The Great 2009 OpenSim April Fool’s Prank

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about April Fool’s pranks. There have been some great ones, but too often, they aren’t that funny, or end up making someone look like a fool. I missed most of them this and if it wasn’t for a flame war that erupted on the OpenSimulator mailing list, I wouldn’t have heard about The Great 2009 OpenSim April Fool’s Prank. But a flame war did emerge because some people apparently did end up looking like fools. Normally, I’d let the flame war pass without comment, but I think there are important things to be learned.

So, let me start off somewhere near the beginning. OpenSim is an open source project to create server software for virtual worlds, similar to Second Life. The idea of open source software is that anyone can get the source and make modifications.

Part of the culture of Open Source is that if you are getting something for free, you should try to contribute back whatever you can to the success of the project. Another part is that if you are really concerned about security or reliability, you can read the underlying program yourself to see if there is anything hidden in there that you don’t want.

For example, an April Fool’s prank.

With that, folks in the Open Source movement take appellations like ‘alpha code’ and ‘beta code’, and ‘svn branch’ much more seriously than most people. Beta code is software that is currently being tested. There may be some bugs in it, but it is probably fairly reliable. It is something worth giving to early adopter users who will test it, not flip out about bugs, and will report bugs back to the developers. ‘alpha code’ is code that is still in development. People who want to test a project in development, and give feedback to the developers about what features would be really nice or thoughts about how they might work might want to use ‘alpha code’.

The ‘svn branch’ is the place where the developers do their work. ‘svn’ is short for ‘Subversion’, a software versioning program. It is where developers store the code as they are working on it. It is sort of like a developers workbook. It is assumed that the only people using the svn branch are other people actively involved in the development process.

Well, apparently, some of the developers thought it would be a fun thing to put some code in the svn branch that would make OpenSim based regions running off of the svn branch act weird on April Fool’s day. If, in fact, it was only developers using the svn branch, this would be a cute, harmless little prank. I would have liked to have seen it. However, since I’m not actively doing development on OpenSim, I don’t have the svn branch.

Well, apparently, some fools have been using the svn branch for more than just participating in development and their grids experienced the prank. As best as I can make out from the flame war, some of them were even showing the svn branch to funders, who when they saw the prank, pulled their funding.

I have mixed feelings about this. Funders ought to have thicker skins. They should know that they are funding something in development and things like this will happen. On the other hand, I would be leery of funding a project where the project team does not appear to understand or appreciate the difference between ‘svn branches’ and ‘beta code’.

Then, to top it off, people then come on to an OpenSim users list calling the developers assholes. I’m sorry. You don’t call someone who is providing something to you for free an asshole, especially if the problem you are experiencing is of your own making.

Perhaps some of these people will leave the OpenSim community. I kind of hope so. Open Source project work better when people are committed to working together within the standards of an open source community.

You may have missed The Great 2009 OpenSim April Fool’s Prank, but hopefully this blog post will get some people to think more about their relationship to open source development, get them to behave within the norms of the community, and perhaps even give a little bit back.

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