Posted May 11, 2012 9:16 UTC (Fri) by paulj
In reply to: Trustworthy sources...
Parent article: Notes from the Ubuntu Developer Summit (The H)
Though I very much wish there was some fair-to-the-developers way of making FLOSS projects more accountable to their users (I know there are a few things, but as yet there is no general recipe).
There is a very well established way, across many spheres of human activity, to make producers accountable to consumers: by having some equal exchange of consideration and responsibilities between the 2 parties. E.g., the consumer pays money to the producer in return for the producer taking some responsibility. For software, you could call it a support contract. ;)
The problems in the desktop Linux world here are many-fold:
- Few desktop users have an expectation that they should pay for their Free Software. Some use Free Software perhaps primarily because of its 0-cost. Some users may even be happily paying for OS updates on other platforms (e.g. OS-X), funding the competition, or applications (markets). So the Linux desktop vendors are starved for resources, even while quite a few of their customers are happily funding Linux competitors.
- For those desktop users who would like to pay, there is terrible fragmentation amongst the producers. Worse, the largest producer - employer of a great many Linux desktop developers - does not provide any way at all to pay it for support on a desktop that isn't hideously out-of-date for most parts of each decade. Its desktop distribution its developers work on is bleeding edge R&D, and its goal is to advance the state of the art - not necessarily to keep its existing userbase happy. The determined desktop user could perhaps take out a support contract with a number of different Linux distribution vendors, to cover all the bases, but that could still lead to problems and/or a lot of extra work if ever they needed to actually avail of that support, and would be useless for packages that are in the R&D distribution (e.g. there's no RHEL desktop with gnome-shell).
- The packaging and ABI fragmentation across all the distributions, that make it hideous for 3rd parties to provide software for Linux. Other threads here recently have been discussing this. This surely depresses the software ecosystem around Linux, which depresses the size of the user-base desktop Linux can have, which depresses the level of support the producers can offer, and around in a loop. Generally, it means there's less resources available to develop the Linux desktop.
- The "Well, if you don't like it, go fix it" attitude. Many users are incapable of fixing their problems. Further, while some users may have the technical capability, they may not have the resources (e.g. time) to spend on anything but the odd bug, very irregularly. It doesn't scale to have every end-user have to become an expert in every piece of software they might have a problem in. The attitude should be "If you don't like, pay someone to fix it" (which could be yourself). The "Have you filed a bug?" response to many complaints is also unproductive. As if the problem with Linux is that all the bugzillas are empty, and the armies of engineers are sitting idle, tapping their fingers, for want of a user to open a bug.
The problem with desktop Linux is that there aren't enough engineering resources to provide a polished, well-supported (today), end-user focused desktop experience. It's very very close, and it's amazing what's being accomplished by the developers and engineers there are today! However, it needs a bit more.
That there aren't enough resources for that is because there is massive FAIL in the Linux desktop world at extracting those resources from end-users and channelling them into the development, marketing & support of such a desktop. The reason for this is partly due to flawed expectations and attitudes in end-users and developers, it's also due to the balkanisation in Linux and lack of anyone able to do something to solve this; as well as a terrible lack of business fore-sight.
The lack of business foresight by one of the largest producers is particularly grievous. It seems to have been pulled in by the gravity of Suns' old customer-base and seems to want to follow its path - withdrawing from the end-user desktop to suckle on the teat of the enterprise server cash-cow. That strategy hasn't worked well in the long-term for any one else who tried it. Worse though, it means there's a goood number of their desktop Linux developers who are even further removed, resource-dependency-wise, from their users. No doubt, some number of them are not entirely happy about that situation either.
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