Open Source Commandments II: Passover Penguins

Open Source Commandments II: Passover Penguins

Summary: In my previous piece discussing the first four Open Source Commandments I talked a bit about the traditions of Passover, where Jewish families gather together to eat a festive meal and discuss our liberation from slavery in Egypt during the reign of the Pharaoh (while the one in the Hagaddah is named Rameses , the actual identity of that Egyptian king during the Exodus is open to heavy interpretation, given the current mass of supporting archeological evidence.

TOPICS: Open Source

Happy Passover from ZDNet (Brandon Perlow)In my previous piece discussing the first four Open Source Commandments I talked a bit about the traditions of Passover, where Jewish families gather together to eat a festive meal and discuss our liberation from slavery in Egypt during the reign of the Pharaoh (while the one in the Hagaddah is named Rameses , the actual identity of that Egyptian king during the Exodus is open to heavy interpretation, given the current mass of supporting archeological evidence.)

However, another big tradition, after eating the heavy meal and unbuckling our belts to make room for dessert, much like during the American secular holiday of Thanksgiving, we discuss the affairs of the day, and how they pertain to our identity and future as Jews. Well, if we were to imagine that Tux and his family were enjoying a Passover Seder, what issues would they discuss? The Exodus from Windows and UNIX? Microsoft's Open Source strategy and its bid for Yahoo? Homebrew Macintoshes? Feature set enhancements for Kernel 3.0? Mark Shuttleworth for President in 2012? While all of these are valid topics, I decided that we should try to finish the Open Source Commandments, so I picked a select few from your responses and added a few new ones of my own.

Thou Shalt Clicketh on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.


Thou Shalt Finish Thy Code and Not Leave Thy People with a Plague of Bugs (reader archerjoe)

"Thou shalt not abandon thy project once it is past the fun stage... Thou shalt reject the false projects of thine WoW guild and fix thine bug-plagued code. Thou shalt not whine when no one else volunteers to help".

I have to say, this is one that really stuck out. One of the biggest criticisms of Open Source software is the huge amount of abandonware compared to the number of active projects. Of's, 175,000+ registered projects, a very large number of these are inactive or single-user compared to those that are continuously developed or successful. On Freshmeat, Sourceforge's companion Open Source binary download site, a great deal of projects have been pruned, reflecting its 44,000 total projects listed.

If you're going to produce an Open Source piece of software, be committed to developing it, and do not abandon it and your users the second real life starts to interfere. You should plan for a backup strategy to continue maintenance and development if you cannot continue to do it yourself.

Thou Shalt Write Good Open Source Documentation (reader farseas)

I love open OSS and use it for almost everything. I run multiple systems with every major Linux distro, Solaris, Nexenta OS, BSD, and whatever else is worth research. But I am very perturbed at the way that OSS designers fail to document things properly. PLEASE write documentation that starts from the beginning. I hate OSS that insists on an intimate relationship with my computers before they have properly introduced themselves! Please, start all docs by explaining in plain English what the OSS is about and what it does.

Amen, Farseas sayeth the truth - but I think this is true of many programming and software projects, not just Open Source ones. Document, Document, Document. I don't care if you do it in comment files, PDFs, Word, AODF, OOXML, ASCII, EBCDIC, Vellum or Papyrus, but write it all down, even if your writing skills suck. I know that this could be challenging in and of itself for a geek, but find a girlfriend, boyfriend or a spouse (I found this to be a particularly good justification for marriage) to edit your materials if necessary.

Thou Shalt Offer a GUI. (readers tmmcorn, shryko)

The causal user should never be forced to use the command-line for anything.

While the console shell is one of the most powerful interfaces in existence for people who know how to utilize it properly, I have to agree with tmmcorn that if you are going to produce an end-user application, it should not require use of the console. There are so many great console utilities out there that could easily be automated or controlled with a simple pyGTK or TCL/TK GUI. I know it's beneath you hardcore console minimalists, but if you want to see your software get used, offer at least a basic GUI to front-end it. Get someone else to write it if you hate GUIs that much. It's no secret that programmers can often be bribed with pizza and Chinese food (manna) to produce quality results.

He Who Professes To Be a Friend of Open Source Shalt Liveth the Lifestyle (Rabbi Perlow)

This is one of the biggest problems I have with companies that profess to be embracing or participating in "Open Source" and yet fall short of how an Open Source practitioner should behave. They have to engage themselves with the community and not just throw their code to the wind, they have to release often and incorporate external participation, and they have to be able to produce the source code when asked for.

