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Why Open Source Has a Long Way to Go

An example: this is an "informational" message posted on an official support forum for "Postnuke", the PHP/MySql based content management system.

http://forums.postnuke.com/index.php?name=PNphpBB2&file=viewtopic&t=14738

What an inspiring example of the warmth of an active community. ;-)  Sometimes you just can't make this stuff up.

PS: To all US-bound lurkers: Happy Thanksgiving!

Bored Bystander
Thursday, November 27, 2003

? seems pretty reasonable to me.  Trying to stop newbies from asking questions like "why doesn't it work?"  and "i tried to make it work and it nearly did but then it stopped, why?"  _is_ a good thing to do.

FullNameRequired
Thursday, November 27, 2003

It's fair enough. This is to do with the 'no money' bit, rather than the open source thing.

'No money' and open source tend to go hand in hand, but you can have one without the other. In this case, the source may be less 'open', but it fulfils the principle of collaborative development which is what it seems open source most often sells itself on.

Insert half smiley here.
Thursday, November 27, 2003

Among other things, rants like the item I posted display an excruciatingly poor grasp of human relations. The *only* people who will read hostile bloated material like this start to finish are people who agree with the premise. It just doesn't *reach* the people whom the author is upset with.

Of course, the guys who post stuff like this are only thinking about their own superiority, so it's not surprising that they make no attempt to fix the underlying problem.  Which is incredibly poor documentation and everything being anecdotal.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, November 27, 2003

I don't really think this has anything to do with open source.  There are idiots like this anywhere.  The title should be:

"Why People Have a Long Way To Go"

Roose
Thursday, November 27, 2003

A lot of the programmers involved with open source should just realise there's nothing stopping them doing their favorite project and NOT giving away the source code.

That's the dumb bit. The idea they're obligated to give away their work.


Thursday, November 27, 2003

Oh, yes, I see where you're coming from with the human relations bit. This kind of hostility is rather tiresome, and only fosters the same in return.

The solution, I suspect, is simply not to give support if you don't like doing it. But some people seem to put themselves in this rather thankless position, then get bitter when it proves thankless... but then just keep getting more bitter instead of giving up on it.

Whatever floats your boat, I guess. Still, if they stick to web fora and usenet, all the better for everyone else :)

Insert half smiley here.
Thursday, November 27, 2003

I don't see what's dumb about giving away your code. If you give away the program, you may as well give away the code too...

Insert half smiley here.
Thursday, November 27, 2003

One more thing just occurred to me -- as a potential asker of questions, this kind of thing can be easily avoided by looking out for the use of the word "newbie" or, worse, "n00b".

If you see this... run! It will be better for you that way. There's probably another program that will do the same thing. Use that instead :)

Insert half smiley here.
Thursday, November 27, 2003

> If you give away the program, you may as well give away the code too...


why?


Thursday, November 27, 2003

Well, because you've given away the program. What benefit is it to you to keep the source code to yourself?

Maybe you might want to use your free version as some kind of loss leader for the full version. This didn't occur to me earlier; seems reasonable, but that's hardly open source :)

Really, I don't see any reason that there should be obligation either way. However, there are benefits from releasing the source code (possible free bug fixes and potential continued development when you get bored being the main ones) which you may as well take advantage of.

I must admit that I'm thinking of spare time projects that you do for fun and without pay. (With pay, it comes under some other banner even if the end result is free to whoever uses it. And as for fun, well, I'd be surprised if many people did things without pay that weren't for fun. Strikes me as a bit misguided otherwise :)

Insert half smiley here.
Thursday, November 27, 2003

hey ya bored,

have you ever been directed here:

http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html

?

when I first started posting the odd programming question I was less than helpful in the way I phrased it, and some helpful chap directed me to that page.
Since then Ive done the same to a number of others in my turn.

<shrug> its not about proving superiority or shutting people out, its about wanting to help those people who can help me as much as I can.


oh...the person who originally directed me to that page was _not_ an oss programmer.

