Amy Alexander on Tue, 23 May 2000 15:46:11 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> OFSS01: First Orbiten Free Software Survey

>     Amy> Definitely. I think most open source programs still have a
>     Amy> way to go to be responsive to the end-user, rather than to
>     Amy> programmers making other things out of them.
> It's the difference betweem applications and toolkits (and other bits
> unspeakable ;-)
yes, but that in itself is ambiguous. for example, perl modules.
they are mostly easy to understand for a fairly new perl programmer.
and many even come with a useful standalone utiltity.
but many users  may not always understand the more sophisticated aspects,
nor understand how one is written. when they ask questions on the lists,
they often get flamed.  

so the lines between "end-user" and "programmer" are quite muddy here.
or at least the definitions don't necessarily follow what we traditionally
think of.

>     Amy> The project mailing lists are generally populated by
>     Amy> programmers, not end users, with rare, apologetic posts from
>     Amy> non-technical end-users.
> Most projects have different lists for developers and for users.  Some
> projects' developers lists are not even public (means accessible to
> every Joe, Dick and Harry (or Joan, Diane and Harriett ;-))
ok, again, this "end-user/programmer" was largely what i had in mind...

>     Amy> More than once I've written to the author of an open source
>     Amy> program or posted to the mailing list, and said, "I've read
>     Amy> the docs and haven't figured out - can it do so-and-so?" and
>     Amy> had them respond, "Hey, great idea, why don't you write the
>     Amy> code for that?" Many open source apps seem to be written with
>     Amy> little expectation that there *is* an end-user, except that
>     Amy> the end-user him/herself might program something useful out
>     Amy> of the source code. Maybe the end-user should be renamed the
>     Amy> "end-programmer". :-) ...
> The problem here is that many people forget that the majority of all
> Free Software projects are done by (unpaid) volunteers whose time is
> limited. (I'm not assuming you do, Amy, though what you say could be
> taken that way).
yes, and i both write bits of free software when i can (for free) and use it, so 
i know  what you mean.
i'm not complaining that motives are impure, rather addressing the
issue that i feel that there is a lot of great stuff out there that
is too daunting/time-consuming for the average person.
(i also teach unix and general computing to artists and other
non-technical people, so i am familiar with what they find daunting.)

> It might even be that the developer in question *does* put your idea
> on his or her TODO list... but since end-user applications are not
> developed for *you*, but for the developer that does the work, your
> idea will probably have pretty low priority (unless it's something the
> developer comes to like as much as you do).
agreed... i think this was mentioned early on in the thread. again,
not a complaint about lazy developers, but an assessment of why
it's difficult for non-programmers to make use of much open source

> Oh, and if you absolutely *need* the feature... you *are* free to code
> it, or, if that's not a possibility for you (mayhap you are to busy
> with other things to do it), you can *hire* someone to do it.  You
> can't do that with Microzoff Word (or any other proprietary app).
definitely. i think you are just missing my point... i am
a *huge* proponent of open source, sitting here in a room
with 2 linux boxes writing you this in pine. :-) ... 
and as both a geek and a net artist, i make my projects
almost entirely out of open source stuff. (hey nothing is 
perfect. :-) ) ... the point i am making is, most open
source software now is not incredibly accessible to the general
public. yet at the same time, there seems to be a movement for
more general acceptance, and clearly, there are financial incentives
for many for that to happen. and, things do seem to be improving,
but they are not there yet.

