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*POINT - COUNTERPOINT SPECIAL* What's Wrong with the Open Source Community?

James Turner leads off on the "too many itches" syndrome and other problems - Steve Suehring offers his Counterpoint


1. Too much competition

The first argument made is that too many Open Source developers are "scratching the same itch" with the end result being too much competition. The economist in me is attempting to find a reason why competition would be bad, and James does admit that a little competition can be good. The opposite of competition is monopoly. As we've seen, monopoly in the software business means little or no innovation, virtually no method to make the software secure, price gouging, and much lower quality software.

Given these two alternatives, I'd much rather have more choice.

Is there a happy medium? James calls for there to be two or three Linux distributions instead of the numerous flavors available today. I believe the market should and will play the deciding role here. The market will determine the best flavors of Linux available and those will be the most widely supported among vendors. I see no reason to stifle innovation and competition with the goal of less choice. If someone wants to build their own distribution of Linux then so be it. That is the power of Open Source. You are free to do with it as you please.

Those supporters and developers of other distributions can continue along their path and make their distro better or merge the best aspects of theirs with another. Thus the consumer gets the best-of-breed operating system. The same goes for Open Source software. I would much rather have a choice in Web servers or DNS servers to deploy than be left with one or maybe two choices.

It is this competition that is one of the strongest aspects of Open Source and it is the most widely misunderstood. I'm constantly surprised to hear seemingly smart people compare Open Source development to some form of communism. In fact, Open Source is the free market system at work. The consumer has a choice among distributions and software and is free to do with it as they please.


2. Love a good feud

Unfortunately in his article, James believes that we don't see more consolidation because Open Source people love to fight.

There certainly are strong views among developers of competing software in the Open Source community. Again, I tend to lean towards allowing developers to compete against each other because I believe that in the end the consumer wins. The strongest points of each other's software will be adopted amongst the competing software.

I don't think the goal of having one operating system or one Web server is best for the market. At the same time, I sincerely doubt that Open Source developers work on competing products because they like to fight. I think the feuds are a side-effect of a healthy market economy at work.

There are precious few commodities where a monopoly is good - and software is not one of them.


3. Scratch the wrong itch

James's next contention is that Open Source developers often "scratch the wrong itch". I see this point as somewhat valid but I see it being much more applicable to closed source software than to Open Source. With closed source software you get what you get. If a feature isn't in the software, too bad. Wait for the next release and maybe they'll put it in. You are at the mercy of the software vendor that you locked yourself into.

An example of the problem of scratching the wrong itch in closed source is pop-up blocking. Everyone's familiar with those annoying pop-up ads that appear when you surf to various Web sites. For years, the open source Mozilla browser has been able to block pop-up ads effectively without disabling all of the other features of Javascipt. Where has this functionality been in Internet Explorer? Microsoft is finally getting around to adding this feature in a forthcoming release of IE, years behind.

As an example in his article, James uses the argument that an Open Source developer might require a user to create an XML configuration file to make a piece of software work, as opposed to the "ordinary user" requirement - which might be for dialog boxes instead of manual configuration. Aside from the fact that there is an assumption of a graphical user interface which many Linux users don't use, there's an inherent problem with the argument. Having worked with numerous closed source software companies, I can say that the issue isn't limited to Open Source software. I've worked with closed source software where I had to edit a registry setting or manually change a configuration file in order to make the software work (don't forget to reboot the entire server if you make a registry change.)

The difference is that with the closed source software, I had to pay an extra 20% surcharge in order to receive that support to tell me to change the configuration file. All major Open Source software is documented. Further, the chances of finding an answer quickly using Google are much greater for Open Source than for proprietary software.

At the end of the day, consumers also have the source code, the one and ultimate resource for determining how a piece of software works and changing that software to suit their needs. If you're not a programmer, then you can request functionality to be included - which is the same process you'd have to follow if it was closed source proprietary software as well.


4. With us or against us

James' article goes on to state that there is a feeling of defensiveness in the Open Source community. That when you try to take a critical look at Open Source, you are met with harsh responses. To this point I have no counterpoint except to say that it's certainly not limited to Open Source.

When I wrote a piece last summer for LinuxWorld.com addressing the fact that Microsoft didn't include an adequate firewall in their operating systems it was met with numerous personal attacks, including many sent direct into my inbox. I heard some of the same things that James did, though from a different camp.

Simply because closed-source folks do it doesn't make it excusable for the Open Source community. Neither side in the debate between Open and closed source is without reproach in this regard. I find no valid excuse for the behavior and feel that both sides should be less concerned with killing the messenger. Of course, I have a vested interest in saying that, since many times I am the messenger.


5. Chip on its shoulder

James' piece wraps up with an argument that we Open Source people have a chip on our shoulder about Microsoft or, more appropriately from the examples, about people who use Microsoft products. I've seen evidence of this and I agree with James that it is one of the problems with the Open Source community.

I believe that Open Source software solves countless problems better than its closed source counterpart. However, as I state in forthcoming article in LinuxWorld Magazine, Open Source can win the technology battle but lose the adoption war. The technology can be better, but if we alienate the people who are just starting to use the software, we'll find that the superior technology will be usurped and we'll end up in a niche and not in the business and technology mainstream.

More Stories By James Turner

James Turner is president of Black Bear Software. James was formerly senior editor of Linux.SYS-CON.com and has also written for Wired, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications. He is currently working on his third book on open source development.

More Stories By Steve Suehring

Steve Suehring is a technology architect and engineer with a solid background in many areas of computing encompassing both open and closed source systems, he has worked with a variety of companies from small to large, including new and old economy, to help them integrate systems and provide the best use of available technologies. He has also taken a hands-on approach with many projects and frequently leads teams of engineers and developers, and has written magazine articles as well as a book on the MySQL database server. He has also performed technical editing on a number of other titles.

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Most Recent Comments
Gentoo Ken 04/25/04 11:45:19 PM EDT

Well,from what I see, Linux desktop is ready to rock the world.

