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.


InaTux said...

Mark said it himself...

"You can file bugs and comment, and engage"

This is what we feel we are doing. He grants the community the freedom, but complains when we actually use it.

And our article expresses why this freedom is no good if the feedback falls on deaf ears.

Democracy is more than just the final decision, it's also about the open discussion of an idea. Government legislation is discussed before it's voted on. So is Free Software, even if the people who end up voting on it are Ubuntu's design team, it should be discussed with the community before hand. Just as legislation is discussed amongst the public before it's voted on by the U.S. Senate or Congress.

The Beez' said...

Whining the same old song doesn't make it sound any better.

Unknown said...

When a bill is passed and it becomes law and we have no choice but to obey the law. If Mark goes in a direction we (or you) don't like you have choice. That is a big difference.


doomy said...

The concept that "all can be done with democracy" is not natural. Indeed, we cannot vote in order to live more, to fly or what ever thing we want to do.

My feeling is that the society choose the flow of the democracy, and the democracy does not mean "freedom"; maybe the "democracy" is closer to "respect".

On the other hand "freedom" is closer to "get options". To have the right to choose among options. To have more options. To have the freedom to make mistakes. To have the freedom to correct them or not.

With absolute freedom we can choose to get democracy or not. With absolute democracy we cannot do anything that change the society.

Sorry for my bad english.

Jack R. said...

Few years ago Mark has written on his blog: "At its largest, grandest level, 'making choices' is what democracy is all about." - Mark Shuttleworth

Any my humble opinion is that 'making choices' was not violated.

If someone does not like left position of buttons change it to right site - you have a choice here.

If someone does not like Mono - uninstall it with Tomboy and F-Spot and install other tools that will replace them.

If you don't like Yahoo as default browser, change it to Google.

If you don't like Empathy IM, change it to Pidgin.

If you don't like that Gimp is not installed by default, install it back.

You have a choice!

And if at some time you think that you can't make choices that are important to you anymore you can still vote with your feet.

Thraxy said...

I already voted with my feet. It was time to try something different anyway.

Back to distro-hopping :D

Anonymous said...

Democracy is about making average decisions. So keep up the good work and stay away from that system.

Suggestion are welcome though.

Ihar Filipau said...


"And because Linus believes in
democracy he doesn't complain when Ubuntu's kernel team messes with it."

OMG, he's so wrong about Linus.

Linux as kernel prospered precisely because Linus has guided it in sensible direction, very very very often forfeiting short-term gains in favor of long-term goals. Both short-term decisions and long-term goals have shaped Linux as it is now - but also pissed hell a lot of people over the time. (I was one of them btw). But that's fine: one can't satisfy everybody and Linus is first to tell you that: they work on the kernel for their own purposes. Not mine or yours.

F/LOSS was, is and would remain hegemony of developers. Wanna your voice to be heard? - learn to code.

Mark Shuttleworth probably can't code himself so he keeps on payroll those who can. And his voice is heard.

Another point would be that F/LOSS by definition is egoistic movement. The software is created by people who want to solve their own problems - not yours. If it solved btw your problem - be glad. But do not take that as a right that developers are there to solve your problems. One must understand that using OSS is a privilege.

Dulwithe said...

"If it works, use it. If it doesn't, don't."

A quote from Ralph Towner, jazz guitarist / composer.

Ubuntu/kubuntu has never worked for me, although I tried many times, but had grief after grief.

So, it doesn't work, and I don't use it.