9 Nov 2004 titus   » (Journeyer)

Hmm, 3rd entry. I guess I have enough things to rant about to keep this a moderately busy diary!

Today's rant inspired by Chinook.

Chinook is a cool-sounding "P2P bioinformatics" application that aims to provide command line services in a P2P manner. I was directed to it by Mike Brudno, one of the authors of LAGAN (a global alignment package); he pointed out that it sounded like it had goals similar to Cartwheel's goals. True 'nuff, it does -- fuzzily defined, "to provide a less-sucky interface to command-line apps".

I'll rant about command-line apps and their prevalence in bioinformatics some other time. (Why, o why, do bioinformatics software developers spend so much time writing standalone binaries?!?)

But the rant about Chinook is a different rant. I quote: "Currently, there is no source code available for Chinook. The source though is licenced under Creative Common's Attribution-NonCommercial license and is freely available on request to chinook@bcgsc.bc.ca."


I'd be the first to admit that no software developer uses my software -- I'm not really writing it for them, anyway, I'm writing it for myself and for the bench biologists who like click-and-drool. But suppose someone, someday, overcomes that first energy barrier and says "hmm, this Cartwheel thing looks interesting. I wonder what the source looks like, and if I could run it myself?" All they need to do is nip over to SourceForge and check it out for themselves. No e-mailing to me is necessary. What about FamilyRelations? Heck, people have been finding the tutorial, downloading the thing, and running it, without me ever finding out. (I only find out when I break something in an update. ;)

There's something deeper than mere convenience here: people just aren't going to take the time to even glance at your software if you don't make it available to them w/o hassle. Software developers and scripters aren't even going to give your code the time of day if they have to e-mail you first. I think even a slight inconvenience can have real effects on people adopting your code and/or your project -- which, let's face it, is the goal.

There are other culprits: Apollo pulled this shit too, in the beginning. (I guess people use it now; don't know anyone offhand.) My favorite example of this BS, though, has to be BioHUB. This is a tool that is only really going to be useful if people use it, either by developing for it or by using it directly. Dunno about you, but (as a developer who would like to make use of it) this statement doesn't inspire confidence: "In the future the Caltech BioHub maybe released under an open source license."


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