I can't tell you how often I see companies that embark on Linux or Open Source projects absolutely blow it on these very simple things. A good friend of mine, QT/KDE programmer extraordinaire Benjamin Meyer, has published a list of Commandments of his own for how to best manage Open Source projects. I suggest you give it a nice read.

Corporations Shalt Mentor and Not Controlleth the Source. (Rabbi Perlow)

While I've often beaten up on Sun Microsystems for their centrist, controlling strategy on how they manage their Open Source projects, they are far from the only violator in this area. Despite its early promises to create a not-for-profit Foundation for Fedora to give the distribution independence, Red Hat still continues to hold it close to the vest and continues to deny it its independence., and I believe that this is a primary reason why Ubuntu has eclipsed it as the end-user distribution of choice. And while Novell has allowed OpenSUSE to be on a comparatively longer leash, it is still very much pinned under the company's Teutonic boots. If OpenSUSE wants to grow its user base, it should "out-Fedora" the Fedora project and create an independent foundation, where Novell is a mentor and strong contributor, with representatives on its advisory board and officers in which it has significant influence, but not in a position where it can completely control its direction entirely.

I think we're up to 9 Commandments now. What shall the final one be? It's time for coffee, jelly rings and macaroons. Yea, verily, speaketh thy mind upon this virtual papyrus.

Topic: Open Source


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • "Thou shalt not hate or mistreat the foreigner among you, . . .

    "Thou shalt not hate or mistreat the foreigner among you, for you yourselves were foreigners in a strange land." (With profound apologies to the King James translators ...)

    Enough with trashing Windows and expecting Windows users to spend huge amounts of time trying to figure out simple things when a few pages of "in Windows you would do ..." would make everything clear.

    If something is difficult or not available, come out and say so. The latest versions of QuickTime won't run under Linux. MS files with DRM won't run. Linux distros don't include proprietary codecs and for someone not familiar with Linux hunting those down is a pain. Yes, office productivity software may input and output the same file formats ... but, no you can't run your friend's butt-kicking Word/Excel macro in OpenOffice -- not even with "just a little tweaking".

    And, no, open source software generally [b][i]doesn't[/i][/b] have all the bells and whistles of a good commercial package that has been around a few years--and never will.
    • Spot on.

      Anyone doubting this only need to visit a few forums or news groups.
    • YAWZ

      "And, no, open source software generally doesn't have all the bells and whistles of a good commercial package that has been around a few years--and never will."
  • RE: Open Source Commandments II: Passover Penguins

    I try a new Linux disto periodically to see how their coming along. I think if Ubuntu beta 8.04 is any indication, they are making great progress. I've criticized them before so now I have to be honest and give them credit for some great innovations. Now if I could just get that beryl thing to work I'm prepared to be blown away!
  • Thou shalt listen to the user.

    An interview with Con Kolivas maybe best explains the reason for this one.

    Although, it's also inspired by Miquel de Icaza's "the user is stupid" attitude which has led the the Gnome project becoming ever more arcane with an ever greater leaning towards the bad old days of Linux where if you need to change anything serious it's the command line or nothing. Windows has at least got GUI configuration tools for a great deal of things, things which are on an extra layer the user may never even bother with (behind the 'advanced' button). In Gnome, if a graphical utility doesn't do what it's supposed to (like actually allow a 1680x1050 resolution when you select a screen configuration with 1680x1050 resolution) there's no option to override the stupid computer and make it do what it's supposed to outside having to manually edit the xorg.conf file or, if you're lucky, something like the nvidia config utilities (if you even know about them).

    Even Windows allows you to override 'safe' values if you think you know better, Gnome decides you're too stupid to even tie your own shoelaces and will never accept that quite often, it's not the user that's stupid.

    Of course it's not only that. It's not just [i]not[/i] dumbing down an interface to the point that it becomes obstructive. It's also accepting that just because doing something in a way the users would prefer is not the way that would be easiest to program, it doesn't make it an unreasonable expectation. If you want all the cachet and recognition that comes from a successful projects, you have to program for the users, not just yourself.
    • RE: Thou shalt listen to the user.

      Man, did you hit it dead on. I am constantly amazed that open source folks think they will win over users when users tell them plainly what they want and what they do not want only to have the open source folks insult them for their efforts.
      • It depends who you're dealing with.

        There are plenty of people and groups in the proprietary world who have the same attitude. The difference is they usually fare badly.

        But then, it's the difference between Ubuntu (which has made a [u]lot[/u] of progress for usability) and the world of Fedora (Fedora Core 2 should have been drowned at birth).