<g

FullNameRequired
Thursday, November 27, 2003

Half smiley, if you happen to develop something useful, and lots of people want it, you could have yourself a business.

But if you give away the source code, you can forget that. Other people will have the business. By the way, I've seen this happen.

There's not really any benefit to giving away the source code, if you're any good.


Thursday, November 27, 2003

Just to be clear -  I've never been flamed on any OSS board or newsgroup, I rarely post questions, and I almost always answer my own questions from the existing message base(s). I'm about as far-removed from the flameworthy newbie as you could imagine. (modest, too. ;-) )

I was simply describing behavior that is socially repulsive and which confirms the image problem under which programmers labor. I literally blundered into this stuff when I was looking for something else.

I still pose the question - why support something that you find so aggravating? I avoid stress and gross mismatches between my abilities and the appreciation level of those expecting "favors" from me. I don't see the problem with saying this.

Don't shoot the messenger.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, November 27, 2003

"I'm about as far-removed from the flameworthy newbie as you could imagine."

:)  I never doubted it.

"I was simply describing behavior that is socially repulsive and which confirms the image problem under which programmers labor."

I _really_ do not understand how you got from that webpage to this.
The majority of people on that mailing list are going to be either developers or users 'in the know', they are _not_ support people and as far as I can see are not pretending to be.
They _have_ (for no pay and out of the goodness of their hearts) decided to offer what help they can to newbies so long as the newbies follow some pretty basic guidelines.  <g> the first being "at least make an effort to read the manual before you try to ask on the list"

Personally I dont really see a problem with that.
(if the newbies want advanced support for their _stupid_ questions they can either hire someone able to provide it or read the manual.)

"why support something that you find so aggravating?"

<shrug> Im betting because people keep asking them to, and because they dont really mind so long as they dont feel they are being taken advantage of.

"I avoid stress and gross mismatches between my abilities and the appreciation level of those expecting "favors" from me. I don't see the problem with saying this."

there is no problem with saying that.  If you dont wanna help, dont.  The people on that webpage are saying that they are _willing_ to help, under certain conditions.
I dont see the problem with saying that.

"Don't shoot the messenger."

<g> can I torture him just a little to make him give me the message?

I _still_ dont fully understand what you are trying to say?  that the people working on that project _should_ refuse to help any newbie, anytime?  that they should help _every_ newbie all the time regardless of how clueless they are?

Im drowning in the muck of my own confusion..

FullNameRequired
Thursday, November 27, 2003

I guess the point is, if open source is seen as the more enlightened path for software development, this kind of post which misunderstands the 'human relations' (as it was put) is a classic example of why open source 'has a long way to go' to replace closed source/corporate development.

Bored often contends that open source has a PR problem and OSS projects tend to bark at their user base.

You know, when you're paid for your time, difficult requests (for want of a better phrase) go with the territory. They're not going to stop suddenly overnight because you're not being paid by your users - or customers who don't pay anything perhaps.

Fact of life. Human nature. Who is more likely to 'correct their behaviour'? The entire userbase of the world? Or a team of programmers?

When I saw that 'How To Ask a Question' web page, I just thought WTF, they expect people to read this? I found it reminiscent of the kind of crap I find in corporates.

Shodan
Friday, November 28, 2003

"if open source is seen as the more enlightened path for software development,<snip> is a classic example of why open source 'has a long way to go' to replace closed source/corporate development."

???  if we consider bob as being the new godhead, then clearly his propensity to lick his own bollocks proves that hes not really a godhead ???

what kind of bullshit statement is that?  I dont know any marginally sane developer who believes that OSS will _replace_ CSS (why would we want it to?)  there are many who like using it where possible, and many others who prefer using it..but there are _also_ many who use CSS and many who prefer using CSS.

"Bored often contends that open source has a PR problem and OSS projects tend to bark at their user base."

