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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

James Turner: 5 problems with the Open Source community

There’s no question that the Open Source community has a lot going for it. Besides a staggering amount of developer power that can be turned against important problems, the Open Source movement also has a passion and commitment to its work that the commercial software world often envies. But sometimes, the Open Source community can be its own worst enemy. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Too many developers “scratch the same itch.”

We hear that Open Source developers come up with new ideas because they “had an itch to scratch.” In other words, there was some need they had for a new application, and they “scratched” it by coming up with a tool. The problem is, it’s not uncommon to end up with two or three (or more!) different packages doing the same thing. For a specific example, look at what’s happened with the Linux sound systems, where there are now several competing packages that have to be supported by each distribution. Or in the Java world, look at how many competing MVC frameworks there are now for JSP development.

A little competition can be a good thing. After all, Linux is all about offering a competing vision for the operating system domain. But when too many competing visions exist, and aren’t winnowed down to a small number of options over a short period of time, you end up with a mish-mash of conflicting standards, and a user community that ends up having to download and install a plethora of different packages that all do the same thing.

A perfect example of the “too many itches” syndrome is the absurd number of Linux distributions that exist out there. There’s absolutely no reason for there to be more than two or three distributions. And because each one does things slightly differently, we’ve ended up with the problem that applications and drivers are rarely made available in binary form, because there are too many versions of too many releases of Linux to support.

As an application developer, you would have to provide 5 - 10 different binary installs, one for each distribution. Now multiply that times the five or more active releases of a distribution that may be in active circulation, and you see why so few packages are available as anything but source (especially the most recent releases of packages that have not been compiled and included into Linux distributions yet.)

The next question to consider is, why don’t we see more consolidation of technology? The answer: because…

2. Open Source developers love a good feud.

BSD vs Linux. Gnome vs KDE. Debian vs Red Hat. For every interesting Open Source technology, there are two bitterly feuding camps that spend as much time taking potshots at each other as in improving their own products.

It’s hard to imagine how much better a lot of Open Source software would be if these groups cooperated and consolidated their efforts, rather than act like the Hatfields and McCoys. Unfortunately, the downside of personal commitment to projects is that people come to use them as a measure of self-worth, and it becomes increasingly difficult for rival groups to admit the good points in each other’s efforts.

3. Open Source developers often scratch the wrong itch.

The problem with commercial development is that the developers often aren’t the consumers of their products, and thus don’t feel the pain of their mistakes. The problem with Open Source development is that the development community often doesn’t fix problems or develop new features that aren’t directly interesting to them.

Usually, this isn’t a problem, because the developers (as users) encounter the same problem set as their user base. Unfortunately, one way that Open Source developers are different from a general user base is that they have significantly more technical training. This means that they are willing to put up with the need for a much higher degree of technical savvy to use something than a non-technical person might.

Restated by example: an Open Source developer might think nothing of requiring users to create and configure an XML file to make something work, where an end-user might require dialog boxes.

4. In the Open Source Community, you’re either “with us or against us”

A typical complaint of the Open Source community is that proprietary software vendors use legal means to stifle criticism of their detractors. But the Open Source community can be just as unforgiving of internal critics. Attempts to point out flaws or places where there’s room for improvement in an application usually lead directly to defensive rebuttals, character attacks on the critic, or complete rejection of the validity of the issues.

Consider that recently I posted a story on the linuxworld.com Web site listing some problems I saw with the current set of desktop Linux distributions, problems I thought could severely hamper consumer adoptions of Linux in the short run. The posted responses ran in a couple of themes: “It works fine for me, you must be an idiot.” “You’re nothing but a Microsoft ass-kisser.” And the ever-popular “Windows sucks too.”

Until the community learns to listen to and internalize negative feedback (oops, almost slipped into Pointy-Haired Boss speak there…), it will be staring at its navel.

5. The Open Source Community has a huge chip on its shoulder…called Microsoft

Although SCO is also a popular a target lately too, the merest mention of MS is like a bull having a red cape waved before his eyes. All reason and sense of decorum flies out the window. And while I’m first in line to throw rotten tomatoes at Bill Gates, it’s harmful to the community. The reality is that Microsoft owns the lion’s share of the non-server OS market. If the first thing you tell all these people who own Windows is that they are idiots, you’re not starting out on very good ground to convert them.

Like it or not, the existing Windows user base may not like the dreaded Blue Screen of Death or Microsoft’s pricing and licensing, but they know how to use Windows and can usually get the applications and hardware support they need for it. Linux has a wonderful and growing suite of tools that let people migrate away, but they are going to need a lot of hand-holding to decide to make the move. They have to be told why Linux is better (and it really has to be better for them), not just why Windows is trash.

Especially unhelpful is the “who cares about X” attitude, where X is unsupported hardware, non-existent game availability, complicated multimedia support or anything else that Linux has or is perceived to have problems doing. Just because someone wants to do something that you don’t, it doesn’t mean that what they want to do is less important.

