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FOSS Is Not Free if It's Not Free From Complexity 523

Posted by Hemos
from the pomp-and-circumstance dept.
A reader writes:"This article argues that freedom from complexity is an essential part of the first FOSS freedom - the freedom to run a program. Freedom to run means nothing if the exercise of such right excludes people who do not possess high technical knowledge or advanced skills sets. Without the guarantee of "ease of use", the freedom to run FOSS for most users is a hollow promise. " (My own bias ensues here): I think that there are some valuable points in here; what good is a good if it cannot be used, but OTOH this argument seems simplistic.
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FOSS Is Not Free if It's Not Free From Complexity

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  • Simplistic? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Catskul (323619) * on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:30AM (#15244634) Homepage
    The argument is not simplistic, it just has freedom from complexity! : )
    • Re:Simplistic? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mausmalone (594185)

      What the fuck is a FOSS?

      ... seriously, though, part of the complexity comes from using your own terms and vocabulary that the average software user wouldn't understand.

      • Re:Simplistic? (Score:2, Informative)

        by TubeSteak (669689)
        RTFA

        The very first sentence answer your question.

        Free and open source software (FOSS)

        You have a UID lower than mine, but it seems like you're still new here.
      • Free. (Score:4, Informative)

        by twitter (104583) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @10:03AM (#15245427) Homepage Journal
        ... part of the complexity comes from using your own terms and vocabulary that the average software user wouldn't understand.

        That's true, you have to know your audience and simple terms are always better. "Free software" is a better term than FOSS, despite the ambiguity. Everyone likes "free," even if they don't understand what that means for software. Everyone knows what "distribution" is, though they might not have the foggiest idea where free software comes from. Though it's a mouthfull, everyone knows what "image manipulation" and "text editing" are all about. This is an advantage free software has over commercial software, where brand recognition is so important the user is forced to remember company names and three letter file extensions in order to start and use programs. Most free software advocates do take advantage of this fact.

        It's not really an issue here. The author is addressing the technical community, which knows what free and open software is. He wants people to continue to port software to Windoze. I dissagree with his opinion [slashdot.org], but that's another matter. I doubt Linux newbies are going to find their way to this essay.

    • Re:Simplistic? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Articles such as this make mounds out of mole-hills, for the
      simple reason of fuelling fodder in opposition the growth of linux
      and related OPEN SOURCE groups. It is merely splitting hairs here.

      A majority of current software on all platforms is complex.
      My father is perplexed each time his Scanner/Fax won't scan or
      fax for him under WindowsXP. And the resulting error message popup
      is close to being useless as well.

      Retail software is designed to be simple minded, however still
      remaining complex under the hood. An
      • Re:Simplistic? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ajs318 (655362) <sd_resp2@earthshod[ ].uk ['.co' in gap]> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @09:54AM (#15245322)
        Exactly.

        The problem is that the human organism has two modes of learning. Babies tend to learn by blind repetition and obedience; older children and adults tend to think more in terms of abstract concepts and underlying reasons. This makes sense from a survival point of view: it's more important for a toddler not to fall off a cliff / get eaten by a bear / drown &c., than to understand why not.

        It seems that some adults are simply frightened of computers, and this is triggering a change in their behaviour around computers. The Eternal N00b is reduced to the status of a three-year-old playing near a pit of deadly vipers. The computer's error messages are interpreted akin to the strident warnings barked out by a nearby adult. The E.N. learns nothing about the way computers work, only that certain courses of action are proscribed. A real child probably would eventually come to understand what is so dangerous about the snakes, or leave them alone altogether. In fear born of ignorance, the Eternal N00b never understands computers or software, only learns by rote what not to do; and so will remain evermore a n00b.
    • Freedom isn't free (Score:5, Insightful)

      by The Monster (227884) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @09:26AM (#15245038) Homepage
      People have unrealistic ideas about what 'free' means. It's the speech/beer thing. While sometimes things can be free in both senses, there is often a tradeoff between the two. My Chevy is 'free/open source' in the sense that I can get my oil changed at Jiffy Lube instead of Mr. Goodwrench. Or I can buy some oil, a filter, and the appropriate tools (maybe even a Haynes manual) at O'Reilly Auto Parts, and do it myself.

      My Linux boxes are free in the sense that I can hire anyone I want to help me with them, or I can get a book from O'Reilly Media, and do it myself.

      Freedom doesn't mean that no effort/expense is required. It only means that the effort won't be artificially impeded.

      • by MikeFM (12491)
        This guys argument is why America doesn't work. Everyone wants freedom without having any responsibilities. People seem not to understand that the payment required for freedom is higher responsibility. When you no longer live with mama you have to make sure your bills get paid, do your own laundry, get your ass out of bed in the morning, etc - there is no longer somebody there making sure all this happens. That's just the way freedom works.

        People are free to have easier to use FOSS software - all they have
      • In fact... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by LuYu (519260) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @12:45PM (#15247078) Homepage Journal

        Freedom comes with responsibility. A free people can only remain so if they watch their government. If one is to be free to walk the streets, one must be able to protect oneself. When one is free to learn, one must take care to educate oneself.

        Therefore, freedom comes with the exercise of effort (vigilance, skill, exercise, study) and cannot be exercised without it.

        If one does not watch, the power of government will increase. If one cannot defend oneself, he will be afraid to go out at night or rely on the police to protect him. If one is not educated, anyone can tell him anything, and he will believe it.