>     Amy> I realize that it's important to develop toolkits and so on
>     Amy> for other people to build onto, and that not everything
>     Amy> *should* be an end-user app, but, with the open-source stuff,
>     Amy> there seems to be an inordinate percentage of apps that seem
>     Amy> to be end-user apps on the surface, but which then turn out
>     Amy> to be "some-assembly-required" sorts of things.
> When I put something out there, I'm *very* interested in
> feedback... most of the stuff is written for me, with varying
> attention to usability by other people.  Starting with the platform it

i'm thinking here of apps where you download them, and then
you have to compile them because there
isn't a binary for your linux distro, but, oops, you don't have the library
you need, so you gotta get that..
oops, wait, something else i have is the wrong version... 
and that happened to me just trying to install KOffice last wk. on last
year's RedHat distro...  i should really upgrade RedHat but first i have
to check the bug reports on 6.2 and make sure it's not going to screw
up my system like the bugs 6.1 apparently had... (and i really don't
want lilo to forcibly install itself in my MBR, which apparently it did 
in 6.1)... 

i also downloaded SoundStudio because i needed to do some sound editing
on one of my linux boxes over the weekend... it turned out it to be a front
end for sox, but it couldn't find sox so it didn't work. (weird,
because sox was in the usual path... ) fortunately
i am a sysadmin so i understood the problem and created a symbolic link.
but again, a general desktop user wouldn't be able to get that going.

again, this is not a complaint about developers, (except maybe RedHat
because they are commercial and put out a really buggy release...)
it is rather an analysis of why a lot of open source stuff is currently
inaccessible to the general public.

and as far as adding features yourself, yes, it's great to be able
to, but i am talking here about the assumption that the user is a
programmer capable of doing that. 

> And the front-end/engine split is a good old UNIX tradition...
yes, but again, a tradition that may stand questioning if
open source is going to expand beyond the good old traditional
unix user...  or maybe it shouldn't do that; maybe its best left to
us geeks... ok, but then there's so much hype about open source being
this great thing for everybody, so it's worth pointing out to people
if what is meant is "this is great for those who have spent years learning
unix and have a lot of time available getting things to work."

>     Amy> There are always quite a few male geeks who argue, "Women
>     Amy> code to get a particular job done. Men code for the joy of
>     Amy> coding. Therefore, men code things that can be used by many
>     Amy> others to create apps, while women code specific apps that
>     Amy> spawn nothing further.  This is why almost all the famous
>     Amy> open source geeks are men."
> Crap.  One of the major annoyances for me when I have to deal with
> `lusers' is that people are not willing or able to explore, to play
> with a system, and thus to *learn*.  Are women worse than men?  I
> don't think so...  (That crap was directed at those make geeks of
> course...  geek doesn't mean smart-in-all-areas-of-life)
well, yeah, since the quote was male geeks talking about male and
female geeks, i'm not sure what point you are making here...

i have that same experience with users; especially since many of
the people i deal with are art students in their 20's, who have always
thought of themselves and been told they are non-technical. 
so technophobia is a big part of the problem, not just laziness.

on the other hand, there is a point here, which our users
run into and one which i run into
when working on my own projects: as much fun as it might or might not
be to explore a system (fun for me, not for most of my users), the time
spent exploring the system is taken away from the project at hand.
obviously, there needs to be a balance. outlook express saved everyone
time by opening their mail attachments and so on, and people have
paid all sorts of prices for this "no-decision required" methodology.
and so one has to ask, "gee, how difficult is it really to open
your attachments manually?" on the other hand, spending hours on
end figuring out how to get the software to work is a problem when
one needs to get work done... tinkering is fine when you have the time
and want to, but we can't assume that everyone does.

>     Amy> Suspicious metaphors aside, one thing that's very significant
>     Amy> here is that there is quite a bit of incentive in terms of
>     Amy> ego gratification (and potential for career enhancement
>     Amy> through reputation-building) for people who code things that
>     Amy> are *not* for end-users, and not so much for people who code
>     Amy> things *for* end-users.
> What I personally like best about working on Free Software is
> gratification-by-satisfied-(and-thankful)-users.  Whether it's an
> end-user app or a tool for programmers doesn't matter.
that's good to hear... (clearly *somebody* must be coding these things.. ;-) )

>     Amy> All that said, the open-source movement seems to be waking
>     Amy> up, albeit slowly, to the needs of the end-user.
> You mean *companies* are waking up... they want lots and lots of
> paying customers (tons of em... you gotta make a killing, you know).
> And lots and lots are *not* developers.  If you want masses, you have
> to accept that they might be unwashed ;-)
you bet! but the companies woke up when they decided to make money
off the masses, and that opened up discussion, and that created more
general awareness among the whole lot.  

