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Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Posted Nov 8, 2012 22:45 UTC (Thu) by aseigo (guest, #18394)
In reply to: Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software by arjan
Parent article: Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Linus is part of our audience. He just is not the totality of our audience, yet we (the F/OSS community) seem to pay attention to him as if he were. He is one small piece of the audience, no more or less.

So this is not a "you are not our audience" post at all.

It's the opposite, actually, in that it asks, "do we invest too much interest and attention in certain individuals rather than pay attention to the whole audience?"

F/OSS projects, esp ones that focus on UI, have a historical tendency to raise individuals to unhealthy positions of unwaranted influence.

Remember JWZ and Netscape? Remember his inane and nearly constant rants that nobody remembers anymore but were rather influential at the time, to little useful long-term benefit? Remember how he told Icaza (or was it Nat?) that to get people working on difficult free software projects like groupware you needed to convince them that it was so 'sexy' that it would, proveriablly at least, get them laid? Remember how that was *the insight* of the year, became a rallying cry behind the Hula project and was adopted as a serious meme by various F/OSS projects? Over such a rediculous statement!

Who is getting laid for working on Kolab, Akonadi and Kontact, some of the most successful and capable Free software groupware? And where's Hula?

Yeah, we've been doing it for a long, long time and it causes more bad decisions and costs more wasted energy than it gives us. Remember that Hula was early 2005 .. and there are many more examples prior to that.

The point of the blog entry was to call for us to focus on our full audience. It was trying to get us to look at our whole audience, including but not exclusive to, for example, Linus.

It is also bigger than a question of audience: it is a question of unjustifiable and unhealthy influence we (as a community) bestow on certain individuals.

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Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Posted Nov 8, 2012 22:52 UTC (Thu) by wmf (subscriber, #33791) [Link]

This is a little off-topic from your main point (which I totally agree with), but my interpretation of jwz's rant is that groupware can never be sexy and thus you shouldn't try to build open-source groupware at all. By that interpretation, the failure of Hula was totally predictable.

Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Posted Nov 8, 2012 22:53 UTC (Thu) by davide.del.vento (guest, #59196) [Link]

You wrote:

> Linus' opinion on desktop software is as meaningful as
> his opinions on rocket ships, film production, oil
> recovery techniques, sociology, religious history,
> automobile engineering or any of the other topics
> he has no meaningful expertise in.

This is clearly false. He is a (kernel) developer and his needs and preferences are pretty similar to the ones who use the desktop for the purpose he does, namely other developers, even if they are not kernel ones. In fact, while I am not a kernel developer and I disagree with most if not all of his own preference, I do agree with his Desktop views, which I made on my own.

Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Posted Nov 9, 2012 6:04 UTC (Fri) by Tara_Li (subscriber, #26706) [Link]

Actually, if you look at his latest posts, and follow what he is doing - he's not actually doing so much direct development now, as much as he's coordinating other developers. This is a fairly different task list. He also provides support for other users in his household, so he has exposure to different use cases.

Basically - Linus has a proven track record when it comes to software. That means it's worth listening to him. Personally, I dislike the entire "desktop environment" thing, to start with - it's become very hard to use a different window manager, and older window managers get dropped not because they don't work - but because they can't work within the newer "environments" that take over parts of what they used to do - but not everything.

Why, yes, I'm kinda bitter about running e16 on Natty Narwhale, and I probably will be running it for a while yet, as it's very nicely light on memory use and CPU time.

Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Posted Nov 9, 2012 13:44 UTC (Fri) by kh (subscriber, #19413) [Link]

He has also proven he has good taste when it comes to software aesthetics and usability - that is, besides his usefulness as a developer, he has proven to be a good critic, who consistently and clearly articulates what a majority of "normal" desktop users are likely to want and care about.

Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Posted Nov 22, 2012 16:16 UTC (Thu) by TRauMa (guest, #16483) [Link]

What? Usability? Because the linux kernel certainly won a whole slew of user interface awards? Or the first versions of git (shudder)?

To this day it puzzles me why anyone took Linus this seriously when he argued about user interfaces. His track record in userspace is, well, mixed, to be polite.


Posted Nov 22, 2012 17:30 UTC (Thu) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

At least he has userspace interfaces covered.

Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Posted Nov 23, 2012 14:45 UTC (Fri) by kh (subscriber, #19413) [Link]

[quoting] _besides his usefulness as a developer_

I can't decide if you suffer from poor reading comprehension, or if you intended to respond to some other post. (Not that I agree with your conclusions nor assertions in isolation either.)

Qualified opinions

Posted Nov 8, 2012 23:02 UTC (Thu) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

Not to trivialize your post, but there is a proverb that says: "make your product easy to use for idiots, and soon only idiots will use it". Remember proverbs, those things that existed before memes; they all have some truth in them.