        Convenience is not a "freedom".

  • by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:30AM (#15244635) Homepage Journal
    1) The author talks about 'complexity', but all software is complex, the number of people who understand the countless abstraction layers that exist in a typical piece of modern software can be counted on one hand (a closed fist). I suspect by complexity, the author means usability

    2) Usability is not specifically an F/OSS problem - it is a software problem. There's a lot of crap software out there, that the vast majority of people never see (because it costs money). However, many people do see free / oss as it's (generally) availalbe free of charge.

    I do take the authors point that for a user to effectively maintain their freedom, free software must be usable.
    • by PepeGSay (847429) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:42AM (#15244715)
      If GPL'd software isn't complex then how will you make money off it? I mean you can hardly charge for the software (yes legally you can, but we all know what you can really get is peanuts) and everyone recommends charging for services that surround the software.

      Complexity, difficulty of use, difficulty of modification, and difficulty of extension are promoted (thought not consciously) by the GPL and other licensing methods because people have determined that support, training, continued access to modifictions, and fee based extensions are how you make money off them.
      • by marcello_dl (667940) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:54AM (#15244802) Homepage Journal
        That might be the case for some projects, like JBoss. In the majority of cases anyway I am sure that FOSS projects suffer from lack of documentation or QA because they are the less creative aspects of the project.
        And imho even underdocumented stuff is easier to live with than commercial software designed to perpetuate one vendor's marketshare. (shuddering recalling the good old commercial/invasive shareware installation and usage days).

        I do not see how creating difficult to use software can make you competitive in the long run. Competition just "gets inspired" by your project, copies some code, adds documentation and eats you alive.
      • That is complete rubbish. OSS developers do not sit around consciously (or unconsciously) thinking about how to keep their software difficult to use. Except for companies like RedHat, OSS developers are not even the ones making money from the software. And RedHat Linux is historically considered one of the easier distributions to use.

        What it comes down to is that making a system easy to use for non-techs is HARD. Like thourough documentation, it is tedious and thankless work. There is just no motivation for
    • by Jussi K. Kojootti (646145) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:48AM (#15244758)
      My thoughts exactly. Then again, the author uses Openoffice as an example of a simple application -- his definition of simple being similar to Microsoft Office. The logic is ... undeniable.
    • He's Not Confused (Score:4, Insightful)

      by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:49AM (#15244761) Journal
      1) The author talks about 'complexity', but all software is complex, the number of people who understand the countless abstraction layers that exist in a typical piece of modern software can be counted on one hand (a closed fist). I suspect by complexity, the author means usability
      I don't think the author's confused. I think the author is trying to argue the same thing that Microsoft argues when it says that Linux costs more than Windows. I know that this goes against the Slashdot mantra and I don't agree with it but Gates claims that the complexity of an operating system (like Linux or Windows) coupled with the lack of support leads to an unmeasurable cost. Since most distros of Linux don't have quite the support he claims necessary, he can then argue that they will only end up costing you more when something goes wrong and the people who wrote the code aren't around to fix it. This author seems to be trying to argue the same theory for FOSS. In that complexity without support is dangerous.

      I don't agree with his argument but it's not because he's confused ... it's just because I don't agree with his base assumptions which the author attempts to deduce fact from.
      • Complexity without support is the ESSENCE of Windows. Attempting to brand Unix with this brush is tremendously misleading and focuses on the pretty nobs while ignoring the nuts and bolts underneath. Unix looks hard on the frontend but it stays put, tends to implode or be exploited at a much lower rate and doesn't have as much UI flux. With Unix, no matter how much the shiny interfaces change you can still fall back on tools that haven't gratuitously changed.

        Although all of t
        • Although all of this tends to gloss over the existence of distros like Mandrake and Ubuntu which are more than a match for Windows for anything except 3rd party vendor support.

          The problem with this statement is that many residential and business end users buy computers for their third-party vendor support. They buy whatever computer and whatever operating system will run the application or peripheral that they are considering.

    • You seem confused. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak (669689)
      The author specifically talks about the complexity of getting a FOSS OS running

      even after one successfully installs a FOSS OS on a computer, a user will typically have to deal with issues like lack of drivers, incompatibility with third party devices or difficulty in installing new programs or software packages.

      His solution to increasing the adoption of FOSS sidesteps Gnu/Linux (and their complex problems) by suggesting a push into Windows software.

      Even this push into Windows software does not bring with it

      • The author specifically talks about the complexity of getting a FOSS OS running
        even after one successfully installs a FOSS OS on a computer, a user will typically have to deal with issues like lack of drivers, incompatibility with third party devices or difficulty in installing new programs or software packages.
        I don't see how that's complexity rather then usability. Please clarify.

    • by ajs (35943) <ajs@a[ ]com ['js.' in gap]> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @09:09AM (#15244901) Homepage Journal
      This comes up fairly often, but it's always the same song. No one looks at the curve, they just cherry-pick the current items that are usability hurdles. Windows, MacOS, Linux, BSD, etc. They're all "hard to use". The key thing is how quickly their target users can come up to speed and surmount those usability hurdles. The OSS tactic has always been to nail the tech stuff first (because that's our target audience) and let folks like Sun (with their massive contribution to / creation of the Gnome usability effort), Ubuntu, Lindows, Mantiva, etc. work on the usability by mere mortals.

      This has resulted in a system which has solid technical underpinnings, and yet has become more and more usable over time.