I had a number of comments when I complained that I had great trouble getting my DVD player on my laptop to view commercial films, comments that essentially said “why are you watching DVDs on your laptop?!” Some even suggested that I buy a dedicated portable DVD player. Leaving aside the hassle of having yet another piece of electronics to drag through security if I want to watch a movie on a plane, these kinds of comments are the worst kind of evasive nonsense, based on: if Linux doesn’t currently do something as easily as Windows, attack the need to do it at all.

To sum up, the biggest problem that the Open Source community faces in taking Open Source to the next level is not some legal challenge or Microsoft marketing campaign. It’s the immaturity and insecurity of some of the members of the community. As was once said in Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

 

See the next page for Steve Suehring's Rebuttal

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
Bryan Ewbank 12/01/03 03:43:36 PM EST

I was very disappointed in the rebuttal; it read as a series of "nuh-uh" responses, rather than an opposing point of view.

In particular, the discussion of economics left me puzzled, as the key of an economics model (profit) doesn't really exist for most open-source software.

The recurring issue raised in the original (too many choices; holy wars) is that there is no economic model - people just do their own thing, rather than helping others to improve something else - and there is no difference in reward for it. You simply need to look at the rubble of dead projects on sourceforge or one of the other open source repositories to see that there is not much signal and quite a bit of noise.

There's even a reward for being different - you can put it on your resume (led XXYYZZ on sourceforge), and a PHB will not realize that 0.00% popularity means it's not used.

As an "outsider" - but an experienced developer paid to develop closed code - it is very hard to distinguish the good, the bad, and the ugly. You find advocates for everything, and you often don't see the problems until you've spent several hours/days/weeks working on it.

People want to be users, not contributors. How do we address their need?

Christian Gross 12/01/03 03:41:58 PM EST

I simply do not get it why people accept the fact that there are about 300 car models and desire it, but the moment it comes to a computer there can only be one or two packages?

We have choice and lots of choice in everything, food, clothes, phones, electronic devices, you name it. But once we get to software the blinders go on and choice in two or three packages is recommended.

The question I want answered is if we should only have two or three car models because after all choosing a car is a tedious and time consuming problem....

OR MAYBE.... The Linux and Open Source person is part of the new trend where choice is part of the game! In other words Open Source is the mature version of what we take for granted elsewhere...

Owen Stevens 12/01/03 03:35:32 PM EST

(Score:-1, Troll)

SeanZig 12/01/03 03:12:49 PM EST

I'd like to refine Luke's comment that James was "spot-on." James was spot-on about _part_ of the OS community, but certainly not all of it. Several of the prior comments stated sufficiently well that James targeted a radical segment of the community, specifically the segment that people remember most easily: the fanatics. So I won't beat that horse...

But some of the fanatics do take the "it's my code and my time, if you don't like it, change the code or go away" attitude (like the previous posting by Zac). In a way, they are right. _Part_ of the OS community consists of hackers, hobbyists, etc. who simply share what they've done. Who am I to tell them to change their mindset?

On the other hand, _another_part_ of the OS community _wants_ to disseminate their software to, say, Joe Corporate User who can't speak XML. If you want evidence of this, I dare you to post an article/comment to any forum with Linux readership (LinuxWorld, /., etc) or announce at a Linux-based conference that "Linux is not ready/not appropriate/etc. for corporate computing." (I recall the president of Red Hat saying a similar thing a few weeks ago, but I wasn't there, I just read the /. summary). A large spectrum of OS members (or wanna-be's) will emerge, from MS-hating, trash-talking fanatics, to experienced developers with intelligent rebuttals. You can't deny that _some_ people want to see OSS truly compete with commercial products.

So, if you frame James article within that context, it makes a little more sense. That is, those who do care about the ubiquity of their software should consider their attitude toward the poor unfortunates who can't understand the comments, much less the code. :) In all seriousness though, there are many valid, difficult fields within science, for example, where the subject matter is challenging enough. These users are decidedly not stupid, but simply too busy to learn a programming language just to get what they need out of your software.

That being said, I've met many more developers who are willing to take negative feedback seriously than those who throw it back in your face. So, I, too, would like more examples of actual _developers_ (not fanatics) that react poorly to criticism.

Laz Qadman 12/01/03 03:10:20 PM EST

Perhaps that didn't work as heres the form AGAIN?

Ok. My comments were basically this:
"Who needs the 'comsumer' market?" Forget these clueless Maudies and Hermans. Real people need real computing. Clueless Simpsonites need the basic spam and porn traps.

Thank God Linux is beyond their intellectual prowess and long may it be so.

Laz Qadman 12/01/03 03:07:34 PM EST

Regarding the point of the author of Linux making it to the
'consumer grade level' of acceptability.

These are the same clueless folks rambling the aisles of the discount chains, Circuit Cities and Best Buys , same ones who did the same at Radio Shack. Real dummies who are better off NEVER having the ability or desire to glom onto a Linux box.

