And that of course includes me.
Recently my blog attracted a lot of attention from readers who are more critical of FLOSS, and Linux in particular, than my regular readership. Naturally a long discussion erupted where critiques and defenses of various positions and opinions and how stuff works where flung to and fro.
Then today I realized something, and it was an uncomfortable realization…Sucky Attitudes
First off, I became a Lintard, a derogatory term for someone who defends Linux and free software regardless. I refused to accept any of the positions of those who did me the favor of spending time on my blog and actually decided to take the time to comment.
Yes some of the responses where less than friendly, but IT types are known as a rowdy bunch, and we fight hard.
Unfortunately the “Lintard” attitude prevails in the open source community – yep up to this day, and although a fellow geek might be wise to roll with the punches that will inevitably come his or her way in a discussion such as the one we had, this leaves the end user – the very person who Linux evangelists try to convert – in the lurch.
Seriously, if I treat a client the way the community often reacts to criticism he will take his business elsewhere. And in the case of FLOSS that is happening.
Listen to your users.
FLOSS is not perfect
Many FLOSS products are seriously good, but there are still shortcomings that need to be dealt with. Linux has come a long way usability wise – but there is still a long ways to go.
Carsten Hardt presented an interesting example. When copying something from Firefox in Linux, when you close Firefox before pasting your copied text goes missing.
I tried it, it is true.
More importantly though was my instant reaction – Who the heck closes a browser window before pasting whatever they copied from it? I certainly don’t, and no-one in my office does. But someone does, enough people for that example to come to light.
My reaction is typical though of what happens – I don’t use it that way, so why fix it?
Of course the following happened; I decided to test this in Windows 7 on my laptop and duly booted into Win7 and logged in. I got asked to do something and was away from my desk for about ten minutes. As I got back I was just in time to see my laptop reboot. The reason? I boot into Windows so infrequently that whenever I log in Windows needs to update in order to reboot.
When I eventually logged in and copied my text, I tried to open MS Office – “The operation could not be completed due to low memory or hard drive space”
I checked and I have a few Gigs of hard drive space available, and I have four Gigs of Ram installed on my laptop.
Here was a golden opportunity to answer the commenter with a “Windows is teh suxors because…”
But it would not change the fact that something that does not work needs fixing. So I didn’t.
Winning the hearts and minds
90% of the people who use computers today are not technically adept. They do not know the difference between a subnet and an IP address, let alone figuring out they may be on the wrong subnet.
If the FLOSS community is to win these people over to use their software they should first start listening to valid complaints, and second aim to fix what can be fixed.
There is progress
Today I installed a CUPS printer on Ubuntu to prove a point. It went very well. I noted the lack of feedback from the Operating system as to what needs to be done, but one thing I did not note, and now I will spend some time on it.
There is a “Problems?” link in the server settings window. When you click on it a step by step guide appears helping you to install a printer, or to troubleshoot the why of it not working. The area of help documentation has long been a major point of contention with Linux, and I am glad to report that there is improvement there, and with other areas.
If you are running Ubuntu, do yourself a favor, go read through that little step by step help utility – it is a great little tool to help someone install a printer.
More importantly though – if you see an area in that utility where you think it needs improvement, contact whoever is responsible for developing it and make a suggestion.
I for one think that the utility is hidden away too much, it needs to be on the front page of the Printing application.
Yes a lot of the criticism re FLOSS is harsh, often it is leveled by people who have no desire to improve it. Yes often the smallest little failure in a FLOSS product is taken and paraded in an online discussion and inaccurate examples are used to try and demean the product.
Amongst this noise is a lot of fair and valid criticism, and often good suggestions. Not all suggestions are adapted and accepted though – sometimes your solution might not be the best one, but as far as is possible the suggestions need to be weighed and examined to see if they are valid and can be used.
Now let me go see if there is someone out there who thinks moving the help dialog to the front of the application is a good idea…