I know this is a very long post, but please take the time to read or skim over it and contribute your thoughts if you’re interested.
Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Dean Kamen’s message about the mission of FIRST and gracious professionalism, and I really admire what FIRST as both an organization and a community of students have achieved so far. After the introduction to FIRST at kickoff, I was disappointed when they started to talk about the software available for use with the FRC: (paraphrased) “For those of you Macintosh users out there, there is a great piece of software you can use… it’s called Parallels. Run Windows in your Mac!” I believe this is really out of line with the goal of FIRST to give these opportunities to every student; to force everyone to use a rather costly operating system with a very limited set of tools, especially when there are probably many teams that would much prefer to utilize a different operating system (namely, Mac OS X, Linux, and BSD) but cannot because they are not supported. I don’t want to be forced to run a bloated operating system as a guest in an OS of another architecture, nor do I want to run everything in wine, which is only a workaround, not a solution.
I don’t expect FIRST to have to write software for every possible platform to work on anyone’s machine, but I would like to see more options available to FIRST competitors. Free software (as in speech, not as in beer), in my opinion, is the key to this. Allowing the FIRST community to aid in writing open-source applications for the competition can greatly help spread the idea of collaboration and gracious professionalism, as we will be all working together towards improving our very own tools. Not only will students benefit from having alternative tools, but they can also learn from their implementation and eventually contribute and improve upon what was given.
Now, I know that there are many open-source tools available, written by members of the Chief Delphi community - they are exactly what I’m talking about. The problem is the decentralized nature of all these projects; I would like to get an official okay from FIRST, and have open-source technology created by FIRST participants be recognized by the organization, maybe with something like opensource.usfirst.org, with a public svn repository with all the major projects or whatever.
I’m planning on writing a letter to Dean Kamen and other prominent members of FIRST about this, and I absolutely need your help. What we need are people who are willing to help develop, maintain, and just basically contribute whatever possible to making this happen - if there is enough interest. I want to make possible in the near-future several things:
- An open-source compiler toolchain for the PIC18. This is likely the most difficult, but it is definitely possible with all the active developers on this site
- An active, centralized repository for all major FIRST open-source projects.
- Quality free software replacements for all FIRST-supplied proprietary software.
If you are interested in this project, please reply and stir up some ideas so I know if it’s actually going to be worth the effort. Thanks for putting up with my verbosity!