)

Well someone saw his elegant program and realized he could modify it and make it count beans but without the random number toss AND add a color counter as well. Fortunately for this new guy, the code is open so he can do this.

Two needs filled. And as you can predict it will continue on in the same fashion until one day this quirky little bean counter is counting every kind of bean, in every color, and in every language. That is how open source works. It's the elegant beauty of the communal nature of Linux and open source. It spreads like crazy. So at some point this silly little Firefox extension that takes anything I type and turns it into leet (4ny7h1n6 1 7yp3 4nd 7urn5 17 1n70 |337) will someday be serving a much broader purpose and be used by far more people.

It's the end of 2007. I have written nearly 70 blog entries for open source on Techrepublic. I have hopefully affected people in a way that might make them think of open source in a different (hopefully positive) way. And hopefully the effect I have had on you will spread, just like the |337 k3y 3x73n510n will spread and evolve into something greater than it was when it began.

Happy new year everyone. I hope 2008 is prosperous, joyous, and filled with open source software on all of your PCs.

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....