Well,in term of installing and drivers support, is not a big issue. I mean, if there is a case where your h/w (Ethernet card,sound card, etc) liked...Eth card Broadcom 440x series which are come together with the Dell Dimension 2400, then, you need to download the driver from the net because for RedHat(ver 9.0 and below) and Mandrake, they didn't have the driver for it.Well, it is a bit troublesome, but PLEASE THINK;
For an open-source OS, Linux is really getting better and better. I mean, come on, is just a bit extra thing that you need to do.

BUT, if Linux is not an open-source OS, then, my comment will be different.


karthik bala guru 12/21/03 07:02:04 AM EST


Goooooooooood newz atlast ->
Really a grrrrrrrrrrreat news to cheeeeeeeeeer for
the embedded linux users.
There is a streetfight one side that embedded linux
development is time+cost consuming compared
to the VxWorks or WinCE. But today WindRivers
has come down to join hands with linux ..... a
move to be noticed. If it is gonna be a time
wastage .. ? why this move by this corporate ?
Even WinCE source code has been opened up based on
a typical liscence facility ? They all follow the
linux way .....
L I N U X has its U N I Q U E style
E V E R Y O N E will follow it 1day... its 2DAY thatDAY !!
-------------------------------------------------- --------
Wind River Systems, by far the world's largest embedded software company, today launched its first official support for embedded Linux. For its initial foray into the embedded Linux market, the company has decided to target its $4,000 visionProbe II hardware bring-up tool at embedded Linux system-level software development. Company officials say they plan a step-by-step approach toward embedded Linux, suggesting more Linux-related announcements lie ahead for the embedded software giant.
\"Wind River currently owns roughly 30% of the embedded software market, according to Gartner Dataquest Principal Analyst Daya Nadamuni, as quoted by the San Jose Mercury News,\" a staggering figure considering that as much as half of all embedded OS and kernel development.
Interesting that Microsoft should denigrate Free Software licenses as pathogenic but require that anyone who redistributes the software as source under their new \"broader\" license \"include a complete copy of this License with your distribution.\" That license includes a provision that \"if you sue anyone over patents that you think may apply to the Software for a person's use of the Software, your license to the Software ends automatically.\"
However, if you ever intend to work on any Open Source programming project which might involve similar code, you might want to think twice about downloading any code under the provisions Microsoft lists here: a simple database query can establish whether \"Yourname Lastname\" had access to the Microsoft-owned code, which could result in legal problems down the road. Even if you never look at the downloaded code, the electronic trail will look like you did -- which is perhaps the most insidious aspect of this version of sharing
There is gonna be a series of false/true lawsuits
when it comes to everyone opening their source codes.
The Gun is loaded. The Reporters are ready !!

karthik bala guru
[email protected]

Nharris 12/20/03 05:31:45 PM EST

I am the an ultimate end user for any type of Operating System. My took my last formal programing course in the mid 80's and have since became a lawyer who works in the finance industry. Yet I found the Red Hat system I bought fairly easy to install. So I can't relate to the issue of "Scratching the wrong itch." I was able to get well over 90% of my new system up and running on my own. For the last bit I found that somebody else had already posted the questions on the web and another person had already answered it.

Now I use something called Maturity to filter out the "Microsoft sucks" comments and the spiteful bitching which occurs between users of various Linux distributions. So James Turners points #4 and #2 have no meaning to me.

As to point number 1 from my perspective we need a diveristy of operating systems in the world. The larger the number of Linux distributions and other operating systems the harder it will be for viruses, worms, and trojans to spread. That was one of the reason I switched from Micrsoft. In addition
I got tired of shelling out money every year for virus protection programs or firewalls which may not mesh well with Microsoft's software.

Finding out that Microsoft will eventually no longer support their various operating systems is only additional incentive. Where now can I find tech support for any version of MSDos or Windows 1,2, or 3? Now they are canceling tech support 95 and 98. So I lack tech support with Linux, big deal, I get it for a much smaller cost and I will loose it with Microsoft eventually anyway. This is just an observation not a chip in the shoulder.

Mike 12/20/03 03:17:20 PM EST

I think the biggest problems with all the Linux brands are as follows: 1. NO 3-D drivers for the worlds most common Video cards (NVidia, Radeon); 2. No good 3-D games to play with them anyhow; 3. Bad tech support and customer relations (especially out of the Neremburg office i.e. "Triumph of the Will" Central.

The solutions are as follows: 1. Have a Chinese Company make cheap PCI and AGP video cards with self installing drivers and include them in with the boxed SuSE etc. sets
for under $100.00. 2. Find some small independent game studios to make some decent 3-D games for SuSe, Mandrake,Redhat etc. 3. stop pretending this isn't a real serious problem.

bex 12/19/03 12:23:10 PM EST

In risk of getting flamed here but...
It seems like a whole lot of commenters here missed the point of the article. Instead of taking the critisism (not backed up as it is, a lot of it _does_ hold water) agressive comments are made. James has pointed out some not-so-elegant parts of the OSC, and even though there arn't as many counter arguments in the article as there should be, it doesn't invalidate the critisisms. Maybe some parts of the OSC should listen and try to learn (like the mindcraft scenario) instead of getting indignant and refuting the comments made.
I'm no microsoft advocate but pretending that the OSC is perfect and without it's flaws is plain nieve, so is flaming someone for having a different opinion to you.

Jim 12/10/03 10:11:35 AM EST

To Miles B:

Things under Linux will only improve as there are people with knowledge about things like fonts, engineering and other backgrounds. Unless there are people with qualification or companies willing to produce the product for Linux it will not happen. Try taking your request to the people doing the development, Red Hat, Suse and Debian. If you want AutoCAD under Linux, make your request to AutoCAD, in the industry I believe there is no better, but they will not develop for a platform unless they see profit in it. Even Microsoft had problems getting people to support them in the beginning, why do you think it took leaps from 3.1 to 95? It took time for developers to realize the value of the market. Realize that when you talk to companies like AutoCAD that their response will probably be like that of the "open source community", where you feel that they are arrogant and egotistical, because they see no vaule in your suggestion.

