Thank you for your response.

Story: Wiley Programmers Work for Peer RespectTotal Replies: 8
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May 01, 2005
3:21 AM EDT
Thank you for your level-headed response and concise explanation. The inferno that is my email inbox is full of responses ranging from angry disagreements to threats of physical abuse. Overwhelmingly though, there are messages of support and agreement. No complaints here...the points I raised in my letter are important enough to me that I will withstand all manner of critisism.

Please let me assure you, I have been in contact with software vendors for three years now, lobbying the Linux Case. I did this long before my appeal to the Development Community. The response to my requests may as well have been copied and pasted from a single source. "At this time, the low user base of Linux does not merit the expense of developing our software to fit those needs." So I turn to you.

In more than one response to my letter, I have been accused of being on a "crusade". I have been told that I am "pissing in the wind" and that until Linux Developers are compensated for their time and efforts, Linux is destined to remain a hobby for geeks and a far-off promise for the computing world. I see some of this validated by your response and some of the link examples you provide. So where does that leave the millions of people who have put their faith and trust in Linux? No...I really want that question answered? Where does that leave the rest of us? As well, where does that leave the brilliant distribution development teams that have provided us such astonishing efforts as PCLinuxOS, Mepis and Kanotix? If we are to fully accept those explanations you provide as to why Linux Developers do not create the software needed to make Linux a viable desktop alternative, then the question becomes rhetorical.

I suppose when it is boiled down to its base ingrediants, the solution is to use Red Hat, Suse, Xandros or any of the other proprietary distributions and hope their development teams can answer our needs. Thats a shame, because people like me would be more than happy to pay for a native Linux application that rivals Quickbooks or Quicken. Yes, Gnucash is a fine effort, but others besides myself consider it to be one of the half-finished apps that litter Linux. Many people find it perfect for their needs as you do, but many small and medium businesses do not.

While I truly appreciate your candid and timely response, I cannot feel anything less than discouraged by it. Basically you have explained to me what most people already knew. Linux users are subject to the whims of its developers and should consider themselves blessed when manna trickles down upon them. If this is indeed true, then the only other thing that needs to be written for Linux is its obituary.

Ken Starks

May 01, 2005
6:34 AM EDT
"Linux users are subject to the whims of its developers and should consider themselves blessed when manna trickles down upon them. If this is indeed true, then the only other thing that needs to be written for Linux is its obituary."

I can't help but wonder: how is this any different from proprietary software? I mean, unless you're big enough a client to have a strong financial influence on closed-source software companies, aren't you also subject to their whims? Haven't we heard enough about people and companies dissatisfied with how they are treated as clients by those companies and how they are not listened to unless they can open their wallet, spend in figures containing more than five zeroes, and agree to EULAs that treat them like potential terrorists?

I have personal experience of this kind of thing in the company I used to work for. It was a healthy company, but a small one (200 people counting all the sister-companies). We were using a closed-source CFD software for part of our work (I was mostly responsible for that work). During my work there, the software was updated twice, at great cost for us (the figure had around four zeroes). Various times, we made feature requests. They were always received politely, but we never saw any of the them coming during any of those updates. We were just too small a client to interest them, despite their claims of being really interested in customer feedback.

Now, during my working at that company, we negociated with a completely open-source company for an Apache-based web-based workflow application. The basic application was cheap (and the costs were only for support and updates) but was not completely fit for our needs. We made specific feature requests, which were answered by: "if you pay for it, we're ready to give you all the features you want". Well, my boss wasn't ready to pay what they wanted, and being conservative as he is we eventually stopped the negociations and never bought the product.

At first sight, there is no difference between those two stories. Being a small company, we were subject to the whims of the software companies we dealt with. And that was *no* different whether the company was close-source or open-source.

But actually there is one big difference. In the first case, we had no way to change the situation. The control of the software company was absolute. But in the second case, if my boss had been a little more daring, we could have bought the basic application, and since we would have gotten the source with it *I could have added the features we needed myself!* The control of the software company wasn't and *couldn't* be absolute.

Free Software is about freedom, liberty, not low costs. If you want something tailored to your specific needs, you *will* have to pay for it in some way. The difference between Free Software and proprietary software is that in the second case the only thing you can do is pay with money, and if you don't have the money you're out of luck, while with Free Software if you cannot pay the original company you can always pay in time spent to add the features yourself, or look for another developer ready to add those features for a lower price (and you *will* find one. That's called Free Market). There's always an effort necessary to get things as you want them, but with Free Software you can decide yourself what kind of effort it will be, whereas with closed-source software you're at the mercy of the software company to decide for you what way it will be.

