Someday, when you feel that you have been sufficiently productive for a
while, fire up the OpenOffice.org spreadsheet application. Select a cell,
and insert =Game("StarWars")
into that cell. Launch missiles at
alien creatures until you feel ready to get something useful done again.
Yes, the OpenOffice.org developers, evidently feeling that the application
had become too small and quick, decided to toss in an easter egg. Judging
from the occasional German-language popup window, this feature has been
present for quite some time. Others exist as well, happy hunting.
Easter eggs have been present in software - free and proprietary - for many
years. Old versions of make used to respond to
"make love" with "not war?"; your editor notes with
sadness that GNU make does not retain that feature.
In general, easter eggs are a way for developers to express themselves, and are
generally seen by users as amusing, or harmless at the worst.
Recently, however, an OpenOffice user complained
about the presence of the StarWars game. Free programs, he says, should
not contain hidden features like that. One of the advantages of free
software is supposed to be the lack of surprises; if you install an office
suite, that is what you should get. The hiding of games, pictures of the
developers, and other unrelated features in free software threatens to make
the whole enterprise appear to be insufficiently serious.
Others have argued that easter eggs can endanger the use of free software
in settings (like schools) where hidden games might not be welcome. This
is, they say, one Microsoft feature that we do not need to emulate. To
that end, various bug
reports have been filed asking for the removal of easter egg features.
As a counterpoint, one could argue that free software is supposed to be fun
for both its developers and its users. Those who don't want to play
"StarWars" might be well advised to install a sense of humor upgrade and
simply not invoke the feature - which, after all, one has to go looking for
in the first place. When the code police start going after easter eggs,
humorous diagnostics (the kernel still has several variants of the
"peripheral is on fire" message), or possibly offensive code comments, some
of the developers will start to think that they want to go elsewhere.
As free software development processes mature and the user base increases,
it seems likely that many of the easter eggs are likely to disappear,
especially in the larger, more mainstream applications. Developers who are
interested in code quality and bloat will see an easy way to remove an
apparently unnecessary feature. Projects which have their own PR
departments (and, yes, such projects exist) will not welcome the sort of
attention that easter eggs bring. And those which remain may be excised by
the more business-oriented distributors. But, free software developers
being what they are, there will always be a surprise or two waiting for
those who know where to look.
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