Miles B 12/10/03 02:37:08 AM EST

First off - Microsoft Windows is NOT trash. It is a very ordinary user usable program that plays all sorts of music, shows all sorts of graphics and the fonts/letters in Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access, Macromedia Dreamweaver and so many other programs - are actually smooth on the edges and very readable. I can load and fully use Autocad, MasterCam and many other Engineering programs that are used to design and build jet airplanes, cars, trucks, computer chips and circuit boards. You have none of these with Linux. Where Linux is at for the desktop is not much more than where Windows 3.1 was 12 years ago...as for productivity and usability. At this point in Linux's short life - it's still a play thing when it comes to ordinary users being able to make a living with it. There just are NOT the programs out there that are available for Windows. Maybe some day - but, not right now.
I use both Windows 2000 and SuSE 9.0 and I love both - but, when it comes to work I have to give it up for Windows. It is more mature in the programs it has to be used on it and Linux is still in its infancy in that arena. Makers of Autocad, Macromedia and MSOffice Suite have done their homework for Microsoft -- not for Linux. If they start doing their work for bringing Linux into real life scenarios - Linux has the potential to become a real leader of the two OS's.
And...if Linux programmers get their heads out their egotistical asses and quit trying to force ordinary users to edit a dozen font sizes just to see their letters in the programs like Star Office and other office suites - maybe ordinary users would go for Linux. Face the facts - the font stability in Linux is totally garbage and the orgainization of readable fonts is equal to NONE. Ordinary users CANNOT and WILL NOT deal with this. Out of the box - the drivers driving the font system in Linux has got to be standardized and the fonts must be made readable. At present they are all over the place for size and there is no such thing as "smooth" fonts in Linux. Sometimes even with the best of adapter drivers and monitor drivers - I've seen so many times the fonts just don't comply to usability.

Rik 12/04/03 10:41:21 AM EST

I am not going to knock anyone or the community as a whole for the great jobs they are doing to further Open Source development. Just having Linux and the GNU libraries is fantastic! I just think that the vast majority fo developers are probably using Windows at work or elsewhere a large part of the time while not developing, and tend to try to mimic Windows functionality. It is apparent this is so, looking at KDE, Gnome and the various various GUIs for common OSS apps. Jeez, you'd think they could set their sights a little higher... let's see some SUN- or OS/2- or OS X-like stuff - you know, KISS or Occam's Razor thinking. Spring-loaded folders, Rolodex-file displays, meaningful "root" menus. Real clipboard and drag-and-drop. Multimedia support that works out-of-the-box. Simplify, and get rid of the bloat and "desktop" clutter. Please!

Richard 12/03/03 05:53:08 PM EST

I am new to Linux. I started out writing machine code for 80x86 stuff (DOS) in the 80s.

So I don't know the Linux communtiy that well, but perception is reality.

This article pretty much sums up what a newbie sees. I couldn't believe how much resource is wasted (yep - wasted) scratching the same itch.

I reckon the Open Source community could have a viable desktop replacement for MS done in about 12 months (long before longhorn) if they would just focus their efforts. (Woops - chip on shoulder showing).

Get to it guys and gals.


The Ron Alien 12/03/03 04:12:33 PM EST

I agree, there are a lot of linux-fundamentalists, today a lot of programmers are priest and "the art of to program" is religion. Each group of programmer owns their religion.

Pål 12/03/03 04:23:59 AM EST

Well Nathar, in order for us all to keep evolving, it's important that all people have the same rights to develop software. This will of course mean that there will always be different solutions to any given problem.

It's not always possible or productive to keep just two piles of software, "the good" and "the bad", since the individual situation for each user of these program will wary enormously. For instance, imagine a really popular email client (if you will) that is being developed in an english speaking country. This particular software may be a really good choice to many people, but may lack the possibility to handle chinese characters (not terribly uncommon). Now, there might also be some other program that DOES allow chinese, but is lacking in some other respect. Still, if you do not master the english language, which one will you choose? This is just one of the many, many, MANY different situations users can find themselves in and it may not even be such a good example after all. :)

My point is that is it not necessarily A Bad Thing that there is many options to choose from (even though this makes it harder to choose). Compare it to commercially-driven development. There are a large number of different email clients available commercially, and not just one. While some people will prefer Outlook Express, another may opt for Opera's integrated mail, a third for Eudora and a fourth might use Lotus Notes for emailing.

I do not believe this is limited to Open Source, nor would it be productive to seek to minimize choice, not on a larger scale anyhow.

My $0.02. :)

Nathar Leichoz 12/02/03 04:55:07 PM EST

I disagree on Steve's use of economic principles on the argument about developers scratching the same itch. The problem with economics is that it is based on a reward system; i.e., money. Competition in open source development is fueled by self-satisfaction and not by consumer satisfaction (represented by money). If we were to define "best-of-breed" to mean the best choice for the *consumer*, then this form of competition does not give the best-of-breed OS.

Best-of-breed also involves keeping the "good stuff" and removing the "bad stuff". With development based on self-satisfaction, there is no way and no reason to remove the "bad stuff". The only way is if you can convince the developer to *agree* that it is bad (difficult job) or if you grab the source code and write you own product (not everyone is a programmer). Therefore at the end of the day, you will be stuck with a large number of choices and find that economics has not eliminiated the poor software.

Another thing to note is that a monopoly does not apply to open source software. For every chance that a monopoly can form, someone can take the source code and release a new product to compete. Therefore there is no reason to worry about a monopoly.

Chris Hubbell 12/02/03 03:55:01 PM EST

I just re-read the "Is linux ready for my laptop" article, and after reading it I think I understand why you recieved criticism in response. I think your message was valid, but the delivery was inflammatory.

For example, to assume that one specific latpop/DVD/Wifi combination is representative of all is a bit far fetched. I have a Panasonic laptop next to me that won't boot the Win98SE CD-ROM, but booted all of RedHat's install CDs cleanly. Clearly, laptops are a tricky and proprietary domain and should be portrayed as such.

Next, I think we need to make sure we're blaming the right folks for your experience with Xine. Linux vendors would love to ship a completely functional DVD player were it not for rediculous laws. Since that's not relevant to a technical analysis, lets look at what has been done. Most of the available video playing tools for Linux are set up to support plug-ins. It's trivial to download a plug-in or fully binary version of Xine to replace your less functional one. This isn't requiring recompilation - just googling and downloading (unless you are running Linux on an obscure HW platform).

