What does a “free script” need to provide?

March 12, 2008

Topics: Web Development.

I received an interesting comment from my contact form the other day. I don’t need to respond to it, as the sender left a clearly false email address as their response address, but I do feel that it poses an interesting question for me.

This is the message in its entirety:

Dude how come your example poll have this amazing format, cool graphics, and when I download and installed yours, looks like SHIT?

I mean, thanks for doing this and all that, but come on, you are showing a FALSE example on your web site.

The example poll referred to is this: an example installation of a free MySQL/PHP polling script available on my website. Now, I find it hard to believe that anybody actually thinks of that example as having “this amazing format, cool graphics,” but that’s not really the point: the question is what a “free script” should be expected to include.

This person obviously expected a fully-realized, designed installation. What I provided was nothing but raw HTML and PHP scripting. No “out of the box” styling at all. This is what I generally desire out of a script: if it has a few hooks for CSS and semantic code, that’s great!

I can certainly agree that if you want something you offer to really become a major player in the world of popular downloads, you’ll need to put in a fair amount of work in providing easy template styling, etc. But I hardly think that should be expected for a simple web site add-on.

It leaves me curious: when you download a script, what do you expect of it?

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5 Comments to “What does a “free script” need to provide?”

  1. I can certainly agree with that, Mike — to me, that’s just part of the programming. It seems to me that the normative condition of a script you download is to be crap code…

    I prefer to offer minimal styling hooks — enough to be able to target pretty much any element, but I don’t like to clutter the code with a lot of them. In this case, the HTML produced is so simple that it was hardly relevant!

    I’ve gone both ways with the initial styling. I’ve provided it in some cases, but usually not. Still, it certainly can be valuable to provide guidance at least in respect to what hooks are available.

  2. I fully expect validity and proper element usage! I am mostly disappointed and I have bitched about this before. People who distribute scripts and whatnot have a responsibility to the internet and their code’s users. I just got my hands on some script for a domain (TLD) lookup tool) and my goodness, what a piece of crap it was. I had to rewrite the entire thing because even the PHP sucked royally. One bad script affects 100s if not 1000s of sites.

    What I do do, and not sure if you do, is I also include plenty of styling hooks and I offer a stylesheet showing all the elements, classes, and IDs used as well as some basic styling so it’ll look decent on most sites right out of the box. I figure that will be really helpful to the end-user, even if my choice of colors doesn’t match, because the file exists, it (and mentioned in a readme) indicates to the user that they may have to tweak the styles. It keeps them from belly-aching.

    Too bad the guy didn’t offer a reply email, you could have pointed out the need to style to him.

  3. Yeah basic script is the way to go, obviously he was just super lazy!

    In regards to your question I think some basic help is a good idea. I would rather use script from someone who I know who will give me solid help than someone who does not.

  4. Good to know. Glad I’m not alone on that!

  5. I’m with you, Joe: I would prefer to do my own styling so I can be sure it fits in with my other stuff.