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andylandy

The folly of free software

I've been meaning to blog about this for some time now, but I've found I rarely have the time to blog. Fortunately, waking up at 5am has left me with plenty of time this morning.

I'm a computer admin and programmer by trade, and I'm really intolerant of software that's not up to scratch, be it badly-written or non-intuitive or whatever. I hate it. I work with Windows, Linux, Solaris and Mac OS and none of them are perfect. I used to be a Mac evangelist, these days I still use a Mac in preference to anything else, but it's very much the "lesser of evils"

Linux has so much potential, but alas is riddled with stupid politics and ideology. I started using Linux about 7 years ago. RedHat 6.1 was the distro of the day and the idea of a free OS for your PC was still pretty novel to many people. Sure it wasn't perfect, you had to spec your system to be compatible with linux, since most hardware didn't work. Configuration was still very much text-file editing, and the available software was primitive, but it certainly was a breath of fresh air.

Fast forward seven years and Linux has come a very long way. Ubuntu, Gnome and OpenOffice 2 showcase much that is good about Linux, but all the time I keep seeing stupid decisions and arrogant software developers.

First off, Ubuntu have decided to change their default shell (/bin/sh) to be dash instead of bash. In principle, this should work, because both shells are compatible with the specification. However, the specification was changed, and bash is no longer compatible. The problem is that just about every piece of software that uses this is dependent on bash and the old standard.

By changing to dash, Ubuntu have decided that being compliant with the standard is more important that having software work! [1] Sure, there are fixes, but I can guarantee that we'll never be in a situation where all the software in the world that relies on the old standard is repaired. Microsoft would never do this. DOS is now obsolete, but most of the patches for Windows 2000 were to increase compatibility with DOS or Win9x games. Windows XP has a whole host of compatibility stuff to run games that use old standards, and Apple made sure that new Intel-based Macs can run PowerPC code and Classic MacOS applications.

Imagine if your web browser just gave you an error message when you looked at a site that didn't meet the standard. You'd dump it in favour of one which did the best it can. Why don't the Ubuntu folks see it this way?

Thn there's the issue of Gnome and the "Dragging a disk to the trash" feature. You get a warning message that this doesn't do anything, and that if you want to eject a disk, you need to do something else. Apparently this is because "Dragging to the trash is not an intuitive synonym for eject" [2] -- Yes, I agree, it's not intuitive, but that's not the issue here. If you look at it the other way, what's the intuitive thing to happen when you drag a disk to the trash? Erase it maybe, or possibly eject it. There's no reason why they can't have more than one eject mechanism. Worst of all, of course, is giving you a dialog box that says "I know what you were trying to do, but I'm not going to let you do it." -- That's just plain offensive.

These may just be small fish in the bigger picture, but it's more the ethos and mentality that drives these decisions that I object to. I believe that anyone who produces software should be more responsible to their end users and the community at large. Arrogant remarks like "I wrote this for free, you should be grateful" or "It's free software, you have a compiler, fix it yourself" hold absolutely no weight with me at all. Then there's the intolerance to commercial software. I agree with Richard Stallman that it'd be nice to have a world of entirely free software, but I've got things to get done and don't have time to refuse software on principal.


[1] https://launchpad.net/bugs/61463
[2] http://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=154283

Comments

I was going to taunt you as a FAILURE BLOGGER, but I find that you have a new post. I agree with you.

Imagine if your web browser just gave you an error message when you looked at a site that didn't meet the standard.
This is what happens if you have a badly formed XHTML page :-)

Also, Ubuntu has its shortcomings, but it's still better than most of the other distributions out there. Infact, the whole politics thing is much less of a problem in Ubuntu than elsewhere, just because they have a benevolent dictator (Mark Shuttleworth). Compare Ubuntu to Debian - just look at the time between Debian releases, or look at this, for example:

http://www.debian.org/vote/2006/vote_001

Badly-formatted XHTML

Maybe your web browser does this. Mine does not. :-)

Indeed you're right about Ubuntu, it's still the best of the bunch. It's just this whole silly mentality that irks me.

Re: Badly-formatted XHTML

Really? What happens if you try this?

Opera, as always, gets it right.

It both reports the error, and lets me get on with viewing the page if I tell it to ignore the server and pretend it's just HTML.

But, please, do continue to advocate the festering shitpile that is Firefox. Perhaps they've already "innovated" this feature?

Oh dear!

I just tried this with Firefox 2.0.0.1, and it would appear that I cannot view the page at all! I will have to switch back to Microsoft Internet Explorer, because FF doesn't support the websites I wish to access.

Re: Opera, as always, gets it right.

If you're stupid enough to think that rendering XHTML as HTML is somehow useful, I expect it's a really useful feature!

Re: Opera, as always, gets it right.

"Dash" to you too.

YOU UTTER TROLL!

OpenOffice 2?!?!?!

*continues reading the rest of that post*

EJecting a disc by throwing it away.

Is there an icon representing the Mac anywhere, and if so does throwing it away cause the machine to power down?

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andylandy

March 2007

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