I also believe you asessment of the installation issues is dead wrong (but you're welcome to it!). After installing Win2k from CD-ROM my workstation is almost unusable. It takes 10+ reboots to get through all the driver installs required to have my AGP card go past 800x600 (ATI Radeon 9000), my CD writer doesn't have write software, soundcard won't work, etc. After a mindless 15 minute installation of RedHat 9.0 all three work smoothly. ONE reboot. Yes, you can ghost things up and simplify, but your mother won't be creating images. It's not the installation thats at fault, it's your specific hardware environment.

IN the domain of laptops, there are MANY choices including popular modeld like Fujitsu Lifebooks, Toshiba Satellites, and IBM thinkpads which will work flawleesly. Unfortunately, you have a model which doesn't. There is excellent documentation out there on what laptops are known to work (model/chipset) and which are known not to work. If we consider what Windows supports out of the box (no additional driver installs) and what Linux isntalls out of the box, I think the playing field levels.

Just to let you know that I'm not entirely against you :) I do agree with your asessment of the social climate of open source. It's unfortunate that many folks in our ranks haven't yet learned that "when you've got it, you don't need to flaunt it". If warring factions could work together, and if we could accept criticism without forfieting all sense of social respect it would be a noteworthy improvement.

Until then, I submit that many of the warring camps' battles are intended to be internal squabble rather than presented to the public. Do you think that closed companies have perfect alignment internally? Of course not - the difference is that you aren't able to witness it without committing espionage. In the OS world, everything is there if you choose to look at it.

In this case, there is passion in conflict. One open source developer has the potential to be much more effective than a closed source developer because he/she has a personal vested interest in what they are doing. It's akin to never underestimating the power of a man defending his home.

I think I've made some good counterpoints here. Your article raises some good points, but please rethink the stand you took on the desktop article you referenced as it comes across as being extremely closed-minded. I'm sure others will agree that not all hardware works on Windows out of the box.

Leon Brooks 12/02/03 08:16:09 AM EST

astfgl, I realise that you're literally the PHB from Hell, but your point about compiling stuff is pretty well moot these days. Mandrake 9.2, for example, ships with 3932 packages (including contribs), any of which are but a few clicks away (rpmdrake). If you do happen to stumble across a .tar.gz that nobody thought to RPMify for you, there are several GUI tools which will do just that without manual intervention.

The real problem is convincing OEMs to install Linux for you, as they do MS-Windows.

Mike 12/02/03 06:41:39 AM EST

To Corey Scott:
Congratulations for having a very technology-aware mother. Mine does not even use a computer, let alone install Windows on it. Other people in my acquaintance use Windows, but they come for help (which I give gratuitously though not a Microsoft fan) if there is a need to install or repair something.

In my opinion, ease-of-install is not the strongest point for Windows (as opposed to Linux) anymore. For example, when I upgraded from Windows 98 to Windows 2000, I had to buy a new sound card, because the driver manufacturer (Terratec) did not deem it necessary to supply a driver for operating systems beyond Win98 for my old card (which was not cheap, by the way). Driver (un)availability is something you should not blame on an OS manufacturer. It has to do with the OS being in widespread use. Therefore I agree with the authors that it would be a good thing if Linux became more widespread.

My personal experience is that recent distributions can be installed very well and hardware detection has improved dramatically. I am currently fighting with a PCMCIA card installation which does not work in Win95 and Win98. So I really do not see this big advantage of Windows.

On the other hand I do see some real advantages for Windows over Linux in 2 areas.

(1) Using old hardware
Try to find a Linux distribution (even an older one) that will offer a graphical desktop and Office applications and work on a notebook with 4 MB RAM and you will see what I mean. Windows 3.1 and Winword 2 does the job for me.

(2) Application availability
Yes, there are lots of free applications for Linux. And at the same time there are lots of areas not covered ("unscratched itches"), software you cannot get for Linux even if you are prepared to pay for it (as you have or would in Windows).

Just my 2c.

Joe User 12/02/03 05:17:31 AM EST

The "Open Source Community" is way way too large for this
amazing oversimplification. What the author has described
is in large part the "Linux Community".

Corey Scott 12/02/03 05:04:47 AM EST

I think the resonpses to this article are a fair example of the very valid points that both the article and the rebuttal are trying to make.

Personally i agree with both sides of the argument, let ppl develop whatever they want to (new distro, program and so on), that is their right and how the whole open source thing cam about in the first place. BUT.... the open source community would benefit from some standardization or coordinated direction if it seriously wants to shake of the hobbist/geek only rap that it has and move seriously into other markets (ie. the desktop market).

I have been in/around the open source community for many years now and I am still not sure that I could in good conscience give a linux distro to my mum (or my boss for that matter) and be confident that they could install and use it without bugging me all the time for help.
IMO this is one of the FEW advantages MS has over Open source at the moment.

Maybe we could try to coordinate a few key areas like device drivers, ease of installation (OS and software) and day-to-day use for 'normal' people, then we would see more people adopting open source technologies.

Juraj Variny 12/02/03 04:51:03 AM EST

"The problem is, it’s not uncommon to end up with two or three (or more!) different packages doing the same thing."

Well, a year ago I wanted not to invest more time into my OSS project ziproxy (URL above), because there was another OSS project doing the very same thing, and much more, named RabbIT. But the users convinced me ziproxy is worth it, because RabbIT does too many things at once, is vulnerable to buggy servers and hard to fix. So I got into building web page, public CVS, mailing lists, etc.. OSS development is exciting experience.

Why won't I join RabbIT? It has different goals, they want to integrate everything (compression, filtering, ads removal,...). But I want to focus on one thing (web pages compression) and do it well. Is it a mistake?

Oh, and by the way I don't remember myself saying to anyone: "Sorry, you're too lame to use ziproxy." or something like.

Wolfram Rittmeyer 12/02/03 04:02:15 AM EST

"The problem is, it’s not uncommon to end up with two or three (or more!) different packages doing the same thing."

So what's the problem with that? Ever been in a book shop. Thousands of books that show you the magic of the indian cousine, thousands of books that... All about the same topic. And you buy just the book, you like most, because it deals with vergetarian indian dishes or because it has nice pics of the dishes, or because...