<g> better than ignoring them, which is what a surprisingly large # of CSS shops do.
_both_ types of software development have projects where the users are treated brilliantly, and projects where they are decidely not.  Im not sure that pointing to any project in particular is proof of much except boreds dislike of OSS.


"You know, when you're paid for your time, difficult requests (for want of a better phrase) go with the territory. They're not going to stop suddenly overnight because you're not being paid by your users - or customers who don't pay anything perhaps."

<g> Im _not_ going to let the fact that this sentence doesn't make much snese stop me from speaking on it...

I am owner/programmer at a wee programming shop.  I employee someone who is the designated 'face' of the company to certain types of users (basically support for users of our products, as opposed to support for our 'clients' who pay us to development stuff for them)

I consider it a very good day if I and the rest of my programmers never see or hear from those users except via the bug fix/feature requests.

OTOH these OSS developers are part of a public mailing list and are expected (at least by the users themselves) to answer every question (and wild accusation) any passing joe feels like posting to the list.

Frankly, they have my deepest sympathy :)

"Fact of life. Human nature. Who is more likely to 'correct their behaviour'? The entire userbase of the world? Or a team of programmers?"

?? a little give on both sides would be perfectly reasonable.  If some random user cannot be bothered to find out a little of the etiquette and follow a few basic guidelines, them why should the programmers give them any of their time?

"When I saw that 'How To Ask a Question' web page, I just thought WTF, they expect people to read this? I found it reminiscent of the kind of crap I find in corporates."

They probably dont _expect_ people to read it, they probably dont even care much whether they do or not.  anyone who doesn't read it, and doesn't at least attempt to follow the guidelines just wont get their emails answered :)

It all seems perfectly reasonable to me.  I suspect that we are finding out more about the likes and dislikes of bored than we are about the problems OSS has with its users.

FullNameRequired
Friday, November 28, 2003

I was trying not to be too wordy, but I guess we can replace the word concise with unintelligible in this case.

I'm not an active member of OSS. I like OSS, but don't really have the time to invest any time in it. So what I know about OSS is from the outside in. I feel that there's a lot of religious zeal around OSS, in terms of how it's so much better than anything else. Occasionally a post along these lines pops up on this board (not Bored).

So that's where I'm coming from. If open source is seen (by some OSS supporters) as a better way, then yadda yadda. I would say they both have their place.

Once an OSS project gets traction, and gets popularity, then I don't think there's any force in the world going to stop incorrectly phrased, rude or even abusive questions, *particularly* with an online forum even though it's supposed to provide a 'history of pre-answered questions'.

Sad is it might seem, but writing the best document in the world won't fix it (it'll be too long). Replying with with STFW or RTFM isn't going to fix this. Writing a document about how to write questions won't fix it. Deciding to close ranks and ignore people isn't going to fix it either. It all comes across as a superiority complex (and I know that *some* developers actually have one too), when it's mainly borne of frustration.

But, yeah, I suppose this thread does have a kind of 'OSS sucks'-ness about it.

Shodan
Friday, November 28, 2003

hi Shodan,

"I was trying not to be too wordy, but I guess we can replace the word concise with unintelligible in this case."

:)  happens to the best of us.

" I feel that there's a lot of religious zeal around OSS, in terms of how it's so much better than anything else."

<shrug> theres a fair bit of that around most anything these days. 
<g> the kids of today just dont understand that religious zeal should be saved for...religions...

But honestly, whats worse...some idiotic kid convinced that OSS will save us all, or some full-grown programmer pointing desperately at any OSS project they can find screaming "LOOK...ALL OSS IS BAAAD"


" If open source is seen (by some OSS supporters) as a better way, "

depends what you mean by better :)  personally Im going to stick with closed source software until I retire.  Then Im gonna spend my dotage annoying productive OSS programmers with obscure patches for pointless fixes.

From a more general POV though, Im 1000% behind the _existance_ of OSS.