In this case we don't pay attention to Linus just because he is a celebrity, but because he happens to be an excellent developer, integrator and designer. He also expresses things clearly and has great analytical power, so he can probably explain things that others can just feel intuitively. That doesn't mean that he is a Pope; quite often he will be wrong or just spout plain nonsense, as we all do.

I don't care if JWZ said catchy things, but he makes good points sometimes (and is also a very good developer); his analysis of CADT is spot on. Not everything he touches becomes gold, though.

The same happens to Paul Graham, Richard Stallman and so many others: when they speak you have better listen carefully, and then you can counter their points or just disregard them. Clever people are in short supply and they tend to be busy; when they pay attention to your project you are a fool if you just ignore them.

Qualified opinions

Posted Nov 8, 2012 23:07 UTC (Thu) by fest3er (guest, #60379) [Link]

"Clever people are in short supply and they tend to be busy; when they pay attention to your project, you are a fool if you just ignore them."

This should make it to LJ's 'They said it' column.

Qualified opinions

Posted Nov 9, 2012 0:02 UTC (Fri) by galens (guest, #23805) [Link]

This should be accompanied by a quote from the PHB in a recent Dilbert(2012-10-21):

"We don't care what smart people think. There aren't that many of them."

Qualified opinions

Posted Nov 8, 2012 23:31 UTC (Thu) by vonbrand (guest, #4458) [Link]

So a rant complaining that bugs to a obsolete, not maintained anymore, package won't be fixed is "spot on"...

Qualified opinions

Posted Nov 8, 2012 23:47 UTC (Thu) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

Yes, to me it is. Perhaps you missed the first part where the bugs are silently ignored for a year. It could also be argued that obsoleting a version after a year is not a good idea; especially when the market leader, Microsoft, supports the full OS for ten years at the very minimum. Instead of rewriting software all the time, which is another good point he makes.

So, please read carefully and extract what you can, instead of just disregarding it as a "rant".


Posted Nov 8, 2012 23:51 UTC (Thu) by louie (subscriber, #3285) [Link]

his analysis of CADT is spot on.

Totally dead on, once you assume a magical, endless supply of developer time and interest, and a narrow, limited influx of bugs and complaints. Which is almost the exact opposite of reality for any large, mostly non-corporate open source community. Maybe I need to convince our dear editor to let me write a guest column on the wrongness of CADT some time.


the ADT


Posted Nov 9, 2012 1:31 UTC (Fri) by bronson (subscriber, #4806) [Link]

Yes, please write this! I must be among the confused masses. CADT perfectly describes the Linux desktop experience for me: just when I'm getting used to an environment, the rug gets pulled out, all the bugs are closed, and I'm back with a seriously buggy v0.2. (maybe I shouldn't wait until KDE and Gnome are mature before using them -- that only leaves a couple years before the rude surprise)

If there's an explanation for this pattern other than CADT I'd love to hear it. Especially if it includes why the Linux kernel doesn't suffer from this affliction yet also shows stunning development speed.

If developer time is THAT limited, why not select more achievable goals?

I would love to read that column.

-- the OCD


Posted Nov 9, 2012 2:20 UTC (Fri) by bojan (subscriber, #14302) [Link]

> If developer time is THAT limited, why not select more achievable goals?

And then this limited developer time is further eroded by having Gnome, KDE, XFCE, LXDE and what not, all basically trying to solve the same damn problem. And while this is going on, Microsoft and Apple are laughing.


Posted Nov 9, 2012 7:38 UTC (Fri) by Duncan (guest, #6647) [Link]

What you miss is that in a volunteer environment, the game isn't zero-sum.

I'm a kde user, but I'm VERY glad gnome is there, because were it not there, arguably a good 80% of the effort put into gnome would simply disappear from the desktop, since kde doesn't fit the gnome style of "there's only one right way and it's ours, so no configuration option could possibly be needed since we're already doing it the only possible right way, and if you think differently, you're simply wrong."

What's worse, probably 80% of the other 20% would bring that "only one right way and it's ours" attitude with them, and disrupt kde's "people are different and work differently, so let's make it an option so if they don't like the defaults, they can change them" philosophy. If they won that debate, it would kill the biggest reason a lot of people use kde, especially those like me who have never seen a default desktop they were happy with and don't expect to ever do so either.