And what about comercial software? Like, say, software IDEs, ZIP-tools, vocabulary-learning-tools and so on. All different solutions to more or less the same problem. More or less. That's the point. Everything just solves something a different way and has a different focus on the problem. I like it that way. In the commercial world as in the free world.

Patrick 12/02/03 02:06:30 AM EST

I find the comments to be more interesting and informative than the original articles. Of particular note is the level of hostility in most respondents. Let's face it, the open source community is no more a community than the EU. There are different factions - often quite contentious - and there are different goals. The developers frequently (as I do) work hard to produce the best code and provide that code to others free of charge. We (or at least I) don't really like supporting our code because that means tiresome work. Programmers are not support specialists they are simply programmers - technicians of sorts. When a programmer provides his/her code to others, it is not expected nor demanded that everyone will find that code useful or perfect for that matter. The code is distributed as is with no expressed or implied warranties. Right?

Well somewhere between the programmers and the users this original intent got lost. Users now demand that programmers provide code for them to suit the users tastes or desires. More times than not the requests serve either to motivate the programmer to expand his/her code or to drop out of the development process. Regardless, the programmer has provided a service to the community at large.

Moreover the user community asks the programmers to behave in a manner that suits the goal of the users - to beat Microsoft in the market. I know many programmers and few of us have this competitive drive in us. I don't care for their business practices nor do I care for their product. I don't care much for Ford's cars but I don't rant and rave about my Honda. Nor is competing against Microsoft the reason why we contribute to OSS. We do it because we enjoy the challenge and we enjoy giving back.

So, is there a problem in the open source community that needs changing? Perhaps it is the expectations of the user community that is the real problem. As other posters have suggested, each side needs to take a large deep breath and consider what is at stake. For some there may be a bit too much ego involvement whereas for others there may be a bit too much market interest. Regardless, I'm not making a Rodney King pronouncement that we all just get along but rather that we recognize - as others have pointed out before - that the OSS community is huge non-group and characterizations at any level are likely to produce generalizations that fail to solve any problems.

Thanks for your time.

James Turner 12/02/03 02:03:52 AM EST

SQLBoy commented on 1 December 2003:

"If have an itch to scratch. I dislike authors who come down on the OSS community simply because doing so will bring page impressions. All of a sudden their is this influx of people who have never written a single line of GPL code writing about us. Every point this author makes only confirms the fact he is ignorant"

Well I can't speak for the commentors, but speaking as the author, I've contributed thousands of lines of Apache Licensed code to the Jakarta Struts and Jakarta Commons project and have a Sourceforge project called Flatworm that's heading toward a first release (it's a package to allow easy import and export of flat-file format files with Java)


Adam Brown 12/02/03 01:56:55 AM EST

This article is ABSOLUTELY spot on! What's the chance that people will use the author's observations constructively? For many Open Source advocates I suspect too much ego, hate, jealously, envy and denial will get in the way. Article proved!

David L 12/01/03 11:52:08 PM EST

To : James Turner

I don't like your title about "Desktop is ready or not" but I think there is the time to evaluate Linux Desktop before it is starting to wire spread in the world to normal users.

I know that everyone have their personal potential in different area. Some good in programming, some good in design, some good in analyst, some good in writing user/operation document, some good in leadership, some good in comment only and no coding. Some have all of above potential and some have few only. But if we can work together, we can make the good system.

Of course, some will make good and some will make bad in the above area. However, we must have open mind to look at the issue. We can choice the best to use and give up the bad elements.

We don't need criticism but we need constructive discussion and let us to learn the best from it. Open our eyes/mind to look in the discussion. We have choice to do what we want and not do what I don't like. For example, for us not want to write the user menu and just let other people to do. For us not want to support, just let other to make the support. That's all. That is choice.

One thing I wish,
Wish all of my systems/programs can be useful and wire spread in the world. Let all other people to get the benefit from using it without trouble. That's all.

David L 12/01/03 11:50:40 PM EST

To : James Turner

I don't like your title about "Desktop is ready or not" but I think there is the time to evaluate Linux Desktop before it is starting to wire spread in the world to normal users.

I know that everyone have their personal potential in different area. Some good in programming, some good in design, some good in analyst, some good in writing user/operation document, some good in leadership, some good in comment only and no coding. Some have all of above potential and some have few only. But if we can work together, we can make the good system.

Of course, some will make good and some will make bad in the above area. However, we must have open mind to look at the issue. We can choice the best to use and give up the bad elements.

We don't need criticism but we need constructive discussion and let us to learn the best from it. Open our eyes/mind to look in the discussion. We have choice to do what we want and not do what I don't like. For example, for us not want to write the user menu and just let other people to do. For us not want to support, just let other to make the support. That's all. That is choice.

One thing I wish,
Wish all of my systems/programs can be useful and wire spread in the world. Let all other people to get the benefit from using it without trouble. That's all.

Andrew 12/01/03 10:50:10 PM EST

I found that the opposing articles agreed more than I had anticpated. The last two points are good examples of this. As for the first three points, Mr. Suehring employs two different themes of arguments: free market economics and "closed source fails here too." I don't think I need to elaborate on the latter being a logical falicy, because I like to assume everyone has a minimum level of intelligence. The former free market rant seems, at least to me, to be common among naive capitalists. More competition is not always better in all cases. Since I love counter-examples, increased competition in heart surgeons in your local area can lead to decreased experience for each of these specialists, and hence can lead to a lower quality of service. Few things in life come without exceptions, and economics is not one of them. Whether this example has an analog in open-source software is another discuss. Personally, I believe there does exist such an analog.

It is good to see this kind of discuss within the open source community. And yes, I hate Windows and have only RedHat on my machine --- although I plan to move to Gentoo. I just try to maintain a balanced prespecitve on issues such as this.

11x 12/01/03 10:31:15 PM EST

It seems to me that such amount of different linux distributions is great thing. It's pure evolution, and the best way to avoid new OS monopoly like in case of Microsoft.
And for most of the users it doesn't make difficilties to run compilation/configuration script instead of installer. It's just a not so high price we all have to pay for flexibility of linux.

