Since the invention of the daguerreotype in the 1830s, photography has been recording the lives and times of people around the world. The camera has brought us pictures of man’s first walk on the moon, the horrors of war, and the triumphs and travails of daily life.

Oddly enough, for most of its history, the camera has been greatly refined, but largely unchanged. Indeed, up until recently, even the technique to take and share photographs went largely unchanged: shoot, click, (pray), develop, and print — perhaps paying for doubles to share little Adam’s first steps with the grandparents back east.

But digital has changed everything. Digital cameras are smaller than traditional film cameras, are easier to use, and provide an instant preview of the final result. (No more praying!) Better yet, pictures are now just like any other computer file: editable and eminently reproducible, portable, and transferable.

Open source software developers — who both set and capitalize on trends — have kept pace with the popularity of digital photography, producing a variety of free and clever tools for professional and enthusiast photographers alike. With a digital camera, a web site, and a handful of free software, cyber cameos are just a click of the shutter and a click of the mouse away.

And nothing can make you and your site look better than this month’s featured Sourceforge project, Gallery. Founded in June 2000, Gallery is an easy-to-use, online photo and movie album. Using its sophisticated user permissions system, you can keep those, ahem, private photos private, while showing mom and dad pictures of your sightseeing trip to the Vatican. Uploading and organizing photos and movies is also a breeze with Gallery.

This month, Linux Magazine Editor-in-Chief Martin Streicher and Sourceforge.net Site Director Pat McGovern get a close-up with Gallery developers Andrew Lindeman, Beckett Madden-Woods, Joan McGalliard, Bharat Mediratta, and Pierre-Luc Paour.

Bharat, can you describe Gallery?

BHARAT MEDIRATTA: Gallery lets you post your images onto your own web site. Each site has its own look and feel, and Gallery is designed to blend in and look like an integral piece that you wrote yourself. Unlike image database applications, Gallery is all about letting each site’s owner craft an experience for the viewer and guide them through it.

There are a lot of options for posting photos on the Web. Why Gallery?

BECKETT MADDEN-WOODS: For the growing number of people with personal web pages, Gallery fits their needs perfectly: it’s easy to install, easy to customize, and easy to add new content. Gallery gives so many people the means to creatively express what’s important to them. Better than sending photos via email, online galleries have become scrapbooks, or continuing stories, for everyone to see.

What was the genesis of Gallery?

MEDIRATTA: In May of 2000, my wife went to India and returned home with a camera full of digital images that we wanted to share with our family. I put the images up on my website and wrote a simple Perl script to quickly display them.

As I added more photos, I realized that I needed more features, and I decided to use my homegrown project as an excuse to learn PHP. Chris Smith (who also had a digital camera and a web site) got interested in my project, and so we created a SourceForge project where we could collaborate. Before I knew it, other random people started downloading and playing with the code (and filing feature requests and bug reports).

Your project statistics show more than 600,000 downloads. What do you attribute your success to?

JOAN MCGALLIARD: It does what it says on the tin. There’s nothing better.

ANDREW LINDEMAN: I believe that Gallery has many things going for it. First, we have an excellent product that does its job very well. It can be used in so many different ways for so many different jobs. I also believe we have one of the best support nets in the open source world.

MADDEN-WOODS: That’s true. The user support and customization community is very active, interactive, and friendly. When someone needs help or has an idea, people are there to help and are constantly willing to help improve the project. I’ve had several dads-to-be send me frantic emails, saying “Help! My first kid is being born tomorrow morning, and I need to get the photos up by tomorrow afternoon! Can you make it happen?” All got a gallery up and running in time.

MEDIRATTA: It’s an incredibly viral concept. You publish your photos so that somebody else can see them, so the first thing you do is send the URL to your Gallery to a few friends. It’s an implicit recommendation and that’s very powerful. We tend to see entire communities migrating towards Gallery because one or two people adopt it.

Can you tell how many people actively use Gallery?

MEDIRATTA: It’s difficult to tell for certain, because we don’t require users to register. However, we’re aware of over 200,000 unique URLs that have probably had Gallery installed at one point or another. A conservative estimate… maybe 75,000-100,000 users. We get 1,000-2,000 downloads a day, so even if a small percentage of those people use and keep the product, the numbers add up quickly.

Your download page lists Gallery and Gallery Remote. What’s the difference?

PIERRE-LUC PAOUR: Gallery Remote allows users to upload pictures into a Gallery. It’s a client to Gallery’s server, and it uses our published protocol to programmatically manipulate the Gallery server. In fact, Gallery Remote is not unique: three other applications and scripts are available from other teams.

Do you work on Gallery full-time, or do you have another job?

MADDEN-WOODS: Gallery is a side project for all of us, but we spend numerous hours on it — supporting and developing — on a daily basis. Personally, I spend about twenty hours per week, sometimes more, sometimes less, but it is a major time commitment. But there’s nothing I’d rather be doing with that time!

LINDEMAN: I don’t have a job, per se, but school is enough to keep me at least somewhat busy. [Lindeman is 16.]

PAOUR: Interesting you should ask. I’ve been working on Gallery Remote in my spare time, but my company will be laying me off soon, and I can’t wait to be able to spend more time on the project as a result. But at the moment, on average, I spend ten to fifteen hours per week on the project.

MEDIRATTA: I have a day job where I also write software [Mediratta works on VA Software's SourceForge Enterprise Edition], though thankfully in my day job, I don’t have to do nearly as much team management. My time on Gallery varies greatly from week to week. While I love the work, Gallery comes after my family and my day job. I’d guess it’s somewhere in the vicinity of 10-20 hours

What’s next for Gallery?

MADDEN-WOODS: Gallery V1.0 was a small, personal project that unwittingly got very big. Gallery 2.0, the next generation Gallery, has been completely re-written from the ground up, and improves almost every aspect of what is already a wonderful piece of software.

Gallery has been fully internationalized, and modularized, which will allow new features or new looks to be added quickly and easily. We want to add support for camera-enabled cell phones, so people can send photos directly to their galleries from their phones, and plan to have Gallery evolve to let people be creative with as little hassle as possible.

MEDIRATTA: The next significant milestone will be the alpha release of Gallery 2.0, which has been under steady design and development for over a year.

If you could change one thing about the project, what would it be?

MEDIRATTA: I wish that back when Gallery was installed on less than a thousand sites, I realized just how large this project was going to get.

If I had better vision at the time, I could have spent a little more time on design, and come up with an architecture that wouldn’t require a complete rewrite.

MADDEN-WOODS: Of course, if we could all quit our day jobs and work on Gallery, that’d be a dream come true!

More realistically, we’re hoping to strengthen the core development team to streamline all of the tasks at hand. We formed the core team in the past year with great success, but hope to turn our core members into a more efficient and productive group, leading to more concurrent and independent development, while maintaining our high coding standards.

As Gallery grows as a project and as a popular product, we want to be able to keep up and keep delivering as demand for new features and support increases.

LINDEMAN: This may sound corny, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve been a part of other open source projects, but I’ve never enjoyed being a part of a team like I have on the Gallery project.

Martin Streicher is the Editor-in-Chief of Linux Magazine. He can be reached at mstreicher@linux-mag.com. If you’d like to contribute to Gallery, contact project founder Bharat Mediratta at bharat@menalto.com.

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