      Today's Linux systems, for example, are far easier to install and use than they were just a few years ago, and that curve continues to improve for the end-user.
    • by mothlos (832302) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @09:14AM (#15244941)

      1) Complexity of use is definitely complexity here. Like good programmers, a lot of the people working on FOSS are trying to build in flexibility. This means a boatload of options, most of which are cryptic techno-speak for interoperability. Instead of tucking all of the options out of the way of people who won't understand them, much FOSS even requires that you deal with these settings before the software will even work. The author is using complexity from a user perspective, which is a more specific gripe than just complaining about usability, which is broader.

      2) I agree that it is a problem with software in general, but FOSS is particularly bad in this regard. Paid software companies that want to have a popular product will hire people who might not be coding experts, but understand usability for their target audience to come in and help create the result. They also end up hiring people who can translate between these folks and the devs so they don't kill each other. One outstanding criticism of FOSS is that most projects exclude those without a coding skillset even if they can bring other skillsets to the table that would improve the project. This means that people who have insights regarding usability often get excluded from influencing development.

      I do want to point out that a vast majority of FOSS is just fine because the target audience is very technology savvy folks. The problem here is when FOSS evangalists run around asking why people are still installing Windows when this great other OS is available for free. Even if FOSS were to bridge that last usability gap to the non-technical user, there are other obstacles which bar the way, but this last gap is a requirement for use by the general public.

  • by metternich (888601) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:31AM (#15244640)
    Do one thing and do it well? Modular archetecture rather than giant monolithic design is why *nix has been successful.
    • Once you have the small, simple components, you usually have to put them together to do what you want. Thus arises complexity. Modular code design (such as structured programming and object-oriented programming) attempts to keep with the concept of having smallish subroutines that are easy to understand and debug. I think anyone who's ever programmed more than

      void main() { printf("Hello world!\n"); }

      knows that in reality you end up with myriad small components floating in a sea of complexity.

  • Not again... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jawtheshark (198669) * <slashdot AT jawtheshark DOT com> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:32AM (#15244647) Homepage Journal
    While there have been some progress in making the installation and use of FOSS OSes like Ubuntu easier and simpler, they still do not have the "click-click-click" ease of installation of popular proprietary OSes like Windows XP or Mac OS X. In addition, even after one successfully installs a FOSS OS on a computer, a user will typically have to deal with issues like lack of drivers, incompatibility with third party devices or difficulty in installing new programs or software packages

    Has this guy ever installed Windows XP on a new bare computer? I don't think so... The first thing I have to do is to go and hunt for the diverse drivers for nearly every device that it has. Graphics, sound, wireless,....
    Linux often supports everything out of the box, and what is not supported is, ehm... simply not supported because the specs of the devices are not available and thus the developpers that want to develop the drivers have to resort to reverse-engineering.

    Sure, application installation is "harder" in a Linux environment, because it doesn't follow the "double-click-on-that-icon-and-press-next-next-nex t-finish" or even worse "insert-cd-and-automatically-run-a-program-that-mi ght-damage-your-computer" (see Sony Rootkit on Audio CD's...)

    If we want it that easy, we have only one way to go, and that is the Apple way: drag an application in the "Application" folder and that is all you got to do for installation. The Windows way is actually not what you want...

    • Re:Not again... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Southpaw018 (793465) *
      This isn't true. For either OS. Either you're running a highly exotic hardware setup, or you're choosing to do the installer's work for it.
      Installing Windows XP from scratch on a freshly formatted hard drive is nigh hands off; every now and then, Dell puts out a driver that isn't included with Win XP, so you go to dell.com and download it. No biggie. Then...I'm not a real Nix fan, but I was very impressed with the Debian install I did. I expected it to be a horrid experience. Instead, it was quite pleasant.
      • The problem here is if your NIC isn't supported by XP out of the box. I've had that happen. Thankfully, I had another computer around that allowed me to grab the driver, burn it to CD, then stick that in the freshly installed box. Without that other computer, I woulda been SOL.
    • by Shivetya (243324) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:43AM (#15244724) Homepage Journal
      I have installed a few machines recently and not once did I have to hunt down drivers to have a functional machine.

      Now there are cases where there are newer drivers that I could go get should I need them but they are not required.

      The big difference between installing Linux versus XP?

      If I need drivers they most likely exist for XP.
      • Try installing XP (retail CD version) on a system with only an SATA hard
        drive. You have to have a floppy drive and disk, copy a driver to the
        disk, and hit F6 during the initial start-up to load the driver.

        First of all, more and more computers don't have floppy drives, yet that
        is the only way to load drivers during install (at least the only
        obvious way). Second, if you don't have _another_ computer that you can
        write this floppy with, you are out of luck. Third, you have to watch
        for the brief "hit F6" mess
        • Try installing XP (retail CD version) on a system with only an SATA hard
          drive. You have to have a floppy drive and disk, copy a driver to the
          disk, and hit F6 during the initial start-up to load the driver.


          Unless your BIOS shows the SATA interface as an IDE to the OS.

          Mine does and I've never needed to do anything special with driver disks.
      • If I need drivers, they most likely exist for Linux.