SQLBoy 12/01/03 10:26:27 PM EST

If have an itch to scratch. I dislike authors who come down on the OSS community simply because doing so will bring page impressions. All of a sudden their is this influx of people who have never written a single line of GPL code writing about us. Every point this author makes only confirms the fact he is ignorant.

Linux is huge. Its the hottest topic in IT right now. Linux made it where it is the Linux way. Now all these fools who never gave Linux the time of day are coming out of the wood work to say what they think. Most of these authors are just trying to make a buck. They do a couple days of research and try to install Redhat 17 times and fail, and they feel they need to write a bad article.

Martin 12/01/03 10:26:17 PM EST

Intrestingly the points James pointed out Steve answers the call with shining merits. I admire the community of Linux developers and developers in general, but the truth is alot of computer users want simplicity and ease of use - that's why they have computers. It's just another tool they use to get what they need to do. Most people don't understand programming or care about it. If you want people to switch, give them something that is equally better in all aspects of the current product they are using but more.

John B 12/01/03 10:11:01 PM EST

I think the author, James Turner, raises some important issues. Judging from slashdot, and some of the IRC channels, OSS supporters (including myself) tend to get defensive when people have concerns, whether legit or not. I know I've posted comments I wish I hadn't on /.

Also, Mr. Turner's 3rd point is very true. Take a simple example: there is no OSS program capable of competing with Adobe Premier or Apple's Final Cut series. Cinerella works, but not nearly to the ease of use and professional quality that either of the two commercial products possess. And this isn't a reflection of the ability of the OSS community. We know they OSS community could turn out software better then either of those programs, but nobody seems to want to field a large effort to tackle it.

Another example would be the Macromedia products. Like it or not, there really is no equivalent of Dreamweaver MX 2004, OSS or another commercial product. Nor is there any type of Flash-like program. For some reason though, we keep building new CD-bootable linux distro's (I am guilty of this, I recently began working on one when I know I don't need anymore than I have already) and other things.

Maybe we should take the articles advice to heart, and start to branch out from our OSS routine. If we really want OSS to be widely adopted it IS going to have to be easy to use, elegant, and powerful.

David L 12/01/03 09:45:32 PM EST

For my point of view, Open Source Society need constructive discussions rather than destructive arguments. Open our eyes to look at ourselves and look at what happen in outside world. That is better for us and better for Open Source Society.

Adam Brown 12/01/03 09:31:29 PM EST

This article is ABSOLUTELY spot on! What's the chance that people will use the author's observations constructively? For many Open Source advocates I suspect too much ego, hate, jealously, envy and denial will get in the way. Article proved!

astfgl 12/01/03 09:24:07 PM EST

I think a lot of the problem comes from a lack of places to buy Linux from. And before people start complaining that I don't understand open source, read on.
End users buy a computer, and an operating system. It works, they can do things, they're happy. They don't care who wrote that OS, as long as it works.
You can buy a computer, with a paid for copy of windows, and all works.
You can buy a computer, install linux for free, configure everything, download more software, configure compile and install that, find it doesn't work with your hardware......
Which appeals more to the end user? We know how to install linux, we know how to read technical documents to find out if a program does what we want and works with our system before we install it. End users don't.
Until that problem is addressed, open source will never take over from proprietary.
What we need is a boxed linux distro in Dixons (or Comp USA or whatever), that works out of the box, comes with a nice glossy manual, tech support numbers etc.

vm 12/01/03 09:16:06 PM EST

About 4 years ago, redhat & gnome advocates did everything to prevent European O.S. s/w from becoming popular ( such as KDE, Mandrake etc). Instead of building on it to vanquish m$.

There, I said it. And yes, I am American.

Jonathan 12/01/03 08:27:03 PM EST

I have to laugh when people say OpenSource will takeover :) Sure, there are some good OpenSource software. Maybe, over time, OpenSource will gain much more market share.

One thing all people must remember: great technology doesn't win. There are real life examples plasted all throughout history.

One I clearly remember: Audio Compact Discs. These are inferior to the better technology, Digital Audio Tapes, yet CDs became the new revolutionary standard. Sure, DAT was more expensive .. whilst it's the opposite for Linux, which is far cheaper than Windows, superior technology doesn't imply superior usability.

People don't need perfection, just something that works without hassle. Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft Windows works without many hassles for the common user. Finding a good linux distro that does the same for someone without technical knowledge is much harder, more work, and more hassle.

The battle is not so much superior technology, it's about superior ease of use.

I like many aspects of linux, but it the end, has a much steeper learning curve than Windows or a Mac.

When a Windows user has trouble figuring out how to use a Mac, how do you honestly expect them to use Linux? You can't.

Linux is an awesome for server platforms, cause you need to be some part geek. A desktop solution is years behind, and James' reasons are valid for desktops. Nobody wants 10 thousand ways to do something .. they just want to do it.

Grigore Dolghin 12/01/03 08:18:55 PM EST

Both parties are right, and in the same time, they are wrong.

I don't care what os I use. Just give me good tools, and do not push me to download, install, read the docs, and so on for a miriad of crappy application. I don't want to do this, and I shouldn't. On the other hand, Windows is trash. Agree with that.

I often find myself mumbling about both Linux and Windows. They are both thrash, just from different point of views. When Windows developer will learn from Linux, and those smart-ass linux developer will learn from Windows, I, THE USER (and the user it's all that matters), will be happy.

Jim 12/01/03 08:09:25 PM EST

Too many developers: There are many different ways of doing some thing, so having one or two may not solve a problem. Two or three Linux distributions may resolve things like a common desktop, but when you start looking at the different industries and different ways they use Linux then again there could be many ways to resolve an issue. If you follow distributions you know that Suse, Red Hat, Mandrake, Debian and Slackware are at the top. There's 5, outside of that are a lot of ideas that sooner or later will filter to the top 5 if they can be used for a large amount of people.

Seems to me that point two has taken a back seat over the past two years. Besides this seems to push innovative competition between the two camps. Of course, now Sun is a player in this field with JDS.

No doubt, that a lot of developers don't look at things from a user stand point. A lot of people just want to press a button and have the computer read their mind. I'm happy when a program has an options selection that allows you to modify the whole package.