Thank God linux is still too much for them to grasp and hopefully it will remain in this form forever. If you can't do else but be an appliance operator then go back to your TV
Soaps and the Simpsons and leave real computing for those who use it for real work and not just a spam and porn trap.

potential user 12/01/03 03:05:41 PM EST

Who's the customer for Open Source? Usually the programmer, or someone close to the programmer. They write code to solve their own problems and do things that are important to them. Works fine until one wants to attract a wider audience. By the comments above, not everyone wants this ("..go away and write some code. If you can't do that, just go away.)

Doesn't seem to be a set of common goals for Open Source. This is a strength and a weakness. Lots of diversity of solutions and neat innovation but difficult to create a focus. If "Open Source" wants to compete with Windows on the desktop, "Open Source" will have to product code that works for users, not just for programmers.

Aravin Smythe 12/01/03 02:56:42 PM EST

1. too many scratch the same itch.
True but this is not an issue, the market will sort it out.

2. OSS loves a good feud.
Too true. I'm not sure that the disagreement itself hurts Linux but the piss poor attitudes sure as hell do.

3. OSS developer scratch the wrong itch.
Untrue and true. There is no such thing as a "wrong itch". It's up to the companies pushing linux to scratch the "right itch" the community has no responsibility to users though this may hurt adoption in the long run which was sorta the point I guess.

4. With us or against us
ABSOLUTELY FREAKING TRUE. Community attitudes are the biggest draw back to using Linux.

5. Chip on sholder
See #4

Derek Snider 12/01/03 02:45:02 PM EST

I agree 100%... but there are two sides to every coin:

1. Too many developers “scratch the same itch.”

True, this is a problem of sorts, but it is a necessary evil of software evolution. A few variations are produced and tossed out into the world. The strong survive, mate and produce offspring. Eventually the weak become obsolete, but since this is free open software, there are no legal barriers in taking the good traits (or source code) from the competition.

2. Open Source developers love a good feud.

People need something to believe in. True, sometimes people waste more time preaching than practising, but some are inspired by the vision of others.

3. Open Source developers often scratch the wrong itch.

Maybe the "wrong itch" for some, but the right itch for many. You have to have some of your own itches scratched before you can effectively scratch the itches of others. If no one is there to scratch your itch, then you have to do it yourself.

4. In the Open Source Community, you’re either “with us or against us”

This seems pretty much like a variation of #2, except that instead of feuding with each other, you're referring to feuding with those against Open Source. The Open Source community has little against the Closed Source community. It's the Free Software community that despises Closed Source. Regardless, this is the same as #2 in the respect that people need ideals to adhere to.

5. The Open Source Community has a huge chip on its shoulder…called Microsoft

The chip against Microsoft is a stronger drive for some than the strive for Open Source software. This is a motivating factor for many, and while some bitter words are tossed around because of it, the chip is not so much the problem as the civility of some of those who carry it.

Scidhuv 12/01/03 02:43:05 PM EST

I agree with luke.
It seems that as soon as this article went up there was a bunch of mean spirited pointless arguments.

James has some very good points, and it attempting to look at the whole environment from an end-user perspective.

One of the main problems, as James points out, with the open source community is that many people assume that everyone has the same level of technical expertise that they do, and they can figure out how to get things working by poking around with them enough.

On the subject of distributions, how is someone to decide which distribution to use? If someone buys a copy of Windows, they know that Windows applications will work with it. They don't have to worry about compiling, or installing libraries, or supporting packages.

Certainly Windows has its flaws, and problems. It is not perfect, and I will be first in line to write up lists and lists of serious faults with the system. But I do not sit around all day thinking about how awful it is and how much I hate it. I just want to get my work done.

As soon as I see anyone use the 'M$' in any way I just ignore them. And I think that is something that is a learned ability when dealing with the open source community.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of vocalization from good people in the open soruce community. It seems that perhaps if the community did a better job of policing itself, by telling those people who do not help the cause to sit down, shut up, and move to the back of the bus that it would be a much more friendly place.

James is pointing out what he sees as flaws. I work in a design/support capacity in the telecomm industry. When our customers come to me and tell me something is broken, or they do not like the way it works, I do not send them e-mails telling them that I am right, they are wrong, and they should just live with it. I take it as helpful criticism, because they are the ones paying the bills.

Speaking of paying bills. That is, as I see it, one of the major problems with the open source environment. If no one is paying the bills then no one is 'right'. In the 'real world' the customer is always right, and you build products to fill customer needs and desires, and you fix them because you do not want to piss of your customers. There are no customers for the open source community so people are free to yell at each other and their 'customers' and tell them that they should just live with what they have.

It seems that if you are unwilling or unable to contribute to an open source project that for the most part your suggestions, and ideas get thrown in the bit bucket and left to die.

I think that a shift to a customer focus would help the open source community in many ways.

Cheers.

