June 26, 2001

Hiking the open trail with EverySoft's Matt Hahnfeld

Author: JT Smith

- By Julie Bresnick -
Open Source people -
Matt
Hahnfeld
, founder of Open Source software company EverySoft and maintainer of its
newest initiative, EveryAuctionDB,
doesn't know why things interest him but at 23, he certainly
knows what interests him.Ever since elementary school he's been the first one to "mess
around" with any new machines. Like his father, many of his friends' parents
worked for Dow Chemical, the chief employer in their hometown of Midland,
Mich. In an effort to pioneer the telecommute, Dow issued computers and modems
to many of its employees. In the Hahnfeld household, Matt was its
primary user. He ran his own BBS off two 5 ¼-inch floppies.

"It was really a new thing for everyone. Computers weren't in every
home back then like they are now. Everything was plain text back then and
there was email but it wasn't anything like it is now.

"The cool thing about BBSes is that they really build up a
community. You would be talking to actual people that you really knew from around
town because BBSes were so localized."

Community was the most compelling motivation when he started
EverySoft, too. After taking programming classes through school and studying computer science and communication
at the
Slashdot
breeding ground of Hope College in
Holland, Mich., he decided to organize an effort at producing
freeware and started EverySoft. At first, he thought his vision of freeware would be more conducive to cultivating a community than some Open Source projects.

"Some of my friends had Open Source projects and they build
something and people would take it and just leave with the code and you'd find
another project shooting up somewhere else with their code. I wanted the
community there, so I restricted distribution. Now all of my stuff is in Open
Source because I think it's a better way to do things to let people
redistribute the code and share that code.

"I thought that once I released it as Open Source, the community
might die, and instead of that the community has really grown and it's come to a
point where because people can contribute code it lets me get out and work on
other projects. When I was freeware, I had to do everything. If
someone gave me a code patch I'd have to go in and patch the code. I'd have to
take care of administering everything. I'd have to take care of enforcing
the copyright, doing all of that. After I went to an Open Source license I
still maintain the code but I play more of an advisory role than actually the
god of the software."

EverySoft's initial release was EveryChat. Layover.com, where Hahnfeld now works
full time, contracted Hahnfeld to develop modifications to EveryChat.

"That was way back. I didn't know a lot about programming then. I
did it for next to nothing and the relationship kept building and I was
doing a whole bunch of work for him and he invited me on full time."

Working for Layover, where he is a programmer and systems
administrator, meant moving from Michigan to Pennsylvania right after college and now,
three years later, it means moving from Pennsylvania to Florida where
he will be working on the systems in the company's Melbourne office.

His hiking habit may take a blow with the change of landscape, but that just means his weekend excursions into the wilderness will be more of the aquatic variety. It's not really a blow at all if you consider the eminent presence of his kayak, which is always on hand either in his office or on top of his jeep. And the career in
computers that he had a hard time fathoming as a kid who dreamt of
being a park ranger, will earn him a few good trips to Snowmass during the ski
season.

Now if he could only find a radio station in Florida for which he
could do some production and maybe a little DJing, he'd be as happy as a
hippie at a Grateful Dead show. Actually, he's more a rocker than a roller,
playing classic rock bands like Led
Zeppelin
and Metallica
during the two-hour show he hosted at his college radio station. At that
station, too, he started one of the countless little programming projects that
enhance the nooks and crannies of his daily life. That one is called
AutoPlay and its legacy, AutoPlay DJ, is now hosted on SourceForge.

"It's a radio station automation software that runs on top of Linux.
It allowed us to put in all our CDs as we got them and record them as
MP3s and then the computer could play when we didn't have a live DJ on duty. We
almost got to the point of having it announce and we had a request
system."

Though he is avid about his weekends away from the computer he does
allow himself a few indulgences on the trail.

"All the people in the [hiking] club make fun of me because I carry a
GPS ... and sometimes a Palm Pilot. I wrote a little interface where it
interfaces with the GPS so I can do mapping stuff on it.

"I've got about 8,000 things I've started and none of them are in a
place where they can be released. I start a lot of things and they just do
something kind of useful and they just die out and I never get around
to really finishing them. Maybe some day I'll get webspace somewhere and
dump my entire development directory into it so other people can play with
my stuff."

Despite all the programming classes he's completed, he says he
learned far more working on Open Source projects than he could ever learn in the
classroom. Indeed, Hahnfeld is all about first-hand experience. Any
apprehension he may feel regarding his impending relocation is minute.
He says the more places he lives, the better, and he describes himself as
spontaneous, ready to jump in his Jeep at whim and explore new
territory. His most pressing goal is to hike the entire Appalachian
trail
and the only arcade game he likes is old fashioned pinball because it's
more physical than virtual. He personally restored the Gottlieb 1981 Black
Hole Pinball Machine that now stands in the middle of his living room.

So considering that one of his goals for the future is for EverySoft
to have a few more programs out there, we can certainly expect some.

More about Matt Hahnfeld

Favorite book: A Walk in the Woods, by Bill
Bryson

Linux distribution: Debian

Mail reader: Pine

Text editor: VIM

Pet peeve: Bloated software

Windows manager: WM2. "It's a minimalist window manager -- the
author's motivation is that icons are crap, menus are crap so all this does is
let you open/close/move windows."

Snack food: Gummisavers

Category:

  • Open Source
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