        Radeon 9600SE - Check
        BTTV capture device - Check
        IVTV Capture Device (Hauppauge PVR-500) - Check
        Turtle Beach Riveria - check
        Onboard LAN - Check
        Onboard Audio - Check, but disabled

        Things I wouldn't have on windows:
        LVM
        mythTV
        [relatively] easy to configure RS232 IR Receiver
        [relatively] easy to configure RS232 IR Blaster to control cable box

        (yes i'm running a linux mythTV box :P)

        I actually had my completely non-nerd fiancee on pure linux for a long time - until w
      • You don't have to hunt maybe, sure. But it's not as if WinXP usually boots the first time with an even close to full set of drivers. Now the computer might ship with a driver disk, and if not each component definitely has a disk, but this doesn't change the fact that WinXP doesn't natively support most things at all. The fact that you can easily find the drivers for Windows is just a part of the fact that Windows needs to be supported for the hardware maker to have any market whatsoever in most cases. I
      • I have installed a few machines recently and not once did I have to hunt down drivers to have a functional machine.

        I guess that you've got pre-packaged (OEM) MS-Windows XP install CDs, not the official CDs you can purchase separately from hardware (non-OEM). Because the last ones needs you to separately download most of the drivers you need : graphics, sound, network, even some USB (IIRC, native support for USB 1.1 chipsets but not USB 2.0), etc.

        Guess what ? If you're buying a computer pre-installed with Li
      • The big difference between installing Linux versus XP?

        If I need drivers they most likely exist for XP.

        This is not a Linux problem. Please talk to your hardware vendor and ask where their Linux drivers are on their website.

    • Most people actually tend to purchase systems like Dells, HP, Compaq, Gateway, eMachines. Those you seldom have to hunt for drivers for. as they usually come on the recovery cds. They make it even easier to install windows. often taking several clicks out of it. reducing it to a select the type of recovery and are you sure...

    • I have installed WinXP on a bare (self-built) computer, and it works just fine. You don't actually need to install new drivers but most people do anyway, because they fear they'll fall victim to the obscure bug that was fixed in the latest version.

      To an average, non-technical user, the notion that a driver is not available simply because the specs aren't open is completely meaningless; no driver = no driver.

      And what's wrong with the "double-click-on-that-icon-and-press-next-next-nex t-finish" way of install
      • Re:Not again... (Score:2, Informative)

        by GroinWeasel (970787)
        Macs use both the "drag package to apps folder" and "run installer wizard" systems. The drag+drop is used for programs that don't need to install anything outside their own package (e.g. FTP clients etc) The second is used for programs that do need to install things elsewhere (off the top of my head... I think photoshop installs like this, certainly the bigger apple apps do, maybe even iTunes) If you are an admin account (or have that permission) you can just drag+drop with impunity, if you aren't given
      • It's certainly a lot easier than having to move all the files yourself according to a large set of instructions which could have just as easily been automated into a double-click-on-that-icon-and-press-next-next-nex t -finish-script anyway.

        I don't know what experience you have with *nix, but most installs are not like this.

        Now you do touch on it, there is no "linux" way, because Linux is a kernel. You need an OS distro to run applications. Each distro has its own way of installing.

        If you use something like
    • Re:Not again... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TrappedByMyself (861094) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:54AM (#15244800)
      Hooray for propaganda!

      Umm Windows is hard to install (well, not really) and Linux is easy to install, but if it turns out to be hard to install, then it's someone else's fault! Oh, and Linux applications are harder to install because Windows applications are easy to install, but that's a good thing because sometimes people do bad things, (even though they could also do bad things on Linux, they would just be harder to install, and it would be someone else's fault anyway). So, anyway, if you want easy, then you need to use a Mac(ignoring that the discussion is about the need for FOSS software to be more user-friendly).

      So, in summary: If someone suggests that FOSS needs to be more user friendly, then the answer is that Windows sucks and if you want useability, go buy a Mac.
    • Re:Not again... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044)
      This does bring up one of my pet peeves with Linux.
      The lack of a stable binary interface for drivers. The main reason is strictly philosophical but it drives me nuts.
      Why should I constantly have to get new drivers when I upgrade Linux? Often I have to recompile the old driver. Yea it isn't that hard for me to do but it is out side the comfort zone of about 99.9% of the computer using population! Nvidia and ATI are not going to open source their drivers anytime soon. We will keep using Nvidia and ATIs clos
      • I find installing on XP really easy and I do genuinly think that linux should look at automating the process through creating a standard like the ".exe" which has the install code written for most versions... they could put in a command to see exactly which kernal it was if that was needed... but relating to what you said about closed source drivers "work[ing]" I would have to disagree, if I install the Nvidia driver from them on my fedora system it will screw up my X and create loads of problems down the l
    • I think you already said it, but Linux does not support everything out of the box. People should not have to download firmware from Intel to get their wireless to work. They should not have to tweak Xorg.conf files to get 3d acceleration. Now I KNOW the problems and WHY it is the way it is....but I don't have to agree with it. What is really needed for Linux to be come more popular is Open hardware specs....ones that leave wiggle room for custom chips, but require the interface to these chips to be the
    • Has this guy ever installed Windows XP on a new bare computer? I don't think so... The first thing I have to do is to go and hunt for the diverse drivers for nearly every device that it has. Graphics, sound, wireless,....

      At least the CDs for devices manufactured since 2000 come with Windows 2000/XP compatible drivers. You don't get a Linux driver on the CD bundled with most PC peripherals intended for residential or administrative office use.