So before you write Linux's obituary I suggest you wait a bit, because if dependency on the developers was to cause its death, closed-source software companies should already be dead and gone.

May 01, 2005
6:52 AM EDT
Well, I reread my response and I must say it comes out more heated than I meant. I'm sorry for the tone I used.

To sum it all up with a more level-headed tone, let's say that I don't specifically disagree on your points, I just disagree on your making it look like those are FOSS-only problems. The problems are just as much present with closed-source companies, and with them there's just no way to solve them but spend an arm and a leg. With FOSS at least you're provided with more than one way to solve them (but you'll still have to use at least one of those ways to get things done. Remember: you'll always need to make some effort to get things as you want them, whatever the origin of the software you use. That's true of life in general, so don't expect the software world to be any different).

May 01, 2005
9:04 AM EDT
You know, your point is taken and I believe that is what fuels my frustration more than anything else in this matter. And Tsela, I did not perceive your post to be heated...give me an email address for you and I will forward you over 100 HEATED responses to my letter. One of them threatened to ram the entire gpl, written in stone, down my throat. I appreciate your second post none the less.

I can not or will not argue with your premise because it is correct. Do you believe Microsoft will amend their software upon request? Not even the remotest possibility of that happening. However upon occasion, I have seen a Linux Developer immediately add a feature that was requested AND needed. Unfortunately, that is rare. Here is what it comes down least for me.

I expect more from Linux. Bundled in any stock distribution not only do you have OOo and a plethora of browsers, you have a multitude of tools that if the individual cost be calculated, would total hundreds or thousands of dollars. As far as I am concerned, K3b is the shining star of Linux. We (at least I) take it for granted so often. The developer(s) of K3b could have cashed in on that project and I would not have blinked an eye. Replace that masterpiece with stomp, nero, or any of the other Windows solutions and not only will you pay a pretty penny, many times you will not get half the features of K3b. The last thing I want to sound like is ungrateful, and Tsela believe me...that is the mildest of the names I have been called in the last 48 hours. I expect more from Linux because I have had the pleasure to meet many of the developers of several projects and I have a unique perspective on their talents and skills. I am, before anything else; a Linux Ambassador. I take it personally when the operating system I so heartily "sell" cannot meet the standards I know it to be capable of. If we need to concentrate on a payment system for our developers, someone smarter than me will have to set it up...but I want to mention on downside to this. For years, I personally and through my company have donated thousands of dollars to the Mozilla Project. Thousands. I did so simply because my organization found the Mozilla Suite to be the best mail client for our needs. Support is ending for the "Seamonkey" project very soon, so where does that leave us? It could happen to any privately owned software company, yes, but who could foresee this happening with Mozilla? I for one did not and I am just a tad bitter over it.

I have renewed my efforts on the accounting software front and am composing a letter to the developers of gnucash and have already been in contact with someone involved in the development of Kmymoney. I could use some help in this area. Let's hope we can start this renewal.



May 01, 2005
10:08 AM EDT

The Open Source World is different from the Proprietary World (and not favorably, I might add) in one very important way when it comes to the availability of software:

Open Source Software tends to get made by the people who will use it. Their needs may or may not coincide with the needs of people who lack the skills, time or inclination to create their own software.

Proprietary software creates an interest in developers by paying them. I like to pay my bills, so I write software for a large company that I wouldn't bother with if I were just doing the things I like.

A lot of Open Source developers are paid for what they do, but there's a limit to that. Any time a business pays somebody, they expect to receive a return. Infrastructure and gateway projects like the Linux kernel and apache can return the investment as enabling technologies.

Some things can't do that.

May 01, 2005
11:28 AM EDT
You know what: you're wrong. Back in '87 or '88, I worked as an aerospace engineer, a stress analyst to be exact. We were just starting to get electronic files of data, rather than a sparse table of "maximum" or "minimum" numbers from some vendor.

I had an early version of gnuplot on a AT&T 3b2 - a 10MHz 68010 machine, and I needed to look at this huge number of pressure sensor readings that a vendor of solid rocket motors had sent us. In just a few days, I was able to hack a SunTools (pre-X11, SunOS 4.03, I think) interface to GnuPlot together and show the entire time-pressure plot from this vendor.

I wasn't trapped the same way my doofus mac-using colleagues were. I could see the source code, I could fix any problems it had with large numbers of data points. The Mac-tribesmen of that company (Martin Marietta, RIP) could painstakingly type in 20 or 100 or god forbid 150 numbers and then produce some crapola plot that looked like a 7th grader did it with a crayon on "Big Chief" paper.