"I don't think there's any force in the world going to stop incorrectly phrased, rude or even abusive questions"

indeed no.


"Sad is it might seem, <snip> won't fix it (it'll be too long). <snip> isn't going to fix this. <snip> won't fix it. <snip> isn't going to fix it either."


true.  OTOH not even trying to educate the users in mailing list etiquette _will_ make things worse.


...better to light a candle yada yada yada...

FullNameRequired
Friday, November 28, 2003

Go do something about it then, setup a postnuke for retards-who-dont-google-or-read-the-faq and charge them, isn't this the opposite of what's going on now?

Oh before you kill youself after you lose all hope for the human race, send me a little note telling me I was right.

fw
Friday, November 28, 2003

Who claimed OSS was perfect? Well, appart from every /. poster, 80% of the media and lowgrade PHB's that have trouble finding the "any" key ...
Many OSS projects don't realy want to have users. Sure, they would like the fame off having their product used by XYZ, but they are not prepared to make an investment in that. There is nothing wrong with that. That is why it is a hobby. No compromises, I'll do what I like and skip the boring bits. This is the free OSS. You don't pay, so don't nagg.

There is also a small section of professional OSS, which is just the same as CSS. Sure, there are less examples of the "pay me a licence and all the rest is free" model in OSS and more software as a compliment setups, but CSS also runs the full spectrum of these models. This OSS is certainly not "free". You probably pay far more than equivalent COTS solutions simply because of the smaller market.

The message you point at merely says, admittedly in kind of an inderect way, that that project is part of the "hobby" OSS world, not the professional OSS world.

The above is putting hobby vs. pro in a black vs. white polarized way to make a clear distinction. Remember, in the real world 80% is gray.
The only thing to remember: there is no free lunch, and only the stupid believe they can have their cake and eat it to.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, November 28, 2003

I agree with Bored that this kind of post -- "The fault lies within YOU, not on this page" -- is patronizing, wrong-headed and detrimental, and doubly so because the one who wrote it clearly didn't even understand that it would be read that way.

But I don't think all or even most OSS projects are this way.

And there are certainly many non-OSS programmers who have this attitude too, and hell, not just programmers but other walks of life as well (plumbers, mortgage agents, etc).  The difference is that these folks have an intermediate person who does customer relations for them. Let the customer see them in the raw, and you get the exact equivalent of this post.

Our cultural expectation is that the customer is treated like a gentleman or lady. I see nothing wrong with the actual content ("We are volunteers and do not have the time to help everyone"), it simply needs to be stated politely.

OSS thrives under patronage, I think.

Portabella
Friday, November 28, 2003

Look at the replys to the comment BB linked to - there are several other developers on the project who didn't like the way the original was worded.

I think it's just a small minority giving the majority a bad name again - just like the couple of 'OSS is killing all programming jobs' posters here give a bad name to closed-source programmers.

RocketJeff
Friday, November 28, 2003

This thread is getting pretty long winded. I was simply commenting on the absurdity of open source volunteers turning a voluntary self-appointed duty into a grim mission to educate a large body of what they see as the unwashed proletariat against their will. The grim mission culminates in a personalized insult delivered in blinking "personal Geocities website" style  caps and red font to "STOP BEING A DUMBASS HEY YOU THERE".

My take is: when something becomes this bad - in this instance, new user confusion - then MAKE THINGS BETTER, don't flame the masses with a patronizing load of dreck that they won't even read. Or admit that you've failed and allow others to carry on the work.

The problem in this instance is that Postnuke has no official user's manual that I've been able to find, and lacks even a core set of "endorsed" documents that describe how to do things. If I want to do X with Postnuke and I search their forums, I find anecdotal descriptions across many threads that in many instance don't even agree with each other. A Postnuke user is literally on their own. So, I do not find it in the least surprising that new users bombard the forums with dumb questions.

Postnuke's configuration is flexible but (in return) absurdly complex. It demands a well indexed knowledge base and a new user's manual. The information and the writeups are there.  The organization and the distilling down are yet to be done.