  • Seems to me that any technophobe who wants a FOSS app simplified or wants it to run it on Windows is free to pay the developer of his or her choice to make the port. If the changes are any good they'll probably even be accepted upstream.
    • The perverse irony is that some of the immature and less featureful applications in the OSS space can actually end up being easier to use and deal with simply because the novice user has fewer distractions to deal with. The basics are there and little else. We have subjected everyone to the whims and needs of large corporations ruled by PHB's when that really makes no sense at all.

      The home user has no business running WP or msword or any similar peers. Those apps simply add
  • MOD STORY INSIGHTFUL (Score:2, Interesting)

    by UbuntuDupe (970646)
    Well, we can't mod stories yet, but if we could, you should.

    All too often, the people "open sourcing" their software are the same ones who have this elitist attitude of "if you don't have enough time to gather reams of knowledge, don't bother hoping to understand the source". Honestly -- how many of you would be capable of knowing where to add code to GIMP if you wanted to add your own image manipulation/comparison algorithm?

    For me, even though I know C++, most C++ FOSS source code might as well be in bina
    • by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <elmuerte.drunksnipers@com> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @09:00AM (#15244845) Homepage
      Would you know where to do it in Adobe Photoshop? If you answered: "Yeah, you simply write a file importer plugin" then you'd also know where to do it in the GIMP code.

      I always like the whole Photoshop vs GIMP discussion. People take a lot of courses learning Photoshop. Then when you start a discussion that GIMP is a great tool they always complain that it's design isn't intuitive and that Photoshop is "better". Yet they spend hours learning how to use Photoshop. If they spend the same time learning GIMP there wouldn't be a problem.
      • by nietsch (112711)

        Photoshop I have seldom used, so I know little about that. But I have used the Gimp too often. It always has something that makes me start screaming at my monitor, and that is a very bad sign for any program.

        It does not matter that photoshop is hard to learn too, the problem is that it takes too much time to learn the gimp's interface. I don't want to spend 3 weeks learning the gimp, I want it to do what I want when I need it.

        If any Gimp developers replies that I am not (in) the intended audience, then

    • Only true to some extent.

      Yes, some Open Source software is definitely too complex and doesn't have readable code to outsiders. But there is also software who does. I'm no great coder, but I do contribute here and there, when I have the knowledge.

      Thinking about all the "Aunt Jane"s is not entirely correct either. Just because *you* are never going to be able to modify some software, doesn't mean that it isn't valuable to you that someone else (than the original author) can. This last point is often overlooke
  • Lawn or MS code? Hmmm. I think i'd rather deal with the lawn.
  • ObPython (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:38AM (#15244686) Homepage Journal
    Cut to a sign saying 'How to do it'. Music. Pull out to reveal a 'Blue Peter' type set. Sitting casually on the edge of a dais are three presenters in sweaters - Noel, Jackie and Alan - plus a large bloodhound.
    Alan: Hello.
    Noel: Hello.
    Alan: Well, last week we showed you how to become a gynaecologist. And this week on 'How to do it' we're going to show you how to play the flute, how to split an atom, how to construct a box girder bridge, how to irrigate the Sahara Desert and make vast new areas of land cultivatable, but first, here's Jackie to tell you all how to rid the world of all known diseases.
    Jackie: Hello, Alan.
    Alan: Hello, Jackie.
    Jackie: Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvellous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there'll never be any diseases ever again.
    Alan: Thanks, Jackie. Great idea. How to play the flute. (picking up a flute) Well here we are. You blow there and you move your fingers up and down here.
    Noel: Great, great, Alan. Well, next week we'll be showing you how black and white people can live together in peace and harmony, and Alan will be over in Moscow showing us how to reconcile the Russians and the Chinese. So, until next week, cheerio.
    Alan: Bye.
    Jackie: Bye.
  • On the mark (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@optonlin[ ]et ['e.n' in gap]> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:38AM (#15244688) Journal

    Normally, I'd be a little put off by what amounts to an opinion piece bya lawyer on open source, but there are good points:

    Current FOSS operating systems (OS) are targeted mainly at geeks, hackers and other technically skilled developers and users. While there have been some progress in making the installation and use of FOSS OSes like Ubuntu easier and simpler, they still do not have the "click-click-click" ease of installation of popular proprietary OSes like Windows XP or Mac OS X. In addition, even after one successfully installs a FOSS OS on a computer, a user will typically have to deal with issues like lack of drivers, incompatibility with third party devices or difficulty in installing new programs or software packages. A normal user wants everything to work out-of-the-box [emphasis mine]. This is especially true in developing countries where a computer costs more than a month's salary. Since a computer is a major purchase, it's usefulness and usability should be present at the moment a user turns on his or her computer. People are not interested in (in fact, most are adverse to) messing around with, tinkering or hacking a program - the second, third and fourth software freedoms.

    It goes back to the whole idea of Linux as an everyday operating system. Anyone who is not a geek, i.e. most of the population, is not going to adopt something that isn't easy to operate. I mean, there's no reason to make a Windows-like GUI for Linux unless you want people to actually think of Linux as an alternative to Windows. And while you might impress the average user with a Windows-like look and feel, unless it's just as easy to use out of the box as their Windows PC is now, there will be no great swell of converts.

    I've said it before: Linux's popularity depends on what it wants to be. If it wants to be the OS of geeks and hackers and multi-million dollar corporations, so be it. If Linux (or any of its derivatives) wish to compete against Windows for market share, there has to be a shift in thinking, away from kernel-centric, gizmos-and-gadgets way of thinking to the "what would a user want to do" mindset.