>     Amy> The article at
>     Amy> entitled "It's the User, Stupid", was interesting because:
>     Amy> a) They ran an article about these problems.
> *They* being a commercial company (okay, so there are no
> non-commercial companies).  Q.E.D. ;-)
yes, but, then it got linked on slashdot, and a lot of people read
and discussed it - commercial and non-commercial developers both.

> If you want an MTA (a Mail Transport Agent... the software that
> delivers email from your computer to the recipients computer), look at
> Exim, or Postfix.  Both are vastly easier to configure... and Postfix
> is said to be orders of magnitude more secure.
ironically, i've got postfix on my latest-installed linux box, and
i'm having more problems with it than i ever did with sendmail! :-)
(but i think it's because i'm more used to sendmail.)  yes, it
seems like postfix at least tries to be less cryptic...

> Oh, and I'd rather use an application that is *used* by its developers
> than an app that is designed by market research.
yes, but then, if a product designed by market research is at least
usable by non-developers whereas they can't use the one the developers
designed, then what choice do the non-developers have? 

the problem comes when open-source advocates say, "our stuff is great! you guys
are using crap! why don't you use our great stuff? 
oh, by the way, *you* can't actually *use* our stuff..."

> I'd work on such stuff... if I'd want to use it myself to.  I'm not
> getting anything for it except an occasional thank-you... and an app I
> use myself.  If the later part would go away, I'd probably not do it.
> But that's just me...
>     Amy> This is a good idea, especially specifying that it was a
>     Amy> forum for geek/non-geek interaction...
> Another point: Many non-geeks trample into a project's forum and start
> demanding as if the developers owe them something.  A lot of these
> will (if they're lucky) get a "Hey, great idea, why don't you write
> the code for that?" (yes, that's a quote from you above).
i don't agree with boarish people on forums whether they are geeks
or non-geeks. that was the second half of my quote, but the first
half was a polite query. :-) .. something like, "does it have this
feature?"  that doesn't mean, "write this feature for me!" i have
plenty of my own users saying that to me to ever say that
to anyone. ;-), (so i started
trying to teach my users shell scripting so they could do their own... 
some do, some don't...) but again, it wasn't a complaint about the feature
not being implemented, just wondering if the developers realize that
not all their users might be programmers, at least not of the level
necessary to implement features in the software. are non-developers
not welcome? if the forum is
really just for developers, how do all these non-geeks wander in? 
apparently, because they wanted to use the software, and followed the
link that said, "questions? join our forum..." which doesn't usually
say, "this is a developers-only forum." though sometimes it does.

> Such a forum as just envisioned would have to make one thing perfectly
> clear (to the non-geeks): the geeks in there are not obliged to do
> whatever the non-geeks would like to have.  Unless someone would cough
> up some money (and then the geek(s) could still refuse...)
that's for sure.  but it would also have to make clear to the geeks
that the non-geeks are users and still have valid perspectives 
even though they can't code and don't use technical terminology.
no flaming the user because he spells telnet "telenet", which was
among the insults that happened to one non-geek on a list the other day...
the guy wasn't demanding a feature, just asking for help because he
couldn't get something to work.

> Bye, J
> PS: I do not see myself as a `geek' per se... I'd rather be called a
> `hacker' (though I would not call myself that ;-).
i prefer the term "gek".. geek is overly long and hackneyed. ;-)

> PPS: First post to nettime and I'm probably already over some size
> limit ;-)
let's see if the moderators survive my response. ;-)

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