Just to recap: I’ve stated complaints about the broader Open Source development culture, in which there is a lack of support for older releases which work well. This is matched by entirely too little backward compatibility. All of this is fine if your computer and OS is a hobby, but if you really don’t want to give your life over to the never-ending chase of the latest version, you are out of luck. Almost no developers in Open Source will spare you a moment’s concern. Further, broaching the issue has sometimes resulted in unnecessary hostility from those developers. These same projects openly beg for patches, but won’t accept them if they apply to an older release you may be enjoying. This is not about the stereo-typical crankiness of hackers, some of whom do so well with computers because they don’t do well with people. This is software development which maintains a closed loop inside a rather tight community, and exhibits zero awareness, even hostility, to more ordinary computer users.
Compare this to commercial software development. To be fair, when chasing the almighty dollar, it can easily get worse than with Open Source. With the Linux community, it’s simply a cultural bias, a rejection based on the nature of the beast. Any hostility is probably more a by-product than a root element. However, in the commercial world of Intuit, it’s about rape and pillage. They’ve been advertising a lot on TV lately — when I, who despise TV, can notice an ad campaign on TV, it’s pretty big. It’s really sad to realize so very many ordinary users will experience such expensive sorrows from a company with a long record of consumer abuse. Instead of a casual disregard, they actively plan to hold your business data hostage. There can be no other explanation for smiling sweetly and telling you to hand over your wallet as the price for fixing something which is a known fault in their software. They haven’t fixed it and don’t intend to, since it serves as a cash cow.
Similar allegations might be reasonable for a large array of standard consumer software products. All the more detestable this is since they easily waste more money advertising their products than they would dream of spending on making it better. I recall walking through a particular chain store for a hands-on examination a particular product. Ubiquitous signage and a couple of vehicles out front were promoting something with a green and black logo. A salesman confronted me with the question, “What firewall do you run on your system?” My response was, “IP tables.” He paused a moment, started to deliver his pitch, then stopped himself as he recognized I was talking about Linux. He turned away to pursue another shopper. It may actually be a decent product, but it’s an add-on, compared to Linux (and any other implementation of Unix) in which the firewall is built into the kernel, and requires no extra resources. The Windows OS itself it not a consumer product, but a marketing channel.
In this, Open Source remains incidentally better. That is, no one is after my wallet, and no one promotes their project for material gain. Instead, the Open Source community as a whole seems intent on pursuing some dream, or at least scratching their own itch within the context. We who use Open Source benefit from that scratching. When the motive includes competing head-to-head with commercial products, we get things like Mozilla and OpenOffice.org. Included in that competitive spirit is a certain amount of backward compatibility, which is usually missing from just about all other Open Source projects. Thus, these inclusive projects get the notice because people have discovered it is competitive, even better for some uses, and costs nothing. This causes them to at least consider running an Open Source OS, but something stops them.
That something is lack of support. Sure, we need to educate them as to what they should expect, but there is one thing they will never accept. It’s not money, since we aren’t selling the software, but the other kind of investment — effort to install, to make the migration, to learn a new way of doing some things, etc. These investments often pay too little in dividends compared the awful liability they accept, which means the never-ending upgrade chase. That price is too high.
I care about those people. I want them to have something better, because I know the miseries they experience running Windows. I see it every day, and cannot escape thinking how much better off they would be with Linux. But I know they can’t afford it, unless I can convince a few other folks to work with an ideal restricted to too few Open Source projects — long-term support.
I have no idea how I could convince, for example the GNOME Project, to support fixes for the version I run on CentOS, 2.16. Nobody associated with that project will touch it, despite this being one of the better milestones in the history of the project. Were it just one or two packages, this would be a minor thing. But this is so deeply hooked into the system, it would mean rebuilding more than 50% of the binary code on my system, and guarantees breaking several things I’m using now. “Nobody said you have to use it.” Fine, should I use KDE, which is worse? You can’t tell me the GNOME people haven’t done their very best to make theirs The Standard so people would hardly consider running Linux without GNOME. Indeed, near as I can estimate, the GNOME desktop is the default for most Linux distros. The GNOME folks like it that way, and have actively campaigned for it. So while they can claim no one is forced to use GNOME, they know it’s not precisely true. The problem is not using GNOME, it’s how GNOME developers use people. That is, they want your support, but give none back.
The same goes on varying scales with all too many Open Source projects. How do we bridge the gap? How do we get some greater part of the community to reach out to those who can’t chase the latest and greatest upgrade? In my obscure and feeble way, I’m working on making one of the few stable projects a little easier to handle, by seeing if I can repackage CentOS. That’s the shortest path I can find right now. Please, forget my name, but help me help others.