    • Re:On the mark (Score:5, Insightful)

      by marcosdumay (620877) <marcosdumay@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @09:07AM (#15244892) Homepage Journal

      Where is "that easy to use" or "works out of the box" that eveybody says Windows has? I've never been able to see it, and don't know a user that is able to install Windows (not a lot of people) and not able to install an easy Linux distro.

      "Works out of the box" is even the worse possible description of Windows, since it is useless out of the box.

    • "Linux wants"?

      One of the great things about FOSS is that it is driven by lots of individuals all of whom want something a bit different. This may be a weakness in the eyes of the marketing types, but it is a strength in many other ways. So, "Linux" doesn't want anything (how can it, its a nebulous kind of entity at best), but all those who use and work on Linux have individual wants and ideas and it is the differences in all of these that keeps Linux (and FOSS) strong and interesting.

      • One of the great things about FOSS is that it is driven by lots of individuals all of whom want something a bit different.

        And while it seems like a strength, that is actually a weakness. It keeps Linux chained to the geek-programmer culture. The average-joe market need something they can use with minimal fuss and muss, and when they take their computer out of the box, they expect to turn it on and use it, not have to spend oodes of time confguring it. True, with Windows there is a set-up penalty, but I th

    • You're kidding me, right? A fucking lawyer wrote this? [Checks.] Yup. Wow. Well, I guess if anyone would know about complexity and intentional obfuscation with the goal being to make it impossible for common people to participate, it'd be a lawyer.
  • Certainly software should never be unnecessarily complex; that's just good design. But it will (and should) never be the case that all software is easily usable by everybody. You could use the same logic to proclaim that all bicycles should have training wheels, so that they're rideable by people with no biking experience. Or that all musical compositions should be simple enough to be played by non-musicians.

    Lets not pursue simplicity to the point of dumbing everything down. If I wanted that, I'd be using W
  • Seriously. I want my 30 seconds back.

    The entire article hinges on this point:

    Current FOSS operating systems (OS) are targeted mainly at geeks, hackers and other technically skilled developers and users. While there have been some progress in making the installation and use of FOSS OSes like Ubuntu easier and simpler, they still do not have the "click-click-click" ease of installation of popular proprietary OSes like Windows XP or Mac OS X.

    which is simply wrong. The author acknowledges that "OSes like Ubun

    • He's NUTS. Ubuntu is dead easy to install, far superior to any version of Windows.

      The whole "3rd party support" problem might be a show stopper. However, that's a somewhat different issue. Whining about that "ubutnu isn't easy" will not fix the 3rd party problem. In general, complaining about the wrong problem won't fix your real one.
  • by Demona (7994) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:39AM (#15244695) Homepage
    Ah, the eternal conflict between those who define freedom as the absence of external limitations and those who define it simply as ability without regard to resources. "I am required to breathe oxygen in order to survive; therefore I am not free."
  • The missing point (Score:3, Insightful)

    by grasshoppa (657393) <skennedyNO@SPAMtpno-co.org> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:41AM (#15244710) Homepage
    I think the author is missing one of the points. It's not necessary to be usable for endusers to be good for them.

    For example; I work for a semi-large dental office. 3 offices, 100+ employees. Each and everyone of those employees benefit from OSS, even if they don't know it. From the spam being kept out of their mail boxes, to email being delivered all together, to the IM network, not to mention the file server. I won't even go into how the phones are handled.

    I am the only one ( on the payroll ) that knows how any of this works, and that benefits at least 100+ people ( not to mention the secondary effects of such a setup ). That's the true power of opensource software.
  • I call bollocks. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mac Degger (576336) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:42AM (#15244717) Journal
    What a rubbish statement. Take 3d for example. An open source 3d program is free, grreat and at this point is called Blender. But 3D ain't simple, it ain't easy. It's gonna take a couple of days to figure out if you've done nothing in that direction. So for any newb, it's gonna be very complex. Hell, certain aspects can be complex for non-newbs.

    But to call Blender non-free 'cause it's a complex piece of software? That's a very stupid thing to say.
    • Exactly. I haven't wrapped my brain around Blender, either. But it's not going to be any easier with any other 3D program.

      RDBMS & SQL is the same. Tools like Access make certain aspects of it a bit easier to get started (drag-and-drop query designers eliminate some typing), but they eventually lose steam once one becomes more familiar with SQL, or moves up to Oracle, SQL Server, Postgres, DB2, etc., or moves down to MySQL.
    • I've tried Imagine, LightWave, Maya, the old 3D Studio, 3D Studio Max and Blender. In all these I could create useful results in a manner of days except one; Blender. Blender is the perfect example of how to screw up a perfectly good foundation with a perfectly crap UI.
  • OMG NO DIGG (Score:4, Insightful)

    by linvir (970218) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:44AM (#15244729)
    A blog entry about Linux being too hard to use? What the hell is this? It's not even well written. At a glance it just looks like a mass of the word FOSS over and over.
    When the FOSS community finally releases a FOSS OS that is as easy to install and use as any proprietary OS, users will have no trouble moving to this FOSS OS since the programs they know and love will run on it.
    This doesn't even make any sense. How the fuck does the second part follow from the first part?
    Users who use and run FOSS programs on Windows do not have to concern themselves with driver issues and other technical mumbo-jumbo.
    This is complete bullshit. I can't count the number of times I've had to have people do weird shit like boot a LiveCD just to run lspci, because Windows doesn't support any of their hardware, and can't even retrieve the vendor information hardcoded into it so as they can find their own drivers.
    A normal user wants everything to work out-of-the-box. This is especially true in developing countries where a computer costs more than a month's salary.
    More bullshit. If you don't have the money, you'll either put the work into learning how to use it as you would with a car, or you'll pirate a copy of Windows, and put the exact same amount of work into learning.