I'm saying that the basic logical inference that anyone reasonable could draw from this situation - "new users ask the same questions repeatedly" --> gee, the information must not be readily searchable -  is broken. These guys, for their ubergeek hubris, are pretty damned stupid in lacking basic common sense.

I think Postnuke is probably an egregrious example of how not to do things and how not to treat new users. Other open source packages are not this bad by a long shot, I admit.

Apache (probably an unreachable example because of its prestige and vast popularity) has an extremely strong and comprehensive set of official docs and support forums that I haven't *bothered* to use - because the docs have everything I need.

However, the culture of insulting new users when they don't ask a question in the exact correct manner is OSS to the core. In my view, it's juvenile live-in-parents-basement geek arrogance.

Bored Bystander
Friday, November 28, 2003

"However, the culture of insulting new users when they don't ask a question in the exact correct manner is OSS to the core. In my view, it's juvenile live-in-parents-basement geek arrogance."

:)  and not at all confined to OSS developers either.

FullNameRequired
Friday, November 28, 2003

Yeah. And I think the profit motive has a WONDERFUL way of instilling an attitude of courtesy through enlightened self-interest. ;-)

Bored Bystander
Friday, November 28, 2003

Right. So you give away your source code so some other clown can benefit from your hard work. OK.

Then you also undertake to provide support for this thing. For free. For people who've probalby been at the beach and the movies while you've been slogging away at the code.

Are open source programmers completely stupid?


Friday, November 28, 2003

Good lord! What's with the depth of hatred for open source programmers?!

If I write a program for free, it's going to be one that I'd actually find useful or enjoy writing. I'd rather write it than watch some crap at the cinema. I'd rather write it than go red and blistered at the beach. Once I'm done, I have two choices.

Firstly, I could try and make a business out of it, or at least sell it as shareware. I considered this with my program; I think it's better than the others out there (I wrote it to be that way :), and I could possibly have earned some money out of it.

This has a a big disadvantage: you're tied to updating your program. For a for-fun project, that's one way of killing the fun. At the very least, I'd have to respond to user requests in a timely fashion, manage registration requests and (probably) fill out some kind of tax forms for the extra income. None of that strikes me as fun, and it's not a guaranteed income anyway. (Having checked out the web stats, it might have been worth it, but that's life. I stand by my choice in any event.)

Alternatively, I could just give it away. That's what I did. (Source code too.) Now this has cost me nothing, because I would have written the program anyway, and in fact it has a couple of plus points. Firstly, I can drop the program at a moment's notice without annoying people who might have otherwise paid for it. Perhaps it will annoy people anyway, but I'd be happy to explain myself -- I'm not in the business of being rude over email. Secondly, others can modify or take over development of the program. That's good, because I'm not always interested in implementing the requests I get. This way, I get to pick and choose which ones I do. (See also the first point; if I can't be bothered with a feature, or if I do drop it, any interested parties can pick it up and continue development.)

Oh, and I get to lay the code out as I find most readable, use templates and STL as much as I like, choose the tradeoffs I want, jump in and write code rather than designing if I want, change the code on Friday night after going to the pub, edit it on a Sunday after smoking weed, take the program in whatever direction I want... or indeed not do anything with it at all for weeks at a time if the mood takes me.

(It occurs to me that I could also keep it to my chest and just not release it. Well, that's no fun. I get a kick out of the idea of people using my program and liking it, and I'm not ashamed to admit it :)

So for me it's mainly about the lack of obligation to the people who use my program. That's why I give it away for free. You can buy my professional self for cash; for free, you just get me. I write correct code and I don't behave like an asshole when the answer is in the manual (I agree with BB -- that just means the manual is crap!), but I can get bored easily, and I consider that worth more than money. (And as a single person with savings and a regular income sufficient for me to turn a monthly profit, that is a luxury I can afford and one that I would be foolish not to take advantage of.)