I believe that no operating system is 100% ready for the desktop, unless as soon as you turn it on there is no other hardware of software to setup, besides that which is supported. I agree some open source people have problems when it comes to hardware X being supported. There should be a listening to find out what needs to be supported, but where do you draw the line at what gets supported and what doesn't? What if X hardware manufacturer won't share how to access their product, but they want you to buy it from them? Then is it the open source communities fault? When was the last time some one called XYZ software for X hardware support and they didn't hear, "You have to call your hardware manufacturer about that issue. It's not an OS problem."? Finally, like my pointy-haired-boss said once, "Instead of pointing out what's wrong. Offer me a solution."

Alex Grant 12/01/03 07:44:30 PM EST

James is talking about user workstations, Steve seems to be rebutting about servers. Playing DVDs on your laptop does not make you a needy person, this is just a reality of user expectation. Move out of the business context and PCs are big toys and need to be easy to play with.

If Open Source is about programmers, why on earth would you expect people to use Linux?

billg 12/01/03 07:34:06 PM EST

Turner's right, Suehring is wrong.

As a Linux user, I don't care what Microsoft is doing. I want better stuff from Linux.

As a Linux user, I don't care a twit about petty developer arguments about languages, operating systems, etc. Just give me good code.

As a Linux user, I care more about quality than choice. Choosing between 20 crappy applications that try to do the same bloody thing is pointless.

As a Linux user, I'm sick and tired of endless displays of arrogance directed at non-geek Linux users. If you want a cult, beatify RMS and get on with it. Meanwhile, real people have lives to lead.

As a Linux user, I'm fed up with the notion that users ought to be happy with whatever developers toss over the fence. If you want people to use Linux, give them something to use.

As a Linux user, I'm tired of so much energy being spent on developing clones of Microsoft products that I wouldn't use if I was running Windows. Don't Linux developera have any imagination?

Scidhuv1 12/01/03 07:25:56 PM EST

Reading through all of the posts on this article I think it brings to mind that there seems to be a few distinct parties in the Linux community:

- The really annoying group, those people who use 'M$' when refering to Microsoft thinking that by somehow actually using the name Microsoft will condemn them to open source hell. We are best to ignore them.

- The people who want Linux to be a mainstream desktop operating system. These people work hard to build tools like Evolution, and Mozilla. You generally don't see these people wandering around posting to bulletin boards, they are too busy writing solid code.

- The people who just want to keep Linux all to themselves and think they are somehow superior to everyone in the world because the know how to use Linux. These people are in the same boat as all those people who have MSCEs and think they are humanities gift to IT.

- There are those people who just want to use Linux to do specific things, and want to get along with everyone.

I'm going to bet that in response to this I get a bunch of useless things like 'Yah, well there are three kinds of M$ users' and 'I use Linux to run a nuclear power plant so you suck'

This is the experience that many many many people like myself have had trying to get into the open source environment. I use Linux to run a server for many things, and try to expand upon it, but it seems that so often, when I need to get help or want to make suggestions that I get the 'pee-pee poo-poo' response to any questions I have.

If I need support for any other product in the world, be it Internet Explorer, or Microsoft Excel, or Adobe Photoshop, I can find online communities of people who are willing to help, and do not tolerate the five year old mentality of 'Well you are too dumb to use this tool, go away'

What James is trying to do is point out problems that need to be addressed. Any other community in the world full of volunteers would jump at making improvments based on these sorts of suggestions, but here all I see is 'Yah, well up yours buddy' responses.

If people don't stop comparing operating systems to cars, or turtle necks, and start addressing the shortcomings nothing will get accomplished. I am so sick of hearing how Linux is like a car, or linux is like a television, or my open source monkey can open more beer bottles than yours.

An operating system is an operating system, and software is software. There are people who try to raise awareness of the problems and the faults, and nobody seems to want to listen.


shadoi 12/01/03 07:16:39 PM EST

"The Open Source Community" == Humans

Most humans are stupid, therefore....

Anyway, my point is, a lot of times the people who actually _make_a_difference_ in the community are not the ones who will reply with the negative comments you complain about. If you blame an entire group of people for the mistakes of a few, you fall into the oldest cycle known to man.


James Turner 12/01/03 07:06:52 PM EST

Godwin's Law:
As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

Raymond's Corollary:
There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress.

I therefore declare victory, and leave the field, annointed with scented oils and with nubile maidens showering rose petals at my feet.

(Major :-))

Leon Brooks 12/01/03 06:46:45 PM EST

Adolf Hitler was a chip on Britain's shoulder, too, and for reasons similar in principle. There's absolutely no point in "blaming" the open source community for having such a "chip" since the only way it's going to go away is if Bill has a religious experience which blows away his insecurity.

Charles Darwin 12/01/03 06:35:54 PM EST

My word, there are altogether too many different finches on this island. They'll never take over the whole island if they can't standardise on something as simple as beak size and shape.

There are also far too many different sorts of fish in the sea. Some with spots, some with bands of colour. Some are silvery and bright while others are dark and foreboding in appearance. This is ungainly and inefficient and must be stopped.

In seriousness, those who have stated that it's unrealistic to expect that the Free Software Community should have designs on achieving a specific goal are spot on. In the same way as natural selection, when it favours certain traits over others, operates with no grand design. The logical fallacy that James Turner makes is the same as many of the dilettantes in science make when discussing evolution.

Mr Turner, let me spell it out clearly for you. There is no one in charge; no one! Analogous to the fact that more species have been extinguished over the millenia than are alive right now, the simple fact is that natural selection continues. In the end, the niches available to free software will determine those projects which survive and those which do not. In essence, all of your "criticisms" of free software boil down to the fact that you resent, in a sense, the fact that no one is in charge. I'm afraid that, as unkind as it may sound, you're simply going to have to get over it.

