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What's Wrong With the FOSS Community? 348

An anonymous reader writes "Patrick McFarland, one of the major Free Software Magazine authors, has completed his second article on whats wrong with the Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) community, and what we face in this world. He touches on ESR's Cathedral and the Bazaar essay briefly, and warns against cherry-picking style software development."
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What's Wrong With the FOSS Community?

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  • I read the article (Score:5, Interesting)

    by matt me ( 850665 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @07:02PM (#16958712)
    I read the article, and I still couldn't tell you what it says. It talks about bazaar, and Gnome and development, but it has no content! I don't think it said *anything*. From the book: Harmless.

    I challenge thee to summariser it.

    This is what (/usr/bin/ots) a text summariser said (interesting to note it tents to focus on cathedral-style, bazaar-style, and gnome bashing)

    A few years back, Eric S. Entitled The Cathedral and the Bazaar, he wrote about how the Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) community does what it wants when it wants to. In Cathedral-style projects, your not-so-friendly neighborhood PHB (fueled by the lies from various ugly hunch-backed minions), although wrong 120% of the time, says what goes in a project. Backed by the Free Software Foundation and the FOSS community as a whole, the GNOME project for many years just added lots and lots of feature creep and otherwise unnamed bloat.

    The GNOME project lacked true vision for those years, and feature creep and other long term development problems rushed in to fill that hole. Problem is, many projects are just like GNOME. Incidentally, few Cathedral-style projects suffer from lack of vision: those that do simply die off and are never heard from again. Bazaar-style development allows projects to be in a zombie state for long periods of time, where it is vastly expensive for a Cathedral-style project to do the same. someone with vision (corrupt or not) would control a project, driving development behind it, and have the project reach goals in specific time frames.
  • Re:Common sense says (Score:5, Interesting)

    by miu ( 626917 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @07:03PM (#16958738) Homepage Journal

    The piece seems to be claiming that good > mediocre > no > bad leader.

    That's somewhat true, certain kinds of software and features just won't get done without a leader. That nifty little project doesn't need a leader, it'll get done because personal motivation is enough to get it done and it's small enough that a single person can handle the entire workload. Boring stuff won't get done no matter how grand the end result unless there is a leader to make sure it gets done, no one digs ditches for fun - even if the end result will be the panama canal.

  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @07:30PM (#16959062)
    Yep, the boring stuff doesn't get done unless there's incentive to do.

    A leader without the ability to fire someone or give them a pay raise isn't going to be able to provide much incentive.

    But with FOSS, I (the end user) can email the coder and offer to pay him/her to finish a feature I'd like or do some other boring job. And that is one of the great things about FOSS. Once I pay for it, everyone benefits from it (including me).

    Try doing that with closed source products. You can't even find out the names of the coders working on it, much less contract them directly.
  • Re:In my opinion (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @07:45PM (#16959238)
    Does it matter what the subject is?

    Yes, try finding the Linux/BSD abuse you get asking similar questions for a decent commercial OS like OS X.

  • Re:In my opinion (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jman451 ( 830940 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @07:56PM (#16959326)
    I've had mixed results when asking for help in the gentoo forums, and I have found that the wording and the tone of how you ask questions is very important. An article by ESR on the proper way to ask questions [].

    This of course begs the question, how can you expect n00b to be careful about how a question is asked? after all he is merely a n00b.
  • by gordgekko ( 574109 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @08:42PM (#16959784) Homepage
    It reminds me of how Canada, land of my birth, views itself and its relationship to the U.S.

    It does somethings better, others worse. It will never admit what it does worse or will even defend it as a strength.

    It's arrogant and sanctimonious even though it often has its heart in the right place. Other times it's naive in thinking that because it believes *its* way is right, it *must* be so.

    It mocks the U.S. as backwards, even displaying a near pathological hatred for it, yet it secretly wishes it could hold the same lofty perch.

    Now replace "It's/It" with "FOSS" and "U.S." with "Microsoft".

    Frankly, what turns me off about the FOSS community in general is it reminds me of the science acolytes in the recent South Park episode when Cartman traveled to the future. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. If Linux were king it would be Microsoft redux.

    Feel free to mod me down, I have plenty of karma to burn.
  • Re:In my opinion (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WilliamSChips ( 793741 ) <> on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @09:01PM (#16959996) Journal
    I've gotten much more of that type of abuse from Mac users than from users of any other operating system. Except, instead of claiming the problem is a lack of RTFM like you sometimes get from Linux/BSD groups, you get people demanding that you're not actually having a problem, when you are.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @09:16PM (#16960124)
    The fucking fatalistic attitude that people are inherently broken pisses me off. You may be broken, you may have met only broken people, but this pessimism/(dare I say Original Sin belief) is lame. We are as good as we are, there's no model human we're being compared to. So we can't be broken.