Sensitive 12/01/03 02:39:20 PM EST

Please, all of the comments are cruft. Zealotry exists in both camps. Developer attitudes are similar within both camps, the differences a more religious than logical. The level of vitriol in dialogue between the two camps is consistent with this view. Each camp views the other as apostates. Even within the camps there are shap divisions, again the lines between these tend to demark sects within a common belief set.

For the new century there are three things you never discuss in polite company, politics, religion, and source-type.

ww-wm 12/01/03 02:22:31 PM EST

just searched this page... and ditto, its parent.
No mention of "documentation."

Fact is, RTFM is not helpful advice to potential, non-expert users if TFM is (1) comprised of link after link to [some_other_document] and/or (2) written with too many assumptions about the reader's level of expertise.

Yes, writing is an exercise in making assumptions about what the reader will share by way of background, but docs that assume a high degree of shared knowledge are apt to leave the newbie with an excessively steep learning-curve.

ww-wm 12/01/03 02:22:07 PM EST

just searched this page... and ditto, its parent.
No mention of "documentation."

Fact is, RTFM is not helpful advice to potential, non-expert users if TFM is (1) comprised of link after link to [some_other_document] and/or (2) written with too many assumptions about the reader's level of expertise.

Yes, writing is an exercise in making assumptions about what the reader will share by way of background, but docs that assume a high degree of shared knowledge are apt to leave the newbie with an excessively steep learning-curve.

Jim 12/01/03 02:19:04 PM EST

In regard to Gabriel Gonzalez comments:

"Maybe I'm in the minority of OSS users, but I have no doubt I'm in the majority of end-users that OSS proponents have to convince to switch... Right now I'd much rather spend $300 for a full version of Windows and not worry about having the right version of every library, the right version of the compilers, finding source code, recompiling, finding and configuring the conf files, debugging faulty libraries, executables, and drivers, recompiling the kernel several times, etc..."

If you wish to spend your three hundred dollars on an operating system, rather than put in a little sweat equity on your operating system, it's your money and you can do with it as you please. You can't get something for nothing. However with Linux you don't have to worry about a software vendor breaking your program and requiring an upgrade, at cost to make it work again. You don't have to worry about something you do with your operating system violating some obscure portion of an End Users Licensing Agreement. You don't have to worry about some remote user disabling your computer, which you purchased, because you did not update a license.

But then maybe the common end user doesn't care about any of that and is happy to keep paying.

Do whichever you wish, it's a free country. I'm just grateful for all the work all the developers did to give me an option, in fact several options. Thank you all!

Jim 12/01/03 02:00:12 PM EST

James Turner's comments regarding the DVD player working on his lap top, or any other linux box is a valid one. However this is not something that can be fixed by the Open Source Community, and so perhaps, it is an invalid criticism of the Open Source Community to complain that it is not fixed. The only long term solution is to force the RIAA to release to the open source community a decoding algorithm that will enable a linux box to play an original DVD. Maybe an anti-trust case?????

Jay 12/01/03 01:44:43 PM EST

All of his points are correct, as far as they go. What I
think is lacking is a real understanding of what open source
is.

It's not an organized group. To expect organized behaviour
from it is wrong. It's a bunch of folks creating solutions
to their own problems and sharing the results. If you want
to organize the results for better marketability you should
look to the distro companies. They should provide a value
added service to their customers: Constantly
sample open source material, find that which is useful,
and winnow out the best of the available offerings.
Organize and consolidate it and offer it as a distro.

There's room for many distros. I hope they will do more
than just package everything and the kitchen sink and
call it a distro. Red Hat has done some of this, but
there are those who complain that they don't like Red
Hat's choices. That's fine, there are other distros.
For people who want choice they should see what Gentoo
offers.

apessos 12/01/03 01:44:04 PM EST

The articles weren't as bad as people point out. Relax. Breathe a little.

This is what happens when you give kids access to a computer. They have some good thoughts they just don't know how to phrase them.

luke 12/01/03 01:41:29 PM EST

I find it ironic that alot of these comments have been mean-spirited and mostly emotionally driven (note Jonathan's frequent SHOUTING, and name-calling), and that the debate was taken up so quickly...precisely what James talked about with point no. 2.

Also, the quickness with which people have brought out their animosity to Microsoft and closed-source demonstrates point no. 5

I think James was spot-on with his assessment of the OS community.

I think Steve was incorrect with his economic perspective on the competition in the OS community. Competition is good for the industry, but too much competition means no developed standards, and since software development feeds on inter-operability, innovation will actually be restricted by too many people doing something too many different ways with no product differentiation for the market (the end-user, not developers) to weasel out the best product for the best price (it's all free).

I think points 1 and 2 are very much related, as Steve does...but I think it's bad economics because instead of the market-produced competition that he praises in his rebuttle to point no. 1, most of the time the competition is just the competition caused by point no. 2, in which case the market is absent, and will not lead to better products, better prices, or innovation.

Codeboy 12/01/03 01:20:47 PM EST

The articles are both about 10 years behind the times. Back in the early 1990's, the open source movement consisted of nothing but a collection of volunteer programers.

Since then it has expanded to include open source companies like Red Hat, Codeweavers, and Lindows, software and general computing companies that support it such as IBM, HP, Sun, Computer Associates, and Oracle, various organizations such as the OSDL, and most recently, a number of national governments.

The result of this vast expansion is that tasks that were previously neglected, such as scratching home-user's itches, are now being done. It also means that the movement has many faces it presents to the world besides feuding zealots.

The question of how much progress open source will make in the future will depend on all of the many types of members this movement now has, not just the volunteer programers.

The authors should get out of their caves and look at what is actually going on in the world today.

Codeboy 12/01/03 01:19:08 PM EST

The articles are both about 10 years behind the times. Back in the early 1990's, the open source movement consisted of nothing but a collection of volunteer programers.

Since then it has expanded to include open source companies like Red Hat, Codeweavers, and Lindows, software and general computing companies that support it such as IBM, HP, Sun, Computer Associates, and Oracle, various organizations such as the OSDL, and most recently, a number of national governments.

The result of this vast expansion is that tasks that were previously neglected, such as scratching home-user's itches, are now being done. It also means that the movement has many faces it presents to the world besides feuding zealots.

The question of how much progress open source will make in the future will depend on all of the many types of members this movement now has, not just the volunteer programers.

The authors should get out of their caves and look at what is actually going on in the world today.

Derek Wyatt 12/01/03 01:10:16 PM EST

Both of these articles are lacking... well, lacking anything that makes them valid article. James makes the following types of references:

o "... spend as much time taking potshots at each other
as in improving their own products." I would expect
to see numerous references to emails, newsgroup
postings or web pages to back this up. Nothing at
all was given. He's telling the world, "open source
developers are 'X'", and giving no proof to back that
up. Accusing en masse is irresponsible. It's very
unfortunate he chose to do that and even more
unfortunate that he chose to do so without one stitch
of evidence.

o "Open Source developers often scratch the wrong itch".
Once again, not a single example. There are tons of
features in KDE, OpenOffice.org, and even Slackware
(the "bare bones", "geek oriented" distribution) that
i guarantee the developers don't give two shakes
about. For example (note i am using an example...)
as a developer, i could care less that my software
has an installation program -- I am quite confident
in my use of the program "tar". There are a ton of
other examples James (like the support of "wizards"
in openoffice.org -- why would i need a wizard? I'm
the programmer and i'll just make it do what i want).
Start looking a little closer.

o "The posted responses ran in a couple of themes..."
Ahh... yes finally some real "evidence" to back up an
argument. Too bad it's only one example and it's
a personal account from a guy who obviously is biased
and therefore completely unobjective in regards to his
own correspondence. Bravo.

(Oh, and i'm eagerly awaiting James' next article -- "James declares Charles Darwin was a crackpot". Come on James, evolution is competition and evolution doesn't occur over a 2 week period... give it time you impatient little man :D)

So is Steve any better? I think not. Steve makes no real assertions -- which is good because he doesn't have to back them up. But what kind of an argument makes no concrete assertions? A lousy one. I won't cite anything from that article because I'm getting bored, and I don't think I need to.

Basically guys, you've done the equivalent of the following:

"The universe is a bad place", By James:

1) It's dark.
2) It's full of bad people.
3) Coffee isn't free.

"The Universe is a good place", by Steve

1) I refute James' first point by agreeing, except
that sometimes you can find a star or two, so it's
light.
2) It's not full of bad people.
3) Coffee can be free if don't have to pay for it.

You've attacked a "whole", well more like an "enormously huge whole with wicked complexity" with all of the literary power of a haiku.

But this is a growing trend. "Articles" tend to be more and more like this. Everyone and their grandmother can write "articles" nowadays. Remember in the old days when you actually had to research first?

I hope you guys never had to defend a thesis. Now, please go to the corner and think about what you've done. Then after you've thought about it for a LONG time, put it down in an article.

Regards,
Derek

Gabriel Gonzalez 12/01/03 01:00:39 PM EST

I agree with all your points about the OS community. It is true that OSS would work much better if people were mature and stopped forking projects based on personal differences. Examples abound about public fights that end in two projects coming out of one. This lack of focus and predictability (what desktop should a project be aimed at? Gnome or KDE? Which will outlive the other? Which will be used the most by end users? Why do they not have an identical API?) means trouble for other developers.

I also find it comical that OSS proponents rely *so much* on end-users being able to adjust source and recompile to fit their needs. This is really comical. First, as an end-user, I have zero interest in looking at the source. I just want the source to have an insurance against future incompabilities. I want to install and run, just like I can in Windows. I do not want to guess where the config file goes, I do not want to guess which conf file I have to edit, I want to change my options from the same program I am using.

