I’ve been watching the progress of the Chandler Project since almost its inception, because the people involved are worth monitoring. Having a journalist track the project over a long history provides learning about how good intentions can go right … or wrong.
In 2001, Mitch Kapor, the designer of the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, and the co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, started the Open Source Applications Foundation, or OSAF for short.
Kapor hired some of the most talented programmers and software designers around and went to work to create a new kind of personal information manager, code named Chandler.
In 2003, Scott Rosenberg, the cofounder of Salon, asked Kapor if he could embed himself in OSAF for the purposes of writing a book about the development of the application. For three years, Rosenberg sat in on company meetings, met with programmers and designers, and observed the progress, or more accurately, lack of progress, of Chandler. Rosenberg’s book Dreaming in Code: Two dozen programmers, three years, 4,732 bugs, and one quest for transcendent software, examines why making good software is so hard.
Dreaming in Code is addictively good reading. Rosenberg tells the story of the smart people at OSAF and why they can’t seem to gain traction with Chandler, even though they were veterans of other successful projects at places like Mozilla and Apple. Rosenberg also examines the larger picture of software development, recounting episodes in the history of computer science that add insight and context to the main story.