Korth 12/01/03 05:18:44 PM EST

This is more in reference to the article you linked to but I feel also applies here. Your asking to much for a free operating system. You were whining about the dvd player not playing commercial dvd's. You need to buy a liscenced player. That has nothing to do with the OS. You need to pay liscencing fees to the MPAA or if you don't the makes of the distributionyou use will, and inturn will charge you.
this really is a major point in the issues you raise. When you have people doing something charge free, they are going to do it they way they think is best. That leads to 4 different distros doing things 4 different ways. On a side note, I hope linux is never "ready for the desktop". Computers should be big scary confusing machines. Keep windows around, and there is still a IT market. Advanced/geeky people use *NIX. Done. Enough said. What use does an end user have for unix? I have taught a lot of people how to use unix. The biggest problem I have getting people to switch is that all the examples I can think of for things linux does that windows doesn't are all admin tasks. Grepping through logs, having specific control over processes. Setting up different services (does your mom really care that she can run her own SMTP server?). So, ther e really is no reason to get linux 'ready for the desktop'. None.

a different Bob 12/01/03 05:17:41 PM EST

Open source developers do 'scratch where it itches'. However, unlike in most other human activities, when an open source developer scratches, it can end up reliving the 'itch' in many people. (My appologies for the mental images that are forming.) Since this sort of collective 'sratching' is rare (my buying a car in Iowa doesn't help you to drive in LA, for example), why is it surprising that we end up with many solutions. I'm of the opinion that we 'let a thousand flowers bloom', and that we enjoy the richness of our options. I like to have choices from A(pache) to Z(ope).

zmower 12/01/03 05:05:55 PM EST

I used Suse when I needed ISDN support and no other distro supplied it. I use Debian to avoid rpm dependency hell. I've used Knoppix for non-invasive Linux use. I could have used a dedicated distribution to setup my PVR. Others swear by Gentoo. There are distributions for IPAQs, routers, Macs etc. This is not a weakness; this is the path to ubiquity.

Matthew C. Tedder 12/01/03 04:24:18 PM EST

Scratching the same itch is critical--Open Source is evolutionary and one approach is rarely as good as the next. It's diversity that creates innovation.

Internal Feuding has its ups and downs--first, a lot gets discussed. But when it breaks apart, that at least builds consensus and two approaches fork creating competition. Competition creates productivity.

These are rules of nature and economy--hence they are found in OSS development. Most OSS project die in infancy...others survive only to be beaten off by competing systems later.

Evolution is tough. But look what it breeds--survival of the fittest.


rfw 12/01/03 04:21:43 PM EST

Well, I read the article and I read the rebuttals, and it's as plain as can be. The rebuttals are the very sort of denial and pointed reaction he wrote about, and the rebutters are apparently unconscious of proving the author's points about people. Not just in a software community but everywhere, people react too quickly to criticism, resort to name-calling, divert and deny and redirect instead of asking why something pushes their button. A rather pacifist, accommodating article gets called FUD and a lot of other things. Is all criticism FUD? Are people really that insecure? Why?

What was quite amazing was to see how tame the criticisms in the article were, compared to a few of the reactions. Some of the rebuttals literally leapt out of their skins after being touched with a feather. What's hurting so much, guys? If it's all so touchy then maybe there is a lot of work to do so there will not be this defensive (and false) sense of inferiority.

Eyal Zvi 12/01/03 04:10:08 PM EST

Dear Mr. Turner,

I would like to present a few alternative views that may shed a different light on the open source comminity and it's problems.

First of all, there's no such things as "the open source community". There thousands of communities that work on different projects, with very little in common except that the source is free in one way or another. Some communities are bigger and some are smaller, some are organized and some are loose, some have good etiquette and some don't.

But all that is common knowledge so I'll move on to address your points one by one.

1. Scratching the sane itch - open source developers respond to challenges that are of interest to them. They have no obligation to address your needs as a user, my needs as developer of proprietary products, or the needs of anyone else. They do what they do because *they* want something, not because you want something else.

This in fact is a strength of open source, as it *ensures* that every challenge is tackled by motivated developers. Sure, you can that writing an accounting application that's better than someproprietary product, is a worthy challenge and let's "the open source community" meet that challenge. If you think so, then go ahead and start a new project that will stand up to the challenge that you think is worthy. Don't expect others to do it for you.

2. Oopen source developers love feud - what exactly is the point here? This is human nature, and the US legal system and the way its abused is an ongoing proof that everybody likes to fight.

It's hard to provide any real statictics on this issue, but my personal experience with open source projects and developers (both as a user and as a contributor) is rather pleasant.

Yes, there are some trigger happy kids that resort to verbal violence on the slightest sign of disagreement - but how many of them are *real* developers? Almost anyone can gain access to almost any mailing-list, including such noisy kids.

3. Scratching the wrong itch - this overlaps the first point. Your perception of right and wrong itches represents only what *you* want and what *you* need. Don't expect anyone else to serve you. Scratch your own itch.

Besides, you (or anyone else) don't have the right to complain about great stuff that you get for free. Sure, you can politely ask the developers to add certain features or fix bugs or improve the GUI, but that's about it. Other than that you should either say a big Thank You, or reach deep into your pocket and buy whatever it is that you want (assuming there's a comemrcial product that can satisfy your needs).

4. With us or against us - once again I can't really find the factual basis to such an encompassing statement. Maybe you've mis-interpreted (granted sometimes developers mis-communicate) a legitimate response "either help us, or at least don't interfere, otherwise go give Microsoft some hard time".

5. The MS chip on the shoulder - this is basically a repetition of previous points. You want the open source community to win against Microsoft. So do I. So both of us have the freedom toi change our priorities and start writing great open source software that will rival Microsoft's.

But many of those who actually sit and write code have other priorities - some just enjoy what they do, some don't care what MS does or does not, yet others develop open source programs that run only on top of Windows. All of them are doing the right thing - for them.

If you want to wipe out Microsoft's monopoly, you're welcome to harness all your talent and time for the benefit of Linux, Gnome, OpenOffice or any of the other open source projects.


Seth Schoen 12/01/03 04:01:29 PM EST

The DVD player problem is a result of the DVD CCA license and the anticircumvention provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. DVD CCA requires its licensees not to provide source code for their DVD players. Free software developers (not licensees of DVD CCA) quickly supported playing encrypted DVDs, but people who distribute free software to do this in the U.S. face legal liability. This particular functionality problem is the fault of entertainment industries and Congress, not of free software developers.

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