The proprietary software users ARE trapped. Open source/free software DOES NOT TRAP YOU. You don't like what it does, you fix it. I do it all the time. Windows users (bless their souls) end up doing all kinds of exotic contortions to get around limits designed into the software they use.

May 01, 2005
12:22 PM EDT

I understand your frustration. Unfortunately, I can't think of any quick solution but a more thorough education of everyone (including simple end users) on things software, and also more on human relationships. This will take a while. If I may use a bold comparison, I feel like FOSS is for software like democracy is for politics: it's a crappy system, but it's better than anything else we tried. We're all mere humans after all, subject to all the shortcomings humans are subject to.

As for the "Seamonkey" project, I must admit I don't know anything about it, but what I know is that if it's Free Software nothing prevents you from taking it over, or getting others to do that (effort, I know, but as I said effort is necessary). If it had been a closed-source project, you would have been stuck anyway, whatever the amount of money you had put into it. With FOSS, there *always* are ways to solve the problems. It just a matter of wanting to do it. I guess you just mustn't expect more from the FOSS community than you expect from closed-source companies. Both are run by people after all.


I understand exactly your point. After all, I also work for a company developing a kind of software I would never care about if I had to do it on my own (a healthcare-oriented database application, can you believe it? ;) ). However, I don't think I agree that the difference is not favorable to the FOSS community. After all, when all the interest you have with the product you develop is that it pays the bills, you're unlikely to give it as much time and effort as if you're genuinely interested in it, because you're also a user, or just to scratch an itch (I must say I am an exception, but only because I see programming as a form of art, like writing stories, so I will always do my best, even if the goal isn't "sexy" ;) ).

I also disagree about there being a limit in paying people for developing Free Software, but this is a discussion that would go far beyond software only and I have neither the time nor the resources to begin it right now.


You and I are on the same line! What you're talking about is exactly what I mean.

I guess the "problem" with FOSS is that it expects end users to take some responsibility in the software they use, something that after 20 years of baby-sitting by those psychotic nannies that are closed-source software companies end users are not used to do, and even refuse to do. Whether they are right in their opinion is debatable.

It's like when you buy a car. You're then expected to take care of it. If you refuse to take that responsibility, the only alternative is to pay someone to do it in your place. But then you'll get what you pay for, and if you pay only so much, you'll just get a standard treatment. If you're not satisfied with it, take your responsibility and finish the job yourself, or pay more to get the garage to do the specific things you want. But even then you may never be completely satisfied, because those that actually do the work won't have been you, and may not even understand the reason you want things your way (and it's not always only a problem of explaining better. Sometimes the problem lies in a completely different way of thinking between people).

In other words, if you want things your way, you can't be better served than by yourself. But you don't want to become a mechanic? Then pay others to do the job, but don't expect it to be exactly like you want. They are not you after all.

And this is true of cars, as it is true of software, both closed-source and FOSS.

May 01, 2005
12:43 PM EDT
Tsela and helios

I must say I feel that dealing with a group of developers isn't much different than dealing with companies of proprietary software either. The lack of what the end-user gets versus what they are told they need or will get seems to be based on individual ego. Being a application software developer, for several consulting companies over the years, I was always told to listen to the features and improvements from clients. In fact, our business was driven by modifying software to meet the customer's needs. Even though that was the idea it still came down to some manager saying, "We don't need that..." or "That's not how to make an interface..." I would always argue that the user is the one who should know what they want to see on the screen, but of course it wasn't the end-user that was important, but who got the pat on the back for the idea and if they thought it was worth doing in time and money. In the case of GNU/Linux developers it's ego, "What I needed to solve my problem..." Of course for a software package to be done one needs to have knowledge about the field that the software needs to be written for; accounting, genealogy, graphics, etc. I sure wouldn't want to download a GPL tax package unless I was sure the person knew what they were doing. For the time being though there's a list of software that home users could use for GNU/Linux, to broaded it's use at home. On the other hand there is great software that the majority of home users can get by with right now. I run GNU/Linux for every thing except doing digital art work. I just haven't been able to take the time I need to learn The Gimp, so I instead run Windows/XP on a system just to run PaintShop Pro. Heaven forbid that Jasc, or now, Corel, listen on port the application to GNU/Linux.

GNU/Linux has a way to go before it pleases the masses, but it's got what it takes to be here for years to come.

May 01, 2005
1:15 PM EDT
Tsela --

I would be the last person to claim that a mercenary act is comparable to a labor of love. To me there is no question that talented amateurs can whip the pants of disinterested professionals.

However -- mercenaries will beat disinterested amateurs because the disinterested amateurs won't put up a fight. They'll be doing what amateurs should do -- pursuing their passions.

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