Erm... </ramble>?!

Insert half smiley here.
Friday, November 28, 2003

If Half-Smiley or anyone else other than myself develops a killer must-have application and they don't want to charge for it, I definitely agree that they should release their program as open-source.

That way, I can spruce up the UI a bit, add a printed manual and make a nice business selling it myself for it's real economic value (which, if it's truly useful is certainly more than free!)

Tony Chang
Friday, November 28, 2003

"That way, I can spruce up the UI a bit, add a printed manual and make a nice business selling it myself for it's real economic value (which, if it's truly useful is certainly more than free!)"

which is pretty much what redhat, susi, etc etc etc do with Linux :)


Thats _acceptable_ with OSS (depending on the type of license you may have to release the changes back to the community or you may not).

of course Tony, you _do_ believe in obeying copyright law, right?

FullNameRequired
Friday, November 28, 2003

If someone is truly a free agent and wants to release their code as free open source, more power to them.

Unfortunately, many employees have signed contracts that give their employer ownership of the code they write. These people write code related to their employers business, which makes it their employers code. Then they 'give away' the code that actually belongs to their employer. They are not giving to open source because they believe in being generous, they are doing it because if they sold their program, their employer would sue them and win. Giving the code away is simply stealing from their employer.

Sure, there are those that will say what the employee does in his own time should belong to him. Not if he signed a contract saying otherwise! If the programmer doesn't like the contract and wants to give away code belonging to the employer, he should not sign the contract, change the contract, or work somewhere without such a contract. Or better yet, be an independent contractor and see how far giving away code gets him!

It's easy and lazy to believe in open source when someone else is paying you to write code and you are giving their code to others for free. It's much harder to believe in open source when are a free agent and you are not being paid to write code.

Look at the example of Linux -- lots of people acting like they are working on an innovative new operating system, when all they were really doing was cutting and pasting entire files from standard Unix distributions!! What's innovative about that? I'm on SCO's side on this one -- people using Linux are definitely violating copyright laws and need to either start paying their license fees, or be sued to armageddon.

Linux written by volunteers? Give me a break! Cutting and pasting and actually writing are two different things.

To summarize, I have no problems with people giving away stuff that they actually own. But to give away stuff that belongs to others is theft.

All Code Wants to Be Free
Saturday, November 29, 2003

Holy crap, this thread really is about the OSS religion vs. the Anti-OSS religion now. Let it die.

Shodan
Saturday, November 29, 2003

Dear All Code wants to be free,
                                                Do you know anything at all about Linux. Even SCO admit that it is not Unix. SCO has been asked to identify the code it claims it has copyright over and has consistently refused to do so.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, November 29, 2003

Stephen Jones, dont feed the SCO troll. thanks

deja vu
Saturday, November 29, 2003

SCO's waiting till it goes to court, though, aren't they? That seems reasonable to me. If they start identifying the copied code, it will get changed.


Saturday, November 29, 2003

Dear blank,
                --"If they start identifying the copied code, it will get changed. "---

Exactly. Both Stallman and Torvalds have said they will take out any Linux code that may infringe copyright.

And as OS means OPEN SOURCE it is a matter of public record that any purloined proprietory code has or has not been purloined.

Can I sue everybody who reads a Shakespeare play on the grounds that some of Shakespeare is actually my own creation - but no, I won't tell you which lines until I go to court?

Stephen Jones
Sunday, November 30, 2003

That's decent of them. ( ...Both Stallman and Torvalds have said they will take out any Linux code that may infringe copyright....)

But they wait until they're sprung. How much else is wrongly copied and then masquerades as original work of the contributor? Answer, probably a fair bit.

If you wrote Shakespeare, by all means, go ahead.


Monday, December 01, 2003

(In case there are any morons reading JOS, the comment about Shakespeare was satirical. I know he died a long time ago. Thankyou.)


Monday, December 01, 2003

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