Maybe I'm in the minority of OSS users, but I have no doubt I'm in the majority of end-users that OSS proponents have to convince to switch... Right now I'd much rather spend $300 for a full version of Windows and not worry about having the right version of every library, the right version of the compilers, finding source code, recompiling, finding and configuring the conf files, debugging faulty libraries, executables, and drivers, recompiling the kernel several times, etc...

The $300 that Windows costs pays for itself in less than a week, if your interest is in getting things done with applications rather than relishing in the fact that I just got the kernel to recompile correctly after 2 days of trying.

Now I have not even touched on the fact that Windows is doing stuff out of the box right now that OSS only dreams about: Pen computing, painless driver installs, all sorts of rigid and clearly documented standards and APIs, little-redundant and non-conflicting standards and mechanisms, etc...

Nathan Paul Simons 12/01/03 12:14:18 PM EST

A fairly well thought out article, which unfortunately appears to be biased by the author's exposure to "the open source community."

The first thing the author should realize is that the "open source community" is made up of many individuals, each with their own opinions and reasons for being there.

The next thing the author should realize is that most of the noise in the open source community is not being made by the people who made the open source community. In other words, most of the developers who actually make open source software are too busy working on it to participate in pointless feuds or attacking those who criticize their work. Most of the noise you hear is from the unwashed masses that have probably never contributed a line of code to the open source community. They are, in other words, merely "users".

Now, don't think that I am looking down upon users. I just would like to point out that a large number of the more vocal open source users aren't really members of the open source community, as they don't contribute anything but noise. They have their uses, such as finding bugs and evangelizing open source software, but anytime you want to take open source seriously, you should ignore them. They didn't make it. They only care about trashing others (such as Microsoft and SCO).

I suggest that the next time you want to talk to the "open source community", you actually talk to the ones who made it: the developers.

Sea Dragon 12/01/03 12:04:42 PM EST

Second,
What is good and what is bad, different group of people have different understanding? Different people have different answer. You make sure people can understanding your point of view and make clear guideline and make their answer. If they mis-understand your question, that is your fault.

Third,
Don't criticize people and push them to emotional, you will get the wrong answer as a result. Also, you will be failure.

Forth,
See/discuss the issue fairly. Look at the issue in multi-direction, you will understand the issue clearly.

Fifth,
Although still have something unprefectly, Open Source developers have done the good jobs and cannot be criticized. On the other hand, this doesn't mean that is good enough. We still need to find our weakness and improve it. Everything still need to learn. Learn the good points/ideas/methods from outside society and take out the bad elements from the learning.

Only have one hope :
Hope everyone (outside from Open Source Society) can know what/where is Open Source products and get these benefits by using Open Source product without any troubles.

Life is fun and happy and no angry.

Zac Hansen 12/01/03 11:50:29 AM EST

1) Too many developers "scratch the same itch."
So what? It's not my responsibility to write code for you. I write code for me, and release it under a license that happens to allow for other people to use it. Don't tell me what code I'm allowed to write and what I'm not.

2) Open Source developers love a good feud.
So what? You have no right to tell me how I should be spending my time. Sure it's not the most productive use of it, but again, it's MY time. If you don't like it, go away.

3) Open Source developers often scratch the wrong itch.
WTF? Scratch the wrong itch? Maybe I'm not scratching your itch, but see point 1. If you don't like what I'm doing, write your own. That's what I did when I wrote this software that scratches the 'wrong itch'. It scratched mine just fine.

4) In the Open Source Community, you're either "with us or against us"
Against us? If you want to point out flaws and the people in the group don't appreciate it, you can take the code and apply your own patches and start up a distribution of that code. If the community agrees with you, then you'll be successful. If you end up being the only one who uses your new version, then maybe you're actually wrong about what you were doing and that entire community against you was actually that you were wrong and too dumb to realize it.

5) The Open Source Community has a huge chip on its shoulder...called Microsoft
So? This really is the same point as Point 2. And the arguments are the same. So most of us don't like Microsoft? I don't think there are many that won't admit they do some stuff right, but that doesn't matter. It's my time, and I will do with it as I please. If you want to lead by example and convince people there's a better way, a high road, then please, by all means, do so. But telling people who write software that you can use at no cost and have full access to the source that they need to be doing things differently is about the most egocentric thing you could possibly say.

In closing, go away and write some code. If you can't do that, then just go away.

pb 12/01/03 11:40:05 AM EST

Uh-oh... did linuxworld need to increase its ad impressions?

Seriously, you can't expect to start a reasonable discussion by spouting as many half-assed examples as you can think of, and then not backing any of it up with either facts or history. Although some of your points have a grain of truth in them here and there, your blind assertions do not help your case.

First, let us assume that many developers do "scratch the same itch"... why do they do it? Well, generally it's because there's something about the other solutions that are already out there that doesn't meet their needs. Sometimes it's a licensing issue, sometimes two projects spring up at the same time.

