A General Rant at Linux Developers

It’s hard to single out anyone, or even a team that works together. The problem I see is a broad attitude that is fairly consistent across the whole community.

Stop advocating Linux if you refuse to deliver what users want and need. If your whole effort in Open Source development is simply to advance the technology, then there’s not much I can say. But for those of you who claim you want Linux to be competitive, and to eclipse the commercial software vendors to become the operating system of choice, stop kidding yourselves. You may think you want to take over the software world, but you are blind and stupid about how to do it.

For at least the past few years, Linux has been in the position to overwhelm the likes of Windows and even Mac, but developers and packagers keep shooting themselves in the foot. Every time there’s a choice between fixing bugs and adding features, you always go for the latter and introduce new bugs. Even when you know how to fix your product and it’s not that hard, you still don’t release a changed package. I run into this all the time, where the package tracker shows a problem that is easily solved, but the attitude is “won’t fix” for reasons seldom clearly stated. Thousands of users are left in the lurch.

(I can say this because I’ve rebuilt those packages myself using well known patches and they worked fine. I’m not a coder, just someone who knows a little about patching and building.)

You folks are so deeply focused on the technology that you have no sense of scale in terms of users. Nobody thinks about the users. I know for a fact that a large segment of the developer population actively despises average users. It’s that technology elitism thing that never goes away. And whoever organizes these developers, you are no better. It’s precious rare a project shows an interest in the human side of things. Hint: Without mass appeal, your software will always be a private hobby that nobody cares about.

In case you don’t get it: Ignoring users is a sin. It’s morally evil. This is written into the code of the universe, as it were. You cannot hope to win and become the PC OS of choice until you care about the users. That’s immutable.

Over the past couple of days I took the time to test a few distros that weren’t foreign to my habits. Q4OS? Great idea, but it’s not ready for prime time. It couldn’t come up with a workable GUI on a standard Dell laptop. Sure, I know how to walk through the procedure for fixing this, but no one in 2017 should have to use the commandline to fix something like that. We got past that crap fifteen years ago. Yes, the people at Q4OS do know what’s wrong, but they haven’t bothered to fix their ISO.

I still think the Trinity Desktop is one of the smartest ideas out there; my user testing shows that Windows refugees love it best of all, but it’s short on resources and developers. So the Trinity Ubuntu release sucks and refuses to install.

Even CentOS 7 refused to complete the installation on that same machine; it hung on the post install tasks. And Debian vanilla pays very little heed to the desktop users’ needs; it’s all about the server stuff. I had to manually install the touchpad driver afterwards, and then make all of my configuration via a very long list of synclient switches. The defaults suck. No GUI touchpad config on XFCE? How come Ubuntu and friends can make it work so nicely using your same code base? You can’t backport their tweaks?

Yes, they do know about these problems. No, they have no plans to fix them. They are too busy chasing some other internal priorities, but users don’t matter. Why does Mint stay at the top of the Distrowatch chart so long? Because they do pay attention to making the clueless user feel welcome. There is precious little you have to fix on Mint. The only drawback is the weird attitude about holding back upstream kernel security fixes from their users. If you ignore their advice and take the kernel update, it will sometimes break something because they refuse to make the updates work with their distro tweaks. Mint isn’t the best, it just sucks less than everything else.

I long ago despaired of the Linux community ever understanding the concept of “customer service.” Until they get it, Linux will always remain as a tiny minority of desktop PC OSes. There will never be a year of the Linux Desktop.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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2 Responses to A General Rant at Linux Developers

  1. Jay DiNitto says:

    If I may chime in as a pro here…

    The biggest challenge that doesn’t seem to be addressed on the Linux side is the user experience. Developers don’t do user experience, even though some of them can; it’s a discipline, sure, but takes planning and time to do all of that, and developers are loath to work on anything about their product that’s not coding. So usability is not a concern. Paradoxically, corporations tend to be on the front lines of UX research, because they have the resources and competitive advantage of knowing their customers extremely well. Smaller, tech-heavy shops might not enjoy that advantage.


  2. Ed Hurst says:

    Quite so. But when people develop these projects, it seldom occurs to them to include someone whose mission is not code, but user experience. Oddly, the Trinity Desktop has plenty of user experience focus and not enough developers.


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