Obviously that's painting with incredibly big and inaccurate brush strokes (as well as assuming they'd all end up with kde for simplicity of argument, they wouldn't, but with your argument take to it's logical conclusion there'd only be one left to switch to) and is thus simplistic at the level described above, but the point remains, there's all these different projects because people are volunteering their time and effort to what they're interested in, and if the number of projects was somehow artificially constrained, it would actually result in very little more work getting done on the remaining projects, both because people would simply find other things to do with their (after all volunteer) time, and because if they didn't, it'd dramatically increase the friction factor on the remaining projects as people spend all that gained time fighting with each other instead of working on their own separate projects.

So as a kde user who LIKES all those extra options, since they allow me to configure a desktop that I actually enjoy, I'm EXTREMELY glad all those "only one right way and it's our way" gnome folks have their own project to work on, and can leave kde to its "confusing mess of options". =:^)

But there certainly are people who "just want the defaults to work so I don't have to mess with it", and others who get horribly confused by all those extra options. For a good portion of both of those sets of people, gnome's going to be a more appropriate option than kde, and that's fine. I wouldn't want to take that away from them, and since all those folk putting so much energy into gnome wouldn't actually do a lot to benefit kde if somehow it became the only viable alternative anyway, it's not as if it hurts kde much, either.

In fact, the alternate implementations give people a chance to see the same idea from another perspective, and the competition is useful and healthy.

Meanwhile, there's the compatible standards effort, where it /does/ make sense to work together, which is why X-based apps can ship a common *.desktop file that "just works" with both major desktops and several lighter alternatives as well, among other things.

The same thing of course applies to distros. I'm a gentooer, again, because I like having that extra level of control over my computer and the OS it runs (while still automating most of it once the choices are made). But it's not for everyone. But if all those folks working on all those distros were happy working on the same distro, don't you think that's what they'd be doing? It's volunteer (either of the distro devs directly or of the people paying them), and they work on what they believe in. Try to force them to all work on the same distro and it's simply not going to work, they'll find other stuff to do with their time/money, and to the extent that they don't, most of the would-be added effort will be spent simply overcoming the extra friction of all that extra disagreement, so that single one or a very limited few distros won't be much better for it after all, and the community as a whole would be a whole lot smaller and poorer as a result.



Posted Nov 9, 2012 8:09 UTC (Fri) by bojan (subscriber, #14302) [Link]

Strangely, I actually agree with you here. Just because I think there should be one Linux desktop, doesn't mean interchangeable parts cannot be used to run it or that it should not be customisable.


Posted Nov 9, 2012 10:52 UTC (Fri) by robert_s (subscriber, #42402) [Link]

"Just because I think there should be one Linux desktop"

It's not that anyone who believes this is just "wrong" - it's more that they clearly don't understand what the "linux desktop" _is_.

It's a bit like believing that humans "should" evolve wings.

Or a bit like wishing butter was a good material for making jet engines out of.


Posted Nov 9, 2012 21:04 UTC (Fri) by bojan (subscriber, #14302) [Link]

Take a snapshot of Linux desktop distros and see how many are not using X. Then think again about what I said and you will find that nobody has to evolve wings to figure this one out.


Posted Nov 11, 2012 1:07 UTC (Sun) by robert_s (subscriber, #42402) [Link]


The reason almost everyone's using X is there's a massive barrier to getting a basic working solution for an alternative. Lots of difficult drivers to write. EDID data to handle. Lots of really difficult event handling code to write. Then you've got to get lots of applications to support drawing onto you - or support the X protocol, which is a huge amount of work. All for something that's reasonably transparent to the majority of users and for most users doesn't greatly affect their day to day workflow.

Writing a simple working alternative desktop is child's play in comparison.

So let's say you get your way and there's "one linux desktop". Well, I don't like it because of reason xyz. So I go and write a different one with a couple of buddies. Bam. There are two linux desktops.


Posted Nov 9, 2012 15:30 UTC (Fri) by davide.del.vento (guest, #59196) [Link]

It's of little consolation, but you are not alone. Pretty much everyone (well, everyone I speak with) suffer from this "rug pulling and go back to the immature v0.2".

Personally, I'm really sick of this, and after 13 years of exclusive Linux Desktop use I'm seriously considering to go back to windows. I say that because I expect it to horrify me even more (if the things I've read from windows 8 are true) and thus might bring me back to Linux Desktop Rug Puller as the best thing in the world nowadays.


Posted Nov 9, 2012 17:06 UTC (Fri) by hummassa (subscriber, #307) [Link]

Goto KDE. Just don't jump to KDE5 without trying it extensively in a VM first. That's it.


Posted Nov 9, 2012 18:45 UTC (Fri) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

My Xfce has not changed much in years. Trusty mouse.


Posted Nov 22, 2012 16:23 UTC (Thu) by TRauMa (guest, #16483) [Link]

A new major Gnome version every 10 years, and you can't keep up? :)

Qualified opinions

Posted Nov 9, 2012 1:08 UTC (Fri) by daniels (subscriber, #16193) [Link]

> Not to trivialize your post, but there is a proverb that says: "make your product easy to use for idiots, and soon only idiots will use it". Remember proverbs, those things that existed before memes; they all have some truth in them.

