Juergen A. Erhard on Sun, 21 May 2000 18:34:21 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> OFSS01: First Orbiten Free Software Survey

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>>>>> "Amy" == Amy Alexander <plagiari@plagiarist.org> writes:

Hi Amy (and nettime... `First Post!' ;-)

    Amy> On Thu, 18 May 2000, Benjamin Geer wrote:

    >> That said, I agree that there ought to be a forum where
    >> non-technical users could discuss ideas for new types of
    >> software, or new approaches to existing problems, with
    >> programmers who might be interested in working on such
    >> projects.  Many projects start either to fill a programmer's
    >> need, or to meet the programmer's conception of an end-user's
    >> need.

    Amy> Definitely. I think most open source programs still have a
    Amy> way to go to be responsive to the end-user, rather than to
    Amy> programmers making other things out of them.

It's the difference betweem applications and toolkits (and other bits
unspeakable ;-)

    Amy> The project mailing lists are generally populated by
    Amy> programmers, not end users, with rare, apologetic posts from
    Amy> non-technical end-users.

Most projects have different lists for developers and for users.  Some
projects' developers lists are not even public (means accessible to
every Joe, Dick and Harry (or Joan, Diane and Harriett ;-))

    Amy> More than once I've written to the author of an open source
    Amy> program or posted to the mailing list, and said, "I've read
    Amy> the docs and haven't figured out - can it do so-and-so?" and
    Amy> had them respond, "Hey, great idea, why don't you write the
    Amy> code for that?" Many open source apps seem to be written with
    Amy> little expectation that there *is* an end-user, except that
    Amy> the end-user him/herself might program something useful out
    Amy> of the source code. Maybe the end-user should be renamed the
    Amy> "end-programmer". :-) ...

The problem here is that many people forget that the majority of all
Free Software projects are done by (unpaid) volunteers whose time is
limited. (I'm not assuming you do, Amy, though what you say could be
taken that way).

It might even be that the developer in question *does* put your idea
on his or her TODO list... but since end-user applications are not
developed for *you*, but for the developer that does the work, your
idea will probably have pretty low priority (unless it's something the
developer comes to like as much as you do).

*Some* projects have *some* paid developers... but they will probably
not implement what *you* want if it's not found to be valuable enough
by the marketing department (unless those developers like it and are
free to implement what they want).

Oh, and if you absolutely *need* the feature... you *are* free to code
it, or, if that's not a possibility for you (mayhap you are to busy
with other things to do it), you can *hire* someone to do it.  You
can't do that with Microzoff Word (or any other proprietary app).

    Amy> I realize that it's important to develop toolkits and so on
    Amy> for other people to build onto, and that not everything
    Amy> *should* be an end-user app, but, with the open-source stuff,
    Amy> there seems to be an inordinate percentage of apps that seem
    Amy> to be end-user apps on the surface, but which then turn out
    Amy> to be "some-assembly-required" sorts of things.

When I put something out there, I'm *very* interested in
feedback... most of the stuff is written for me, with varying
attention to usability by other people.  Starting with the platform it
runs on... (no, I'm not talking Linux/Windows here... I develop on
Intel, and quite a lot of what I do might not work out-of-the-box on
Alphas... but I digress (into the technical) ;-)

    Amy> In some cases, licensing is behind the trouble. This seems to
    Amy> be the case with mp3 encoders, e.g. ...  you have to get the
    Amy> front-end from this place and the engine from that place, and
    Amy> it appears to have something to do with licensing. On the
    Amy> other hand, there's LAME (Lame Ain't an MP3 Encoder), whose
    Amy> docs convinced me that I would have to download and compile
    Amy> some other piece because, after all, it Ain't an MP3 Encoder,
    Amy> but then it turned out to somehow be a very good,
    Amy> fully-functional MP3 encoder after all.

Simply put: LAME is illegal whereever Fraunhofer's patent on MP3 is
valid... (Fraunhofer is a german research institute... financed in
part by the state... and apparently very much openly in bed with the

And the front-end/engine split is a good old UNIX tradition...

    Amy> [...] in the context of the monstrous "why are there so few
    Amy> women geeks?" debate.