    No more blog entries please.

    And anyway, there is already a "FOSS OS that is as easy to install and use as any proprietary OS", it's called OpenSUSE. It's the easiest thing I've ever used in my life, though it was bloaty and I eventually got sick of it and came back to Slackware.

    • I can't count the number of times I've had to have people do weird shit like boot a LiveCD just to run lspci, because Windows doesn't support any of their hardware, and can't even retrieve the vendor information hardcoded into it so as they can find their own drivers.

      lspci is an awesome tool, I agree, and I've written more than my fair share of scripts that make use of it. However, Windows does indeed have something similar. In the registy editor, browse to HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Enum\PCI. All the
  • FOSS is about negative rights: freedom from prosecution for copyright violation, freedom from lawsuits over patents, and freedom from limitations for modification and redistribution.

    Ease of use is a positive "right". For such a "right" to exist, FOSS programmers no longer have the right to voluntarily work as much as they want. This is a general principle of positive "rights": by granting the positive "right", you force someone else to work.

    Positive "rights" are -- in general -- bad things.

  • sigh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kgcurrie (21794) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:45AM (#15244739)

    Math is too hard! Until the mathematicians make it more usable, it will never gain acceptance in the Real World(TM).

    Here's my summary of TFA:

    "Somebody needs to do everything for me, including all of my thinking."

    Move alone everyone. There is nothing to see here.
     
    • Hey, thanks for that summary. Saved me from having to come to my own conclusion...
    • Re:sigh... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by helix_r (134185) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @10:05AM (#15245459)

      Many of you don't understand the point of the article. Of course, somethings are going to hard.

      The question is whether or not the user is wasting effort getting past YOUR (the developer's) CRUFT-- or whether they are spending effort efficiently focusing on THEIR PROBLEMS.

      For example...

      If installing a piece of software means having to edit a ridiculous xml config file, many people just aren't going to do it, and for good reason.

      Note to developer's: xml was NOT meant to be editted by hand. You have great tools at your disposal to automate the manipulation of xml for your users. USE THEM! Don't make people guess and struggle with config files because you are are not willing to either make SANE "out of the box" default configs or are too lazy to provide a basic wizard to make things easy.

    • Re:sigh... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ezavada (91752)
      Math is too hard! Until the mathematicians make it more usable, it will never gain acceptance in the Real World(TM).

      While undeniably funny, this is decidedly not insightful. First, math is hard, and thus the widespread use of calculators and computers to make it easier.

      Here's my summary of TFA: "Somebody needs to do everything for me, including all of my thinking."

      This couldn't be further from what TFA actually says. A better summary would be "don't make me have to spend time fiddling with the cruft, make i
  • ...seems misspelled.
  • by strider44 (650833) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @08:46AM (#15244749)
    I'm free to swim to Europe, that doesn't mean I can. I'm also free to build a formula one vehicle, but that doesn't mean I know how, or have the resources to do it.

    I think this author has a strange meaning of the word "free". "Free" has nothing to do with the credentials of the user - if they want to use the software they're free to learn how to.
  • There are a lot of elements in a successful software product that have little to do with code. In addition to the programmers, you have system administrators, testers, designers, biz development and/or sales, marketers, project managers, copy writers, assistants, etc.

    The free software process has the programmer part pretty well handled, but is naturally lousy at everything else. Namely, because that stuff is boring, costs money, or just isn't something any normal person does for free.

    Naturally, its bi

  • This is like saying the right to Health Care is only useful to those people who are doctors.

    The 'freedom' of free software can be asserted by non-technical people/organizations. If my dentist uses some open source piece of software to run his client and medical record database, he can always hire a comptetent consultant to fix or modify something for him - in this sense it is no different than his plumbing, x-ray machine, and other tools in his office. If he uses a closed-source product to do this, there
  • So if this catchy phrase takes off, free software will use three separate definitions of the word free - no price, freedom and not containing something. Yeah, that should make things clearer.
  • Can you really engineer freedom from stupidity? If you are trapped in the prison of your own mind no one can help you (and so we all are, but some cells are bigger than others)
  • However, it seems that wider adoption of FOSS can be achieved if greater development effort is focused on the first freedom - the freedom to run.

    Ultimately, I don't find FOSS exists for the sake of adoption. I don't think I need to explain this at all considering the venue, but the purpose of FOSS is freedom. Freedom from a single entity to control your "computational destiny." With FOSS, you don't have to be chained to Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. The only chain you are bound to is your own motivation for
  • on [b]FREE[/b] software.

    -Rick
  • Even if the author seems a tad ignorant on some levels, I'd have to agree that FOSS has a way to go to get converts.

    I've been dabbling in Ubuntu all week, I'm not a total n00b, but I'd rip my own eyes out if I was. It has NOT been easy.

    It's getting better, but it's still a long way. There should be a point and click install option for 90% of the things a n00b might want to do. For example installing a nintendo/snes/n64 emulator, and then finding the roms to run in it.

    Try doing THAT in ubuntu vs. windows,
    • by WhiteWolf666 (145211) <sherwin.amiran@us> on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @09:11AM (#15244921) Homepage Journal
      Use SuSE.

