gravityboy (gravityboy) wrote,

Goings On

I've been rather disconnected lately, trying to finish my PhD, find a job, etc. I got permission from my committee to start writing my thesis a few weeks ago, so I've been trying to get that in gear, as well as finishing up data for publication. This should all be done by November, if all goes well, so I can get back to spending more time on the things that I love.

I've tried to stay somewhat current with what's going on, and there's been a noticeable change over the past couple weeks in the tone of discussion around the community. I've personally been fascinated by the appearance of two things: the Linux Hater's Blog and the debate about Gtk 3.0. What's striking about both of these things is that they focus very much on the more consumer-oriented side of Linux. It's all about pleasing the independent vendors and grandma, and not about doing cool things. This is a huge shift from a few years ago. When I (and I assume many of us) got started with Free Software it wasn't really about these things, but more about getting your own work done and less about pleasing other people. Pleasing others was good of course, but it wasn't really expected. Just getting the system up and running was cool at the time, but using it exclusively for all your work? Only if you were in the right line of work!

We've come to a point where we expect a hell of a lot more though. We've got very vocal community members who want to spread Linux far and wide, and they want to do it today. And arguably, Linux is ready for it. We have good software that works rather well, can be easily installed and set up, and will run most of what people need. Yay us. On the other hand, after spending the better part of the decade using Linux on the desktop I'm finding that I agree with almost everything that the Linux Hater's Blog says. It's hard to argue with the truth, and the truth is that things are still difficult for people. I've spent the last few years trying to make X in Debian easier for people to deal with, and I've barely made a dent in just this one problem. And there's plenty more to pick and choose from. Sure, you can talk about how Windows and OSX have problems too, but we can't just be as good as them. We have to be better if we want to spread Linux and Free Software far and wide.

But do we really want to do that? Well, to be honest, I don't think it matters. No matter whether or not you care about grandma using Linux, we all want to have systems that work well and are easy to manage. Currently we have a lot of things in modern distros that could be a hell of a lot better. And many of them are directly related to fundamental assumptions we've made that don't really hold up as well as they should. They lead to lots of extra work leading to a sub-par product. We can do better and we should do better. If we have the absolute best system, world domination would be a natural side effect.

That's why I think that things like this need to stop and that we need more things like this. Sure, one is a hell of a lot harder, but no one cares if you solve an easy problem. It's the hard ones that matter, and provide the real payoff in the end. We need a better system to stop the hemorrhage of developers to OSX. When Miguel talks about how the people pushing for gtk 3.0 are all using OSX, I get very worried. If we want to be in control of our own destiny then we need to face our problems head on, and solve them.
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