Let me just say that I wish there were more women in technical areas
in general.  Women do bring a different perspective... a different
style (and I find myself more on the female side of many male/female
comparisons anyway... so it gets lonely in an all male team
(especially if they are *real* men :-}

    Amy> There are always quite a few male geeks who argue, "Women
    Amy> code to get a particular job done. Men code for the joy of
    Amy> coding. Therefore, men code things that can be used by many
    Amy> others to create apps, while women code specific apps that
    Amy> spawn nothing further.  This is why almost all the famous
    Amy> open source geeks are men."

Crap.  One of the major annoyances for me when I have to deal with
`lusers' is that people are not willing or able to explore, to play
with a system, and thus to *learn*.  Are women worse than men?  I
don't think so...  (That crap was directed at those make geeks of
course...  geek doesn't mean smart-in-all-areas-of-life)

    Amy> OK, men are the artists and women are the artisans? Men
    Amy> fertilize many projects while women have the babies?


    Amy> Suspicious metaphors aside, one thing that's very significant
    Amy> here is that there is quite a bit of incentive in terms of
    Amy> ego gratification (and potential for career enhancement
    Amy> through reputation-building) for people who code things that
    Amy> are *not* for end-users, and not so much for people who code
    Amy> things *for* end-users.

What I personally like best about working on Free Software is
gratification-by-satisfied-(and-thankful)-users.  Whether it's an
end-user app or a tool for programmers doesn't matter.

You do not get a nice big cheque (at least I don't at the moment) but
you get a heartfelt `thank-you'.  Which is worth a lot more in my book
(while the cheque is still important... just not as satisfying on its

    Amy> All that said, the open-source movement seems to be waking
    Amy> up, albeit slowly, to the needs of the end-user.

You mean *companies* are waking up... they want lots and lots of
paying customers (tons of em... you gotta make a killing, you know).
And lots and lots are *not* developers.  If you want masses, you have
to accept that they might be unwashed ;-)

If you're not a paying customer... they don't care (individual
developers might).

    Amy> The article at http://sendmail.net/?feed=interviewkuniavsky
    Amy> entitled "It's the User, Stupid", was interesting because:

    Amy> a) They ran an article about these problems.

*They* being a commercial company (okay, so there are no
non-commercial companies).  Q.E.D. ;-)

    Amy> b) It was ironically, posted on the website of sendmail, one
    Amy> of the most notoriously difficult-to-use open source
    Amy> programs. (Although most desktop users don't currently need
    Amy> to use sendmail, running one's own mail server (that's what
    Amy> sendmail is) can have some privacy and diskspace advantages.)

There's a rumor that the author of sendmail (Eric Allman) is still
embarrassed about the configuration file format (sendmail.cf (that's
it) is not for the faint of heart). ;-)

If you want an MTA (a Mail Transport Agent... the software that
delivers email from your computer to the recipients computer), look at
Exim, or Postfix.  Both are vastly easier to configure... and Postfix
is said to be orders of magnitude more secure.

    Amy> c) The article, addressing basic usability issues, appeared
    Amy> in January 2000. Just curious - what took them so long?

I can pick at the article if want me to... I've read it when it came
out but have so far not had reason to critisize it in public.  Let me
just say that I heartily disagree with *most* of it.

Oh, and I'd rather use an application that is *used* by its developers
than an app that is designed by market research.

    >> I suspect that there might be a fair number of programmers out
    >> there who would find it especially satisfying to work on
    >> something that a significant number of people had already said
    >> they wanted.  All you'd really need would be a mailing list
    >> (with archives) and a web page.

I'd work on such stuff... if I'd want to use it myself to.  I'm not
getting anything for it except an occasional thank-you... and an app I
use myself.  If the later part would go away, I'd probably not do it.
But that's just me...

    Amy> This is a good idea, especially specifying that it was a
    Amy> forum for geek/non-geek interaction...

Another point: Many non-geeks trample into a project's forum and start
demanding as if the developers owe them something.  A lot of these
will (if they're lucky) get a "Hey, great idea, why don't you write
the code for that?" (yes, that's a quote from you above).

Such a forum as just envisioned would have to make one thing perfectly
clear (to the non-geeks): the geeks in there are not obliged to do
whatever the non-geeks would like to have.  Unless someone would cough
up some money (and then the geek(s) could still refuse...)

Bye, J

PS: I do not see myself as a `geek' per se... I'd rather be called a
`hacker' (though I would not call myself that ;-).

PPS: First post to nettime and I'm probably already over some size
limit ;-)

- -- 
Jürgen A. Erhard      eMail: jae@ilk.de      phone: (GERMANY) 0721 27326
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