With Independence Day right around the corner, I thought I’d yammer a bit on freedom and my genuine appreciation of it as it relates to my work. I promised myself I would do this without inserting my political views, so if this feels a tad restrained, that’s why. Please forgive me.
Many amazing ideas are born and nurtured out of sheer necessity, and probably an equal number are born out of luxury. Some of that luxury comes from the total freedom we have in the world of technology. We didn’t always have it this good, however. There was a time when you had to buy a bunch of bloated garbage from Microsoft, Sun, AT&T or whomever else to even be able to write software at all and even after you did, you had to pay a license fee to include things as simple as a TCP/IP stack. My very first programming project was a SMPTE time code calculator. This arose when I was working in recording studios and always having to calculate timecode offsets between video and audio. There was this AMAZING tool called the Adams Smith Zeta 3 Synchronizer that would do this with a push of a button, but you didn’t always have a Zeta 3 to work with. Sorry if you’ve completely fallen asleep after my nerdy story…back to the point. Anyway, after figuring out the math, I had to go buy a copy of Visual Basic ($149 in 1992, I believe). Took me a bit to understand how to code in VB, but I finally figured it out and got it to compile. It was actually useful…(and holy sh*t, somebody uploaded it to softpedia for download in 1997 and it’s still there!). It would only run on windows and you had to pay to include the VBruntime.dll file if I recall correctly. Terrible, unscalable model.
When the WWW first became a real thing I was very interested in how people were making websites. In the early days it was HTML and that was it. Soon, once the apache webserver gained some ground, they made it possible to run code from a cgi-bin folder, which changed everything. You could write C++ apps that could do interesting things from a web browser. Goodbye redistributable bullshit you had to pay for. Hello freedom. Once Larry Wall‘s amazing Perl language took off, you could run INTERPRETED scripts instead of having to compile everything. This was all I needed to hear, and I set about writing a sound effects library database on the web (this was in 1996, long before Sound Dogs figured out that market). I was hooked. Total, complete freedom that was only limited by my imagination. There was already an amazing amount of open source perl libraries being written that could help you with nearly anything you wanted to do. It changed my life!
I didn’t really start using PHP until 1998 with version 3, but once I did I loved it so much I decided to use it for any web project that would come my way. 18 years later I still feel the same way. It’s not without challenges, but my god, there isn’t much that isn’t possible with it. Complete freedom to write and deploy whatever you want and practically run it wherever you want. I’ll stay out of the whole Open Source vs. Proprietary software argument because frankly it’s been done to death. I get both sides of the argument.
Anyway, despite the rambling history lessons I just wanted to say that my appreciation for virtually unlimited freedom in the technology space in this day and age cannot be overstated. Anyone who decides to be a web developer can do it with literally no training and NO NEED WHATSOEVER to buy any software. Look at all the amazing things people are doing and contributing back to the community. Long live freedom!