    The great thing is that you can set your own fucking expectations, or choose to compare yourself to your fellow men. Either is fine, just don't go spewing bullshit.

    (This rant is not specifically aimed at you.)

    Ah.. That felt good.
  • Re:In my opinion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CDarklock ( 869868 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @09:52PM (#16960430) Homepage Journal
    > FOSS projects operate in a totally different ecosystem
    > from commercial closed source software.

    Really? Because I use them on the same servers in the same data centers for the same purposes.

    > The success of closed source / commercial software could
    > simply be measured by the amount of money it makes for the
    > creator.

    No it can't. That's not success of the project, it's success of the product. It's a whole different question. Microsoft Bob was a successful project, because it did what it set out to do. It was a wholly unsuccessful product, because nobody wanted it.

    > FOSS success is less trivial to measure.

    Not really. Does the project do what it set out to do? Yes or no. Very simple.

    > You might as well say that the success of
    > FOSS itself could be measured by the number
    > of abandoned projects / period of time.

    All projects are abandoned. Failed projects are abandoned before they work reliably. As long as there is either a development team actively working on the project, or an active user community available to effectively support it, the project is not yet a failure. It only fails if the developers AND the community abandon it AND leave it in an effectively unusable state.

    > Does that mean that thos FOSS projects where
    > a failure? Obviously not

    Yes, obviously not. So what's the problem?

    > I don't need any "Homer Simpson" statistics to
    > know that open source is getting more popular

    But that doesn't make it any more effective. The open source community is getting larger, but it is not becoming more responsive to support requests - quite the opposite. The use of successful open source projects is growing, but that is not making the projects successful any faster, nor is it making them successful any more often. Running fifty servers instead of five on a Linux distribution does not make the Linux kernel any more than the one successful project it was when you were testing it on your desktop.

    More people using open source does not mean open source is getting better.
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @09:53PM (#16960442) Homepage Journal
    FOSS is or is not better than closed source commercial code but the only way we'd ever know is to establish quantitative criteria and measure them with rigor.

    Some things to quantitatively evaluate are:

    Failures per release, time to release, bugs discovered, function points derived, cost-benefit, TCO, testability, verifiability, number of severity one bugs, number of severity one bugs never fixed, number of abandoned projects, time to next version, rate of customer abandonment.

    There are probably 50 more I can't think of right now but the only sure way is to apply engineering and project management discipline to the criteria and comparison of those criteria. Then one must capture a candidate group of commercial and FOSS projects and track them over a multiyear period.

    In other words we've been looking at the development experience instead of the results experience. How you build something is less important than what it does. Anyone who's ever seen the movie 'Apollo 13' understands this. More to the point though, development modalities reflect more the cultural aspects that the development team has almost no control over. Even in FOSS communities, they will self organize and operate according to features that have little to do with development.

    We really don't know or care that much what the differences between good and mediocre closed source projects are. They are unverifiable in either case. So one cannot focus on the method. It's a black box. Instead we need to focus on the outputs and metrics that we can see.
  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Thursday November 23, 2006 @01:54AM (#16961852) Homepage Journal

    That's exactly what I wanted to say.

    I thought the article's comments about GNOME in particular were wrong. The problem with GNOME was not that it had no direction and therefore suddenly became bloated and unmanagable with feature creep. Far from it. It had a relatively popular leader who had an idea about how it should work. It gained feature creep because the "vision" of that OSS leader was to emulate a UI that itself was bloated, poorly designed, and suffering feature creep, both on the outside and the inside.

    Had it had no direction, I believe it would have been more like the mix of UIs we saw in the early to mid-nineties on X11, or even throughout the late eighties on the Amiga. Someone would have put together a file manager. Another would have put an object viewer. Yet another might have worked on a print system. Each component would probably have been terrific, but the whole would have looked relatively ugly and argubly been poor in usability.

    I'm surprised how "easy" it's been to fix GNOME and make it the relatively good system it is today (relatively as in recent versions, as configured by Debian and RedHat, are easily the second best mainstream GUIs, after Mac OS X.) That took the right kind of vision, and that vision, interestingly, was the result of the community noticing the project had gone badly wrong, and forcing itself to pay attention.

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford