Saturday, March 20, 2010

Free Software is a democracy, NOT!

My own project, although not a big one, has been around for over fifteen years and a small community has been built around it. Numerous improvements have been made and when I look back and contemplate what I actually wanted to make, this is quite a different beast.

As a developer you want your product to be useful, not only to yourself, but also to your community. It may be a vanity thing, but that's how it works. It is one of these things where a human character flaw works out just fine. Suggestions became features, bad extensions became fundamental changes, experiments became main branch.

But these were also feature requests that were not implemented, not that that were too outrageous or too time consuming, but because I didn't like the direction where they would take the project. You can fire away anything you like, but let's be clear: there is only one man who calls the shots here. Me.

Ok, your feature request got turned down. Big deal. Flame away, stalk me, start marching by my window, I don't care. It's my project, my software and I decide what I'm gonna do with it. And BTW, it's a waste of energy. You'd better use that energy for something more useful. It's simple. Fork!

I think - or better said: sincerely hope - that my community doesn't recognize the image I've projected in these last few lines. Because that's not the way I want to work. As a matter of fact, there were users that wanted to take the project in a different direction and consequently I designed a framework which made it easy to fork and merge. Because they were not unreasonable and neither am I. But that's just me.

When I slowly constructed my project and my community I delved deeply into the way FOSS works. I learned a lot from Linus and the way he makes his kernel tick. He doesn't know where the project is going. He doesn't care about deadlines. It's finished when it's finished. On the other hand, if he doesn't like something, it doesn't get in. He is the benevolent dictator.

That's why I don't understand why InaTux gets so upset. FOSS is not and never will be a democracy in the sense he (or she?) understands democracy. Design decisions are not made by simply voting them off - and certainly not by its users. If you don't like where a project is going, start your own or vote with your feet. Lots of people whine about the number of distributions, well, now you know why that is a good thing.

If you don't like where Ubuntu is going, install another distribution. Nobody is saying that you should stick with it. It's easy. Fire up your favorite browser, surf a little, pose a few questions here and there, push a download button and you're done. And changing distributions is a heck of a lot easier than changing Operating Systems.

If too many people start doing that, Mark Shuttleworth has two options. Either he creates the perfect distribution for Mark Shuttleworth or he starts asking himself the right questions. A customer lost takes twice the effort to reel in than a new one. He's making money with that, I suppose. I'm not. I only got my vanity to consider..

InaTux is just beating around the bush without hitting anything. Linus listens - but sometimes not. He created the kernel - and anyone can fork it. Like Mark Shuttleworth. And due to the license he can take Ubuntu in every direction he wants to. Even if it doesn't boot at all on any computer. It says nowhere in the license he has to listen to anyone. Not to me, not to you, not to InaTux. Like it or not. "I'm root, I can do anything".

Those are the facts of FOSS life and that is the bottom line. The rest is merely academic babbling. I didn't like where KDE 4.x was going - and with me a lot of other people. The KDE developers listened - and sometimes they did not. Fact is, I'm still working with KDE 3.5.x and I still have no plans to upgrade. When I have to install a new version of OpenSuSE, I'll probably give it a try - and if I don't like it I'll take my business somewhere else. If that happens, I'll probably state publicly why I didn't like it. Aaron J. Seigo can dispute that, but he can't make me move. Hey, I'm not working with Microsoft products here which are chained together with a whole line of subtle dependencies. I got a choice. It's a big bazaar out there.

So next time, InaTux, I want to read how you moved to another distribution and why. Or I want to read why you stuck with Ubuntu. That will be a whole lot more interesting than your endless and fundamentally flawed whining.