      Seriously. The SuSE RPM database is excellent, and with online repositories you don't need to carry around CDs.

      For example, Snes9x is part of SuSE: http://www.novell.com/products/linuxpackages/profe ssional/snes9x.html [novell.com]

      Need to get roms?

      You can install the easy-to-install Limewire RPM from Limewire's site (installing me "click on the 'download' link", and then press the "Install in YaST" link on the embedded RPM browser that shows up in your web browser. Limewire's icon will show up under the "Internet" category in your KDE menu.

      How is this not far easier than on Windows?

      All you have to do is go to YaST, search for "SNES", and install it. No hunting out which-is-the-right file, no worrying about stuff you can't install;

      It's all managed by RPM, via GUI, and all the packages you could ever want are avaliable. The worst thing you'll ever have to do is learn to add an additional RPM source, and there are step-by-step screenshot guides that show you how to do that. These guides are generally easier to use than the step-by-step guides which show you how to install a wireless router, or a printer (on Windows; printing on SUSE is dead easy).

      It's not a problem with FOSS; ease of use is up to the distro makers. I don't expect Gentoo or Slackware to be easy for noobs; that's not why they are there. Use Mandrake or SuSE (especially SuSE). I've converted my relatives to SuSE, and they don't mind a bit.
  • ...software generally shouldn't be any more complex than it needs to be. This is where many applications either get confused or fall over completely: they could make things easier with no loss of flexibility, but don't. Poor documentation, poor interfaces (or badly-named or hidden or arcane parameters for command line tools), the list goes on and on. Things which could be fixed, but aren't.

    Some software needs to be complicated, but no software should ever be *too* complicated for the required purpose or int
  • We can summarize his argument with this single sentence:

    The simplest and most effective way to increase FOSS use and adoption now is to push for the adoption by ordinary users, not of FOSS OSes

    Which is no longer true. You can't give the user ease of use on a second rate and non free platform. It will always be harder to play Bill Gate's game on Windoze than it is to take advantage of free software on your own. Yet, people have done so with great success, but the free software world is now easier.

    The

  • Even though I will sound totally cliché, I believe it must be reminded that freedom is not only something we have to fight for to achieve, but something we have to fight for to keep.

    There is an easy solution, and that is to put our trust into the various MegaCorp®'s to produce reliable, honest, and functional software. This model has proven not to deliver on most of these fronts.

    The other solution will be to suck it up, run a free OS, and spend 8 hours learning how to run an "alien" OS instead o

  • FOSS offers something for everyone and for the author to criticise FOSS for not catering to the great unwashed is grossly unfair. There are certain pieces of end user FOSS, such as the Mozilla projects, that are trying to develop marketshare which means that they have to be idiot friendly to a certain degree. There are other pieces of FOSS that have marketshare, but are not idiot friendly, such as Apache. There are also major FOSS projects that are complex and well documented, such as Samba, that will sc
  • Does someone who has not learned to read and write not have freedom of speech? No, they still have it, though there is a strong case to be made that we should do everything we can to teach reading and writing to those who want to learn how. That, however, is not a free speech issue, at least unless there is a government that is actively suppressing information about reading/writing.

    Should open source software have more usable interfaces? Of course. For years, to change your profile in gaim you had to use

  • Freedom to drive a car means nothing if the exercise of such right excludes people who do not possess hand/eye coordination or the financial means to purchase a vehicle.
  • I have made or attempted to make many modifications over the years:

    - configured several Linuxes to run on laptops
    - modified the way SpamAssassin self-trains
    - a hack to make "IE view" work with Firefox/Linux/Wine
    - [tried] to hook into Mozilla's spam filter interface
    (a) to replace the filter
    (b) to
  • by eno2001 (527078) on Tuesday May 02, 2006 @10:17AM (#15245608) Homepage Journal
    ...exclusive concepts. However this is highly subjective since "quality software" is defined in different ways by different users. Witness:

    1. Today, I consider quality software to be very flexible and to allow for extensive CLI interfaces as well as highly intricate GUI interfaces. Think of combining tools like KDE Konsole, Enlightenment 0.7 Desktop, GNU Screen, LVM, and Xen virtualization.
    2. When I was a new PC user (circa 1994) I considered quality software to be exclusively GUI based, object oriented (even though I didn't really know what that meant at the time), statically linked binaries (just a single executable with everything built in and no lib dependencies or "DLL Hell"), and everything had to be a metaphor to real world objects.
    3. Mr. Middle Management considers quality software to be what all other Mr. Middle Managers use. Regardless of whether the program actually works well or works at all, if all the others have it, then he's got to have it too.
    4. Mr. Joe User believes that quality software is something that "just works" from his point of view. It might be the most inefficient, spyware-ridden piece of crap, but if it allows him to do task X with little or no effort, then it's "quality" as far as he's concerned and he doesn't want to know about better ways even if they will help him save money, and get the most out of his computer.

    So the problem isn't with FOSS. The problem lies with the users. Unless you're willing to work harder to get the most out of your computing experience, you will probably shy away from FOSS. Besides, who says that FOSS is primarily trying to get more mindshare? FOSS doesn't exist to be popular. It exists to do a job and do it well. In many cases, doing a job well is something that only professionals and hobbyists can do. (Ugh, I hate the term "hobbyist" because it belittles the importance of these advanced users) And this will never change.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.

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