Team Murder No Brain No Headache.

6Nov/06Off

Might As Well Bite Someone…

I'm a pretty big advocate of the Free Software Foundation as I think most of the work that they do is important not only to Linux development but also to making free software better and more widely available on more platforms encumbered by restrictive licensing as well. When criticism devolves into cheap shots at the motivations and character of someone who provides a pretty invaluable resources as I believe is the case with this rant my sympathy with the usual set of conditions ends and the annoyance begins. I wonder if the fact that Ladislav actually addresses that very issue (it's a substantial chunk of text but worth reading) rather completely escaped the rant author completely or if he simply read column headings and went off on his merry crusade way assuming that he was smiting yet another enemy of the cold blooded killers of (software) freedom with half finished thoughts and spontaneously generated vitriol. I guess it was the idea that you could simultaneously like a distribution and take advertising from the company that produces it that generated so much ire:

Now before somebody accuses me of being bought by Mandriva, there are still two areas that I think the company needs to address before the distribution regains its former respectability.

The first one is somewhat difficult to quantify, but it revolves around the standards among Mandriva's developers. I recently talked about the infamous blog posts by two Mandriva developers (one full-time employee and one volunteer contributor), who went public with their beliefs that "Linux was not ready for the desktop". One of them, the employee, even called the Linux kernel developers idiots. Now, you are welcome to disagree with my views here, but I think this is mighty immature by any standard.

Firstly, the statement that Linux is not ready for the desktop is clearly wrong. Secondly, it frightens me to imagine that the said Mandriva employee goes home after work, switches on his computer and boots into - what? Mac OS? Or, heavens forbid, Linux XP? Is his job at Mandriva just that - a job that pays the bills? Where is his pride? Where is his passion for the work he has chosen to do? Does Mandriva hire people purely on the basis of qualifications? He might be a talented coder, but if he doesn't take pride in his work and lacks passion for all things Linux, then he doesn't belong in a Linux company!

This sentiment was also mirrored by another experience of mine - dealing with the package maintainer of the Liferea RSS reader. Although not an official part of Mandriva Linux, an unstable build of Liferea 1.1.x was made available in the contrib directory on Mandriva's mirrors. Unfortunately, this version turned out to be a total disaster - it crashed several times per hour and even corrupted my RSS feeds on the way out. In frustration, I emailed the maintainer asking him why, oh why, he chose to package a version which is clearly labelled as unsuitable for production use, instead of the stable Liferea 1.0.x.

Although polite and helpful, his reply was hardly satisfactory. In his view, all open source programs are essentially beta versions, so it didn't really matter whether he packaged the supposedly stable 1.0 or the development 1.1 version. He tried 1.1, it looked good on his system and decided to package it for Mandriva 2007. The same maintainer also packaged GIMP 2.3.x, the development version (with too many obvious bugs, even though I've only used it for light image editing so far), instead of the stable GIMP 2.2.x. I strongly disagree with this view. After all, wouldn't the developer of the software be in a better position to judge its "stability" than a distribution's package maintainer?

Based on these experiences I came to a conclusion that the quality of some (not all, I might add) Mandriva developers is just not up to the usual high standard found in many other open source companies. The lack of correct judgement is something that a developer can learn with time, but lack of passion and love for Linux is inexcusable. If a Mandriva developer is not ashamed to state on a public forum that he will never use Linux on his main desktop, then he shouldn't be working for Mandriva. Or any Linux company. That's what I believe, so flame me if you think that I am wrong.

My second major gripe with Mandriva Linux is its collection of websites. Many things have been said about the company's web infrastructure, but you'll be hard pressed to find anybody who finds visiting the company's web presence, including its paid-for Club pages, a satisfactory experience. There are just too many annoyances to list, starting with the missing "remember me" option when logging in, to non-existent features and hard-to-find information. I don't know if the entire Club thing is about to fold or whether there just isn't enough money to pay an experienced developer to fix these pages, but this is another example of a missing vital ingredient. Suddenly, the lack of pride and passion comes to mind again.

The funny part is that some of his criticisms of Mandriva are pretty damning and also reveal that being happy with a new distribution (unless of course you came up using GNU Hurd and will enter Heaven directly after collecting $200 and passing 'Go.') can be tempered by the epiphanies you will have about the design philosophy of a distribution after using the distribution for more than a few days. Most reviews that I read, favorable or not, mainly consist of installation and next to nothing else. If you're really going to give opinions on using a distribution why not actually fucking use the distribution? Crucifying a reviewer for noting that options you don't like exist in the package base of a distribution is just crybaby bullshit.

Free software has enough momentum behind it to stand on its own without resorting to guilt baiting people into toeing the party line. It really does nothing to strengthen the case for the uninitiated and pisses off people like me who purposely try to avoid dogmatism. Free software doesn't need to apologize for advocating the use of software and licensing that doesn't hover in the 'I'm going to be a millionaire' unicorns and lollipop lala land but at the same time no one owes FOSS (okay, I admit that was kind of mean spirited) folks excuses or apologies for making their own choices. This allegedly is the thrust of all of this anyway, right? Morally superior is pretty insular kids.

Like you needed more irritation on a Monday...

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