Starting with "sound systems"... the two main ones we have now are OSS and alsa. Originally OSS had two different versions--free and non-free. The free version included in the kernel had iffy support for some cards, and comparatively few people purchased or used the non-free version. Then alsa was born (originally just for better Gravis Ultrasound support!), and it will be replacing OSS in the kernel. What's this? Consolidation of sound systems? Uh-oh... Well, perhaps you meant to say sound daemons or media players or something... let's move on to another example.

BSD vs. Linux, here's a great one. Why didn't Linus Torvalds just use BSD instead? Well, he couldn't at the time, due to licensing issues. He started writing Linux both to learn about the 386 and because he couldn't afford to buy a workstation from Sun. And by the time the *BSDs were unencumbered, Linux was already a viable Unix system on its own, and certainly more functional than Minix ever was. Oh well, I guess he wasn't writing code just to scratch the same itch... let's move on.

Gnome vs. KDE. This one boiled down to--you guessed it--a licensing issue! In this case, it was the licensing of Qt, the toolkit used in KDE, that was the issue. Some of this has since been resolved, but there are licensing issues surrounding Qt even today. That's because Qt was written by TrollTech and is sold as a commercial product, whereas GTK was written for The GIMP, "to scratch an itch". Interestingly enough, The GIMP doesn't have a lot of competition--maybe that's because of its quality, its licensing, and its extensible nature. :)

Debian vs. Red Hat. Yet again, two different products with two different ideologies, one of which is backed by commercial interests, yadda yadda yadda. Interestingly enough, Red Hat's successor, Fedora, is using Debian's package manager now. So maybe they aren't such bitter rivals as you may have thought?

As for the rest of your generalizations, I resent being painted with such a broad brush. Sure, there are zealots in the open source community; they're present in any and every community. If those are the only people you talk to, then you might get some odd impressions of how that community works. For example, most of the people in the US are Christian, but the few people who come up to you on the street and shout about Christianity are inevitably zealots, crazy people who can't be reasoned with. Does this imply that most of the US consists of crazy zealots who can't be reasoned with? No, it doesn't, the sample size is simply too small.

Similarly, I won't just read this one article and conclude that the people at Linux World are totally clueless about the Open Source Community and its history, that they're all too lazy to do research, and enjoy making grossly inaccurate generalizations instead. That would be unfair of me. Nevertheless, I hope this article is just an isolated incident, and not the start of a disturbing trend. I recognize that this is an opinion piece, but that's no excuse for FUD, or sloppiness.

Gregor 12/01/03 11:07:12 AM EST

Your expectations are unrealistic. Why do you want to use open source software anyway?

Most of the problems you mention can be easily solved: People, give open source developers MUCH more money! :)

Jonathon 12/01/03 10:38:23 AM EST

Here is what I have to say about your article. You seem to have almost NO insight on what you are talking about. Plain and simple.

You say that people criticise each other, when in fact they are mainly giving them an idea of what they can do to better their program. When someone tells you it sucks, maybe it does. But they will also tell you WHY it sucks, thus giving you more ideas to work with in bettering the overall performance of your application.

Like the other comments on your last thread, which were very much deserving, Windows Sucks and you seem to be a M$ ankle grabber. The Open Source Community is going to take over, no matter if you accept it or not.

You say that there are too many distributions of Linux out there and that it is a prime example of "an itch being scratched too much". You sir, are an idiot. Think about it man. You are saying that we should let Linux become like MS is. Only one, or 3 people can control that OS department. Why should that be true? If a distributor can come up with new ideas, why not let them present them to the community and let THEM decide if they want it, not some moron who gets paid to write flamatory articles to piss off the world.

You seem to be missing the whole point of the Open Source movement. It's all about the programmers of the world coming together, to LEARN, and to develop applications like they SHOULD be built. Thus, as time progresses, our overall development will have exceeded any MS product, making THEM obsolete, and the open source groups the controllers. Only it isn't gonna just be one man reaping the benefits, but EVERYONE.

That's what application design and the computer industry in a whole is suposed to be about. Letting EVERYONE have a chance to get a piece of the pie.

So before you consider writing up another lame script kiddie mentalistic article such as this, make sure you know what you are talking about instead of just making assumptions and trying to convince everyone you speak the true. dumbass

Bob 12/01/03 10:37:32 AM EST

I'm putting this one in the pile with all the other articles by authors who insist on viewing The Open Source Community as some sort of ersatz corporation with goals and objectives and people in charge.

It isn't. It's a bottom-up process that just so happens to occasionally produce something that ends up replacing a commercial product in some instances. At which point some subset of people who think inside the box sound the alarm that the process which produced this thing is not behaving the same way a competitive corporation would.

It seems to be a rule in some people's minds that any open source project which achieves a modicum of success in terms of being useful to people, must immediately re-form itself into a heirarchical institution with the goal and objective of driving all other products out of the sector.

Thus we hear that "it" must do this and "it" must do that in order to be more "successful." Except that there is no 'it' to address, no one is running 'it,' and 'it' is not a profit-maximizing corporation measuring "success" in the same way that, say, Steve Ballmer would.

