June 5, 2001

Evolving with SourceForge developer Tim Perdue

Author: JT Smith

- By Julie Bresnick -
Open Source people -
Tim Perdue,
SourceForge engineer architect at
VA Linux, is standing on the deck of
a sail boat. His blonde hair is about an inch shy of a buzz
and details of the boat, ropes, sails, the mast, are reflected in the
tinted lenses of his wrap-around shades. He wears the stoic expression of a seasoned
sailor. Unsmiling, a bit of a squint, he looks more like a CEO than a

Away from the sails, the way he relishes mowing the lawn suggests more of a veteran
husband and father than a 27-year-old normally would be.

But it is programming, rather than being an executive, that got him
to that boat and that earned him a lawn that it now takes about two hours to
mow with a 6.5-horsepower push mower. He was working at a "boring insurance company by day and had a lot of energy to burn at night" when he decided to start PHPBuilder and Geocrawler, the two sites which
gained him the attention of buyers and employers alike.

"I used to be a Mac hugger. In fact I was an Apple student rep and
the campus reseller for three years. It turned out, the Mac OS really
sucked on PowerPC so I got really excited about MkLinux on PPC around the end of
1994-95. I eventually was using MkLinux full time instead of the unstable Mac OS
and eventually branched into web serving on LinuxPPC, which eventually led
me starting a couple of my own Web sites, which a lot of people know me for
now, I guess, and which led to me being hired at VA Linux ..."

He doesn't work on either of those sites now. Internet.com bought
PHPBuilder and VA bought Geocrawler for cheap but Perdue, no doubt, for
a more commensurate sum. His most notable possession, before I discover pictures of his car, is the
nine-foot screen he included in his basement home theater, which is replete with
DVD, TiVo, Dolby Digital Surround Sound and stadium seating. He did, like a
lot of things in his life, build the theater himself, not in the
interest of thrift but because he's always been a hands-on guy. It took him three
months worth of evenings and weekends to put the theater together, and he
remodeled his condo in California before he moved back to his native Iowa about a
year ago. When he was growing up his parents supported his interests by getting
him a computer and letting him charge whatever he wanted at the lumber yard.

It is his tendencies toward construction that drive him. He is a
builder at heart.

"PHPBuilder came first, but I already had the Geocrawler domain,
which was originally going to tie into a citynet-like Web site I started.
Basically, Geocrawler was going to be a location-sensitive search engine. While
building that, I got very interested in PHP and started PHPBuilder.

"Geocrawler then just became a mail archive for the PHP mailing
lists, and ever since then has been hacked and hacked and neglected while it has
grown to 10,000 mailing lists."

It was left to the masses when Perdue moved on to work with some "impressive thinkers" at VA who championed the SourceForge project.

"[Sourceforge] was a VA internal idea ... this was in the era of the
dot-com bubble and VA was pre-IPO and didn't really have any sort of business
model in mind at the time. It's really been an organic evolution, not some grand
master plan.

"SourceForge has come a long, long way since it was a project in a
small cramped room with just four people toiling away building it in
semi-secrecy. It's actually scary and alarming to me personally how it has become so
'universal' and how many projects are hosted there. I think I can say that
objectively -- as one of the founders of SourceForge -- there does need to be some
competition, or at least an alternative. We really did not intend to build a monopoly,
and from the inside I don't see VA as having any ill-intent."

If anyone is sensitive to the presence of evil it's going to be Perdue
who, growing up in the tiniest of towns in northern Iowa, attended a
regional high school of 100 students and a radical fundamentalist church that swore
everyone was going to hell.

Though he did clone the "CORVUS" login system on his elementary
school network, the only sin Perdue seems guilty of perpetrating these days is
your standard parental pride.

"We," (last year Tim married Lisa, his girlfriend of seven years)
"looked very objectively at a lot of babies and we're pretty certain that our
6-month-old girl, Anna, is the cutest one out there."

Thus, like SourceForge, Perdue has evolved from the Internet boom,
into a more balanced existence. Which, like everything else he takes on, he
seems to be achieving. When I asked him to describe a perfect day he replied,
with the ease that would imply it could have been yesterday or tomorrow or any
day within a broad diameter of the year, "well, today is pretty close to
perfect." It included an hour-long bike ride in the woods, a day spent
appreciating the sun from his home office and an afternoon/evening of mowing the lawn.

Admittedly though, Perdue's not absolutely and completely happy. On
the contrary, when it comes to operating systems he airs more on the side
of misery.

"I think all OSes inherently suck. Linux has a lot of problems as a
desktop. Crappy GUIs, incomplete features, no interoperability or UI
guidelines. You can't even copy and paste between programs for the most
part. Linux as an end-user OS is where DOS was in 1985 -- every program has a
completely different interface, no interoperability, consistency, etc.
I've used Linux on the desktop for years, but it really makes me mad as
an end user. Sometimes I just want to hook something up, like a wireless
card, and it takes a hundred man hours to figure it all out. Then you reboot and
it's all broken again for some tiny cryptic reason. What a mess."

It's gotten so bad in fact that...

"As of Tuesday, I installed Windows 98 and am trying that out. I
miss Xchat but it's nice to have all the multimedia stuff actually work (ie: sound
actually works reliably, etc). I can browse into Web sites and have
Realplayer work reliably now. There are some advantages on the desktop, but this
is too flaky and unstable to be a server."

Though Perdue's career may have ascended to a peak so close to its
starting line, that certainly doesn't mean it has culminated -- just like Linux,
having penetrated establishment fronts, has in no way desisted its revolution.

VA Linux owns both NewsForge and SourceForge.

More about Tim Perdue

Beer, wine, liquor, or juice: "Probably more of a liquor person. Crown
and coke, whiskey sour, that sort of thing."

Lara Croft, Meg Ryan, or Clark Kent: "Meg Ryan. My wife is fine with

Mail reader: "Mutt I guess. I haven't found one I really like. Mutt has
problems and limitations, but they all do. Like everything on Linux, it
takes a lot of elbow grease and learning to figure out how fetchmail, procmail,
and mutt all interact and how to make it do everything you want. Once
you've got it figured out though, you've got a lot of power."

Editor: "VIM -- I can't complain about this anymore. It beats any GUI
editor I've ever used, but again, it's got a cryptic config file."

Movie: "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is pretty close to an ideal movie. Event Horizon, Hellraiser, Exorcist, those sorts of things. What Lies
turned out to be a pretty good movie too."

Snack food: Oreos.

Video game: "I think SimCity 2000 was the game I got most addicted to a
few years back. I don't play games anymore. I like the old Atari 2600 games
-- 1 button and a joystick is all you needed. I'd love to get a PlayStation
2 but there are literally like 20 buttons on the control, so it's too much

Hobbies: Photography, sailing.

Degrees: BS in MIS from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar

Currently contributing to: OpenAI (hosted on SourceForge).


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