January 23, 2001

ZooLib's Green has philosophical approach to Open Source

Author: JT Smith

- By Julie Bresnick -

Open Source people
Andrew Green was
glad
we began the interview via email because it forced him to get started
on the
manual he needs to write for ZooLib, a cross-platform
application framework he released under the MIT
License

last November.

A commercial developer for years, he was first faced with the
concept of
Open Source when his friend John
Gilmore
urged him to release the source to NetPhone, the groundbreaking Internet phone service Green and his first
wife,
Denise Myers, developed and introduced in 1994-95. But like many
newcomers
to Open Source, he struggled to reconcile the reality that the only
thing
funding the development of NetPhone was NetPhone sales which, clearly,
would
be greatly reduced should they open the code. Though they chose not
to, the
idea sparked further investigation, and like Green is wont to
do,
some philosophical thinking.

Like any victim of wanderlust, Green is not daunted by alternatives
to
convention. The walls around his desk are filled with photographs and
inspirational or thought-provoking quotes from various sources. He
sends me
a copy of his favorite one, which he found in the diary of a youth
hostel he
stayed in when he was 19 while spending the year in Australia. It is a
classic call to courage and awareness in the face of uncertainty and
adventure. "Relish the unusual and question the normal," it says to
those
"running on the front line ... with a shadow of a dream to guide you..."
It's hokey only if the reader doesn't actually live that way. But with
Green, I
find myself adding a name to the list of countries he has visited every
time
he tells a new story. Finally I interrupt him (he is, as he puts it,
"very
chatty") and ask him what countries he hasn't been to.

"Well," he starts like he's trying to recall what baseball cards he
needs
to complete the set of his favorite team, "I've never been to the
Antarctic,
nor to South America." The Antarctic? He's got to be one of the very
few
people that even put that one on their list of places to go, which is
why
I'm surprised when he says, "I don't do physical exercise? -- maybe it's
the
cigarettes that keep him so lean -- "and I don't dive in cold water."
Diving,
of course, is one of his and his new wife, href="http://www.bevwolf.com/wedding/">Beverly's, favorite vacation
activities. "We dive whenever we get a chance but I've only got 12
or
15 dives in my log book. If we're lucky we do two a year. We
dove in
the Caribbean, Hawaii, Cabo..."

So, I assume, what he really means is he doesn't do
conventional
exercise. You won't find him at a gym or the track, let alone sharing
a
field with a slew of teammates. He says it doesn't make any sense to
him to
hike in the area they live, which is San Francisco. "You go up, come
back
down, see a hundred other people on the trail, get into your car and
drive
home. Why would I want to do that? Now hiking in the Gobi Desert,
that
would be fun."

It's in that same strain that he opted for self-employment. Though
he
has contracted with the same company, Learning in Motion, for the
last
four of eight years, at least he is not in an office atmosphere with
someone
monitoring his comings and goings. It's not that he's not sociable,
he's
just independent. Maybe, growing up on the Isle of Wight, he
got infused with the spirit of Jimi Hendrix, who he says gave his last
performance there, and John Lennon, who vacationed there with Yoko Ono.
They too were free spirits, sound in their sense of self as an
individual in
a greater and diverse world. It's the mindset of a guy that goes to
the
career service office of his college to consider his future and browse
through a few brochures of companies offering positions in programming
and
realizing that he would rather die than be a cog at some big
corporation.

When Green was studying at the University College, London, he wanted
to
use his summer vacation to get away from London's weather and took off
for
the closest tropical coast, the Ivory one. He figured he'd hitchhike.
He
got as far as Regan, Algeria, a little ways into the Sahara Desert,
before
he realized there weren't too many people crossing nature's oven in the
summer time with enough provisions to take on an extra passenger. But
barriers only made the destination more alluring, and he spent the better
part
of his senior year figuring out how to "do it properly." He wrangled
up a
crew and sponsors, and set out to bring diesel burners to a region
where
tradition mud huts kept getting washed away with the rain. As would be
expected when traveling to any country run on corruption, they were
forced
to do a lot of improvising. It was an adventure fit to fulfill even a
diehard like Green.

At first it seems paradoxical that someone with this kind of energy
would
also be so satisfied by such a sitting-still activity as software development.
But
to think that the challenges inherent in travel are solely of a
physical
nature is to overlook its true value. Every new culture stretches ones
perspective, every new program a puzzle, all building on each other to
create
a grander landscape of knowledge and understanding best expressed in
another quote he sent me, "Push yourself always to the edge, and the edge
will
move with you." The essence of which is, to him, the biggest value of
Open
Source.

"The conversations we had [regarding the release of NetPhone code]
did
get me thinking about the software business and how hard it is for
lessons
learned by one engineering team to be shared by the larger community.
Until
the advent of Open Source it was a given that solutions to software
problems
were somehow a property that gave a company a competitive advantage.
Anyone
who wanted to learn about engineering had to work for a large company
and be
very careful as to which learned lessons they would apply after moving
to
another company for fear of violating non-compete or non-disclosure
agreements. As engineers I think we all realized that the value we
created
was in the sum total of a product, not so much in any of the many
solutions
derived to create the product. Obviously, being an independent and thus
somewhat isolated engineer anytime I wanted to achieve some end result
in
software I had to implement it all. And in fact my experience working
at
MacroMind and previously at the BBC showed me that even in a larger
environment the territorial and property-based mindset affected even
the
teams within a company, sometimes engendering anti-productive
competitiveness. As a whole the commercial software field has been far
less
productive than it might have been had we not all been reinventing the
wheel
over and over."

I guess age really is a state of mind because, if one uses their
mind
like he does, to access and build upon the knowledge of
individuals that came before him, be they programmers or poets, Green
is
more like 100 than 34. And all that wisdom is once
again
sending him packing. Perhaps in Zihuatanejo, Mexico,
where he
and Bev are planning to move, he will have found paradise.

Green's favorites

Why ZooLib is cool:
It allows developers to write a single set of C++
sources and compile them to native executables to run on MacOS
(including
native Carbon executables), Windows (including 95, 98, ME, NT4 and
2000),
BeOS or POSIX variants with XWindows such as Linux.

Why the MIT license?
It makes it easy for other companies to adopt
ZooLib,
removing some of the hurdles, perceived or real, for those companies
whose
business models are not structured so as to be compatible with the
constraints of the
GPL.

Ideal Sunday morning:
A roof garden, lots of sunshine, a newspaper,
strong
black coffee and his wife Bev by his side.

Ideal Friday night:
Same as above but swap the coffee with a Corona with
lime.

Favorite CD:
Adicion by Moenia.

Favorite meal:
Duck at Jacques-Imo's. (The only time he and Bev ever stopped talking long enough to eat.)

First Computer:
"PhiA Sinclair ZX-80. It was the summer of 1980, some
months
before 14th birthday. It had a 1MHz Z80 processor, and 1K of
RAM --
just enough to store an 8 bit 32 x 32 pixel icon today. I've been
hooked
ever since."

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