Can we not be thankful for small favors without demanding bigger ones? Here is a thing built by people who did it for fun and who want you to have it for free. To now crab at them that they did it wrong, or that they left out Feature Z, or that they are not organizing themselves properly for an assault on Microsoft, seems the height of ingratitude.

Jonathon 12/01/03 10:36:23 AM EST

Here is what I have to say about your article. You seem to have almost NO insight on what you are talking about. Plain and simple.

You say that people criticise each other, when in fact they are mainly giving them an idea of what they can do to better their program. When someone tells you it sucks, maybe it does. But they will also tell you WHY it sucks, thus giving you more ideas to work with in bettering the overall performance of your application.

Like the other comments on your last thread, which were very much deserving, Windows Sucks and you seem to be a M$ ankle grabber. The Open Source Community is going to take over, no matter if you accept it or not.

You say that there are too many distributions of Linux out there and that it is a prime example of "an itch being scratched too much". You sir, are an idiot. Think about it man. You are saying that we should let Linux become like MS is. Only one, or 3 people can control that OS department. Why should that be true? If a distributor can come up with new ideas, why not let them present them to the community and let THEM decide if they want it, not some moron who gets paid to write flamatory articles to piss off the world.

You seem to be missing the whole point of the Open Source movement. It's all about the programmers of the world coming together, to LEARN, and to develop applications like they SHOULD be built. Thus, as time progresses, our overall development will have exceeded any MS product, making THEM obsolete, and the open source groups the controllers. Only it isn't gonna just be one man reaping the benefits, but EVERYONE.

That's what application design and the computer industry in a whole is suposed to be about. Letting EVERYONE have a chance to get a piece of the pie.

So before you consider writing up another lame script kiddie mentalistic article such as this, make sure you know what you are talking about instead of just making assumptions and trying to convince everyone you speak the true. dumbass

James Turner 12/01/03 10:10:41 AM EST

I love you too, Erinye. :-)

Erinye 12/01/03 09:48:45 AM EST

Windows is trash! MS sucks! You're nothing but a Microsoft ass-kisser!

Matthew Turland 12/01/03 08:31:22 AM EST

I agree with Nathan that a few bad apples don't mean the whole barrel is spoiled, though it is an unfortunate truth that the public appearance of any group is usually determined by the worst of its members.

However, James has accurately identified the bad behaviors, I think, and put forth reasonable and reachable goals for the Open Source Community to strive for. While open source projects serve a purpose and are useful, the open public will never come to realize the power and eutopian ideals of the OSC and their efforts until they ask without telling and offer with criticizing.

The OSC could certainly do without the overpassionate, misdirected evangelists who generate more negative actions than positive ones, of course. To all the developers that do not take after this stereotype, I applaud you.

Even for those of us who are not like this, though, I think James has pointed to the weak points in even the strongest members of the OSC, and not in a finger-pointing way, but in a way that suggests he wants things to improve.

I'm right after James in line to throw rotten vegetables at Gates, but the OSC has to stop pointing fingers at Microsoft and take the role of the messiah in the world of software technologies.

Nathan Hand 12/01/03 08:12:38 AM EST

> Consider that recently I posted a story on the
> linuxworld.com Web site listing some problems I saw with
> the current set of desktop Linux distributions, problems
> I thought could severely hamper consumer adoptions of
> Linux in the short run. The posted responses ran in a
> couple of themes: “It works fine for me, you must be an
> idiot.” “You’re nothing but a Microsoft ass-kisser.” And
> the ever-popular “Windows sucks too.”
>
> Until the community learns to listen to and internalize
> negative feedback (oops, almost slipped into Pointy-Haired
> Boss speak there…), it will be staring at its navel.

I think it's a little unfair to imply that the entire community is accurately represented by a handful of foul-mouthed idiots. The "community" does listen, does internalise negative feedback, etc. Take for example the Mindcraft study where Windows soundly trounced Linux in one particular server scenario. Initially there was a lot of shouting and claims of "lies, more lies, and statistics". But largely this hot-air came from the blog-dwellers, not the developers. The community _of_developers_ listened, learnt, designed a solution, and the problem was fixed in Linux 2.4.

The cheerleaders never admit that there are problems. They never accept constructive criticism. You, and many other journalists, need to understand that the cheerleading is a bunch of uninteresting noise. It makes the game slightly more interesting but in the end all that matters are what the _developers_ do. Very few developers waste their time with cheerleading.

Keep in mind, there are an estimated 25 million Linux users around the world. If you get 3 nasty comments then all you have demonstrated is that in an ideal distribution you will always have a couple of extremists. The developers who are listening to your comments will probably go away and code a solution rather than flame away on a blog. You won't hear from them until 6 months later when the fix appears in your software.

steltenpower 12/01/03 08:04:45 AM EST

http://www.steltenpower.com/why_unix.html

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