        Not sure how much progress Syllable and Haiku are likely to make. Syllable is both fast and much more usable than Linux but there's not a lot of software available for it (and it needs a lot of work) while Haiku is a BeOS clone with binary compatibility and the advantage that one of the project leaders used to work for Be but it's only achieved BeFS partition and filesystem creation in the last year.

        There are FOSS advocates and programmers interested in what the user wants and there are those who further recognise that to bring on board developers interested in what the user wants, easier development tools are needed (Eclipse works well and Code::Blocks looks very promising). The problem, as always, is that there's a high signal to nose ratio. If I see one more person say 'just use emacs', my head may explode.

        Of course, it's unlikely this problem will ever go away entirely. Even with its billions, I still see plenty of examples in MS software of things that have been done the way that was easiest to program rather than the way that was best for the user. I don't know about Office 2007, but I've spent many a good hour cursing Office XP jut trying to fit in basic spreadsheet data for a report appendix and my dad's constantly confused by circular formula errors in Excel that don't seem to show you the affected cell.
  • Here's a great idea!

    Let's all just trash open source for offering their work for free to anyone and everyone (yes, the great and mighty Microsoft uses it, even), with the sole restriction being it can't be distributed without the original (and free) source.

    I mean, why can't they produce something better for free than what "users" pay Microsoft through the nose for?

    If someone offers us a product for free in lieu of something we otherwise pay dearly for, why should we try to learn to use it properly? Why don't we just sit on our donkeys, beech and whine until someone chases us down and pushes their free product in our face, and magically shows us how to use it with zero effort?

    We all know that using Microsoft wares require zero effort, don't we? So why don't we hold open source to the same standards?

    If the reader detects a wee bit of sarcasm in these questions, a few facts just may be sinking into his/her brain.
    Ole Man
    • A useless MS rant when building FOSS commandments.

      And you whonder why so many think Open Source folks are clueless snobs...
      • Let me commend you!

        You have exceeded all expectations in your efforts to cover up the misdeeds of your taskmaster, and their legions of puppets.

        I'm sure you just got another brownie point.
        Ole Man
        • And another useless rant from you with nothing

          having to do with the topic at hand. No wonder FOSS can't manage to penetrate the market.

          How about a new commandment? Thou shalt not covet they nieghbors OS or speak bady of it when you can not build anything better.
          • Yes yes yes, great idea!

            And while we are at it, why don't we make another commandment?

            Thou shalt not speak anything to offend Microsoft's (and by proxy N0_Fact's) domination of software, especially if not specifically responding to their subtle attacks on their opposition.
            Ole Man
          • The answer is obvious.

            When a supporter of anythng can find nothing good to say about it, they always resort to attacking people with a different view.

            Yes its sad, but it is the truth as you prove to everyone.
          • Is that the reason?

            You attack anyone who doesn't exhibit kind loving adoration to your taskmaster?

            You wouldn't be a wee bit hypocritical, would you? Naaah! We all know the lovable N0_Facts wouldn't do that!
            Ole Man
          • Thats a MS commandment

            "Thou shalt not covet they nieghbors OS or speak bady of it when you can not build anything better." even Steve thinks Vista is work in progress.
      • Open Source folks are clueless snobs...

        is according to a troll like you, but you also imply Open Source folks are fantastically smart and better than Windows users as they are the only ones clever enough to use open source software. Then, also by implication, you are saying all windows users are stupid.
        • You can try to spin it, doesn't work but a nice try.

          Amazingly you prove my point (and the authors) for me. Keep up the good work showing the world what sort of people are fans of open source, I am certain it will win people over. Uh huh, sure it will...
          • Your point is moot

            Open Source has no use for the sort who will suck up to Microsoft, and therefore is not addressing you and other puppets. It's you who rant and rave about how bad Open Source is because you can't find enough good to say about your taskmaster, and brutally attack anyone who doesn't suck up to them.

            If you are naive enough to think your attacks will prevent anybody from exposing your taskmaster, think again. How many have you stopped to date?
            Ole Man
          • Fans of Open Source (a development model)?

            Which fans are you referring to? Here is a small list:

            Financial institutions (banks, brokerages, etc.)
            Retail (clothing, food, etc.)
            Telecommunications companies (service providors, ISPs, etc.)
            Application Service Providors (banks, CRM/SFA shops, search engines, etc.)

            Which are you referring to?
          • :o)

            you still haven't got it, have you. Never mind, comprehension has always been your major weak point (apart from being a troll).