'Make your product easy to use for idiots, and soon only idiots will use it.'


'Make your product pointlessly frustrating to use, and soon only three people on LWN will use it.' - Stone's Corollary

Qualified opinions

Posted Nov 9, 2012 1:39 UTC (Fri) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

I'm pretty sure I've got software I'm actively hacking on in-house right now that breaks Stone's Corollary. In that no other LWN reader would choose to use it.


Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Posted Nov 9, 2012 1:52 UTC (Fri) by Sho (subscriber, #8956) [Link]

Ironically, working on our IRC client Konversation and knowing several married couples who met on IRC with either one or both partners using the app, I like to make humorous reference to jwz's old post from time to time :).

Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Posted Nov 9, 2012 3:12 UTC (Fri) by airlied (subscriber, #9104) [Link]

you have seen facebook I assume?

what is it but groupware that gets people laid? maybe if someone has listened to jwz, we have an open source facebook!

Seigo: ending the cults of personality in free software

Posted Nov 9, 2012 11:14 UTC (Fri) by k3ninho (subscriber, #50375) [Link]

No, Facebook is a CRM. Not groupware! :-)

JWZ is a legend in my eyes - but his rants need to be updated for contemporary times. In particular 'all software projects grow until the point that they can read mail' is outdated because port 80 and some byzantine web api* is a whole extra challenge for the app developer over port 21 and smtp. Perhaps the oncoming flash of The Singularity also raises the bar for stupid software development decisions.

*: honours students may attempt port 443 and an insecure SSL implementation.


Seigo: Focus and Documentation

Posted Nov 9, 2012 16:34 UTC (Fri) by brianomahoney (guest, #6206) [Link]

I am a LONG TIME KDE user and I like it, most of the time BUT if Seigo wants less complaint I have some suggestions:

1. Fix Bugs, in a timely way OR document workrounds

2. Stop the feature/menu/config churn and the ape M$ mentality

3. Write decent documentation, KDE's is the worst nonsense I have seen and an auto API extractor is NOT documentation. The documentation of configuration options is particularly BAD!

4. Emplace a build system that says (download [a] ... [f]), cd foo, make or some such and have this verify the correct version of prerequsites, libraries, .h files ...

If I have to read the code of Qt, Kxxx and external package yyy to isolate a bug you have failed.

The Seigo response to being Tovolds bashed is juvenile in the extreem, Linus has a sure sense of design eg Git, outside the Kernel, and a rational appreciation of what most users need is vital now that Gnome is well on the way to the junk yard at the hands of its developers.

What the community needs is Seigo to remove head from ass, and to ensure that the KDE development community is balanced currently it is "Übernahme durch germanischen Denken und Methodik mit einer unwarrented elitäre Haltung beeinflusst."

Do not misunderstand me please, KDE is good and improving all the time, but it could easily be made excellent and thus become the de-facto style leader on the Desktop as Android is in the mobile space.

MFG alle, Brian

Seigo: Focus and Documentation

Posted Nov 11, 2012 10:24 UTC (Sun) by Del- (guest, #72641) [Link]

1. Bugs are fixed in KDE, but it requires somebody to step up and do it. Just like any other open project without the resources of large software houses. You should rather stick to your complaint on the over-stretching/re-designing part.
2. Agree to some extent. KDE has in periods over-stretched the resources, and various projects should have been less ambitious in favour of getting things done.
3. The documentation is good, but I agree, we should improve it. KDE has a wiki, so I suggest you and I help out.
4. KDE uses git and cmake, it uses the best VCS and build system around. Actually, your last point here makes me wonder if you are trolling, have you even read the KDE documentation?

KDE follows that standard modus operandi for cmake and git, you do:

git clone git://
cd yourprojectofchoice
mkdir build
cd build
cmake ..
make -j4

If this is beyond you, I suggest you stick to binary packages.

Any missing dependencies will typically be reported, you can for instance use tools in the debian-goodies package to track down which package name your distribution uses for the missing dependencies. Typically, you will have a very smooth experience building bleeding edge KDE on the latest Kubuntu.

Reporting bugs in KDE is a very smooth experience. Just about any project has a lot to learn there. It is rarely a problem to identify the package, and a number of volunteers come to the triaging rescue if you produce crappy reports. I believe it is exactly the kind of criticism you give here that frustrates Aaron. It certainly frustrates me. If you have a point, make it. Quit the inaccurate bashing. KDE is an excellent project. We should be grateful, and we should show it.

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