Apr 24 2008
The question was raised on a blog that I found on the Mono project’s “Monologue”, and Sandy Armstrong, the author, answered it from a developer’s perspective.
This is the original blog’s URL:
I know it is one of those useless flamewar topics, but here is my new standard response to GNU/Linux zealots, without the intent of starting yet another flamewar:
I never had the feeling that most GNU/Linux developers really care for the user. They care a technical problem that interests them, but they are usually not interested in making something beautiful or useful.
GNU/Linux in general is still painful to use, no matter what incarnation or distribution you chose. There still is always at least one system component that does not work, and many of the applications for it are either broken or lack important functionality.
Users don’t care for the availability of the source code or the possibility of messing around with the core of the software that they are using. They need to get a job done; software is a tool for them, not something self-sufficient.
GNU/Linux and its culture are perfect for geeks and people who are happy with messing around with a system – but who are no actually really trying to create something -with- it.
The other issue with most of the dominating culture behind or in GNU/Linux is the mentality of cloning already existing software. Where’s the innovation in that? Especially in the Open Source world developers have the chance to create something NEW –without– the need to maintain compatibility with legacy user interfaces and interaction models. But that chance is never taken.
Apple is an extremely proprietary company with a sometimes almost intolerable business model, but at least these guys know how to develop new interfaces and interaction models. And even Microsoft has shown innovation in their products, albeit at a much lower rate than its competition.
But when I look at GNU/Linux, I mostly see unimaginative copies of commercial software or useless eye candy at best — on top of a system that after all those years still has unbelievable problems with supporting multiple monitors out of the box or accessing encrypted wireless LANs (which both are no-brainers nowadays on commercial systems).
My personal killer application is Apple Aperture. There are competing products on the market, but in my opinion they plainly suck compared to Aperture’s feature-set and workflow. You can only write such a software if you actually care for your user base and their needs. As a digital photographer, you simply don’t care for the source code or if the software is free in any way. You want the best and most efficient tool for the job at hand. A photographer’s job here is to develop his pictures and sort the good ones out. When you shoot thousands of pictures during just one session, you won’t use amateur software, especially not when you work with RAW formats.
Photographers are just ONE target group GNU/Linux software coders just don’t understand or care for. You could go on with webdesigners (Flash, anyone?), videographers (where’s Final Cut Studio?) or musicians (where are the Open Source versions of Propellerhead Reason, Logic Studio or Ableton Live?) or professional writers (where are Scrivener, Mellel, Montage and Final Draft ? And no, OpenOffice does NOT count, and neither would Microsoft Office or iWork).
You will find the very same situation in almost any other profession — except for software developers and system administrators. Since those are basically the only real users of GNU/Linux, naturally plenty of software exists for them.
The problem is that such software probably is completely boring to write and it simply is no fun to write something after the specification and requirements of others. Why would one write a software for photographers when you are not shooting photos yourself? Why would you want to write music software when you are not a musician? Why would you write software for a medical doctor when you are not a physician yourself?
Well, people usually do these things because they get paid for it and make a living with developing and selling such a product. Since selling Open Source software is almost an impossible thing to do, you already know why Adobe, Ableton and Propellerhead do not even try to port their software to GNU/Linux (to which distribution, by the way?) – people probably wouldn’t buy it in the first place, because it is not “free” (where, let us be honest for a second here, most folks only care for ‘free as in beer’).
I do not know if the GNU/Linux community, if it even exists as an identifiable group and not just as a cluster of individuals who all have their own interests, can overcome that situation and mature GNU/Linux into a platform that will be really useful for USERS.
I tend to believe that ‘users’ and the GNU/Linux ‘community’ do not go well with each other and that they are located at the opposite ends of a spectrum. The ‘community’ makes GNU/Linux what it is, and that ‘community’ is not made of users, but of technical geeks who are interested in bytes and pixels, but not in the printed word or picture.
As long as that does not change, user-oriented software will remain the domain of proprietary, commercial entities.