Freely Fixing and Developer’s Time

Posted in Programming and Technical, Ubuntu on March 9th, 2011 by doctormo

I was reading over the ever wise Matt Zimmerman and his blog post about Listening to Users; in it he argues that user involvement is a nuanced subject and which approach the developer takes can be highly dependant on the timing, cycle and context of the developing project. Providing examples and some interesting comment.

I basically agree with these ideas, but I wanted to add something more to the economic thought.

I talk about user involvement here; I never mean users who are programmers, users who help support other users or users who turn into developers by their continued project involvement. For that subject see User to Developer evolution.

What developers want from users is fine communication on what the challenges and needs they are facing. They would like as much depth into the issues with as much detail on the specifics which cause issues. This communication is not actually in effort to help the user, but is instead a way to help the developer’s project. The user can see the bug or interaction as a way to get their immediate issue resolved, but the developer will be focused on collecting and filtering the relevant information and making tasks to push the project forwards.

Of course the user will still benefit in due course; but the user’s direct support needs are instead not met by bug reports, but by support type people who may or may not know the aims of the project. The goal for support people is to give the user instructions so that they can mitigate their issue and it isn’t about helping the developer. A wily support person will be able to turn a successful support request into a successful bug report which the developer can process and turn into a permanent solution; on the other hand a user or support person who is used to mitigation strategy, but not used to developer interaction will fail to tie the loose end of why the user needed support in the first place.

This can lead to the dreaded ‘toxic workaround’ which Tim Cole has given a talk about. This is a workaround which becomes so well documented and so ingrained in the culture of the users of a product that they fail to actually tell a developer to fix it. So the problem always remains causing issue for anyone new and causing users to go through extra steps to get usable systems. A good example of this is in Ubuntu support channels when people are asked to and expected to compile anything instead of the code being added to a PPA.

In order the listen to users, I think a developer must know the difference between supporting the user, and supporting upstream development; which may place conflicting demand on the developer’s time. The user for their part, if they get frustrated with reporting bugs that never get to be solved, can lash out at developers, ordering and demanding action should be taken and issues resolved.

Of course, if the user isn’t paying the developer to fix their issues, then the user has no right to ask any developer to work on their issue. The user’s only real power is that they can be of use to the developer’s aims in their project’s future refinement. This is because the developer is the one that holds the majority of the economic power. When a developer talks with a user, it’s clearly with an effort to solve the issues the user has brought up; but I think the developer is always thinking about what fixes will benefit the project the most and which users are the most useful to communicate with to achieve those goals.

What are your thoughts?

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Is Ubuntu Commercially Driven?

Posted in Critique, Economics, Free and Open Source Software, Ubuntu on July 21st, 2010 by doctormo

I was reading the comments on the interesting Mint blog about Mint testing a Debian derivative so they can take advantage of rolling releases and get away from Ubuntu’s instability. Some of the comments allude to a different sentiment:

Ubuntu is so commercially driven, whereas mint is such a nice community effort, I’d be so much happier to use mint.

– fred

Ubuntu started to annoy me a bit with all this commercially oriented development of the distro.

– Miro Hadzhiev

But above all I believe that Ubuntu will change direction and become increasingly turned to a more commercial aspect. At the same time they will lose the * community * Exchange.

– F.Dionne

My response to this anti-commercial sentiment is this quote:

You keep on using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

Simply that users and members of the community are confused by what commercial actually means. Commercial is not against the community, the community is commercial, people are employed to work on Ubuntu, work with Ubuntu and to be a part of the community. A varied commercial community would actually be kinda nice, imagine if we had a Dell community manager, or a system76 guy in IRC who was chatting away to the rest of the community of users *and* business people. Take a look at Organisations Learning to contribute to FOSS the right way.

I don’t think *making money* is the real fear of these people, I think the fear is Canonical with their often over bearing unfair influence with Ubuntu that often seems like they are on one side inviting development of their features that they decide are cool and on the other side ignoring and diminishing the features that others who are not Canonical want to work on or would like Canonical to help with.

There is also a fear that Canonical will only really want to work on what makes Ubuntu attractive to OEMs and other large organisations that they have a commercial relationship with. I know that aint true and lots of Canonical people continue to work on things which are good for the whole platform, but sometimes Ubuntu’s certainly had the flavour of feature stuffing and Mark hasn’t helped with the way he words his posts about new features in the past makes it seem like they distrust users opinions.

My personal concern is the lack of commercial involvement of Ubuntu’s users, basically it goes like this: Canonical is a business and is interested in making enough money to pay it’s developers a wage. What they work on is based around what makes money. The money comes from Dell and HP. The developers work on what Dell and HP want. Users never get a direct say in the development of Ubuntu because A) They have no commercial relationship with Canonical and B) Canonical doesn’t co-operate wonderfully on DX with other programmers (commercial or non) preferring instead to announce features at the last minute and rail-road decisions and opinions of others.

OK I’m not on a rant against Canonical, both of these might actually be solved/able:

B) We’ve seen a turn around in Caonical’s DX team shenanigans, announcing Unity at UDS was a very good thing and shows leadership instead of authority. Hopefully the flavour of the team has shifted from assuming all users are idiots and need to be told what’s good for them, to something a little more progressive.
A) If the continued redesign of the Software Center can include the ability to pay for FOSS, then we can introduce the commercial relationship with Canonical _and_ App developers and provide a way for non-technical people to have an economic relationship and thus a say in the future development direction.

All signs point to common sense and progress, mistakes were made but I don’t see more on the horizon. So lets make sure Ubuntu isn’t considered “too commercial” let’s consider FOSS “not commercial enough”, because only through demanding the right commercial terms in our transactions can we make sure that developers get to eat and users get rights to the software they use and we’re not forced to accept traditional locked down software because we’re too eager to get free beer and not responsible enough to pay for Free Speech.

Your thoughts?

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