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March 12, 2005

Gnome Controversy

Slashdot has a post about Eugenia of OSNews.com pointing out a concern she has with GNOME (She's mostly getting lambasted for her comments). Her core concern was that when she offered to do some kind of tracking with GNOME's bugzilla and implement a vote-thingy where users could vote on what features they want, she was told by a developer that "A feature will be implemented if and only if there is a developer who wants to implement it". The statement was apparently later clarified to mean that the developer would only work on a feature that he wanted.

She points out that this conflicts with the 2.10 Press Release that says, "In keeping with GNOME's 'users first' philosophy, GNOME makes stable releases every six months....". This is certainly a valid point. However, I'm certainly not on the "inside" of GNOME development, and I don't know who made this comment, but knowing mailing lists and developers like I do, I feel confidant in assuming that this developer did not speak for the project as a whole when he said that. Further, as a seasoned pain-in-the-ass and grudge holder myself, it wouldn't surprise me if some of the conversation was taken out of context.

For the most part, I imagine that good OSS developers' visions for features closely mirror those of the users'. Most developers started out as users and know what the project needs.

So as I mentioned, Eugenia is taking it on the chin from most of the peanut gallery on slashdot and elsewhere. Many complaints are along the lines of "they do it for free and you complain" (not entirely true, many are employees of companies that benefit from the project), or "if you don't like it change it/develop it/submit code/etc., or stop whining". Well, fair enough, but as I have seen pointed out, her website is quite a contribution to free and open source software as a whole; I think she has the right to voice her opinion from time to time. She has apparently pissed off the F/OSS world before, so she is also being accused of trolling.

Do you have to be a developer/contributor to point out problems or voice concerns with an OSS project? I don't know, I suppose it helps, but don't most OSS developers want their product to be used by people? Don't they want it to be user-friendly enough that kids, grandmothers, and non-geeks can use it? What if a grandmother finds a bug, or wants to suggest a feature? Do we suggest to them that they set up a bugzilla account, post their bug/suggestion and brace themselves for the inevitable flaming that will come when they do it wrong or don't use the proper terminology? I saw it pointed out that even the "other guys" have a simple bug/feature request form (you in the back, stop laughing). Is this something we need to worry about now, or is it off in the future? If it is off in the future should we insist that journalists stop labeling Linux as "Ready for the Desktop", "Whatever-Distro 9.2: The Microsoft Killer", or whatever other sensationalized label they try to put on their stories?

I don't think GNOME is in trouble becoming marginalized or is callus to its users. Things like this come up from time to time. I think as geeks we rival sewing-circles in that nothing makes our day sunny like a good controversy. I would just suggest that, agree or disagree, GNOME leadership, other OSS project leaders, and (not so) humble fan-boys look to see if there is anything to be learned from such criticisms and resist the urge to dismiss or discredit them out of hand.

Users of commercial distros should contact their distribution providers when voicing concerns. This results in trickle-down pressure on individual projects and contributes to the evolution of OSS. Additionally, users of freely aquired distros should certainly tread lightly when blasting OSS projects directly, because in these cases, I think the "contribute/do it yourself/ask nicely or STFU" arguements have some obvious logic.

Posted 15 years, 7 months ago on March 12, 2005
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