Re: a general question (was: Re: GRUB and boot.b)

From: Michael Black (blackm00_at_cam.org)
Date: 01/01/04


Date: 31 Dec 2003 20:06:56 -0800

Jim Kroger <jim@invalid.com> wrote in message news:<jim-81B201.17305130122003@news.zianet.com>...
> I'm confused by all this (and obviously I'm a newcomer).
>
> There's this bunch of folks who write linux software.
>
> There's this other bunch of folks who use it.
>
> The first group wants the second group to use their stuff.
>
> The second group has to spend a lot of time doing detective work
> to figure out how the software works so they can use it. This
> is true from beginner to expert levels.
>
> Why doesn't the first group just explain their software to the second
> group?
>
> I'm sure there's a reason, I just don't understand it yet.
>
> Jim

One thing to keep in mind is that "open source" doesn't necessarily
have anything to do with "market share". Letting software loose
isn't so others will use it, but just in case they may be able
to make use of it.

"Closed source" is precisely about getting people to buy that very
product. Don't reveal things so people will be forced to buy your
product. Come up with your own format for something, and if anyone
wants that format they will have no choice but to buy your product.
Add more features in the next release, not because it is needed, but
so people will buy your product.

Twenty years ago, I'd disassemble commercial software, because either
I needed to find something out, or because I needed it to do something
that the owner did not put in. In the first case, I was working
around the "closed source" mentality, and it didn't keep me from
the information, it simply made me work for that information.
In the second case, the modification I needed to make (and which
I had to jump through hoops to figure out the software before
I could even begin to fix the problem) may not have been of interest
to anyone else. Or maybe to a handful of people. If I'd known
someone was interested, I would have sent them the information.
But, a key factor in "open source" is that there is plenty of
bandwidth between everyone. I could have sent the modification
to a magazine, but perhaps there wasn't enough interest to warrant
the bandwidth (ie space in the magazine).

But if I could have just left the information somewhere, or
the modification, and it didn't cost me anything to do so (since
there was little commercial use, it cost me nothing to give it
away, but distribution might have been too costly), then it would
be easier to do than not do. And maybe someone else wouldn't
have to go down the same path that I did to uncover what was
needed.

Once you start thinking in terms of "they want others to
use the software" then you may be expecting too much. If I have
to fancy something up, and write a manual, it may not ever
get out, because did what I did for my own purposes and don't
need a manual. But writing a manual and fancying something up
is an actual cost, because I'd be doing it for you, not for
me. I could give you something because it costs me nothing,
but the minute you expect handholding then the cost to me
goes up.

Instead of expecting the open source software to be just like commercial
software except "free", maybe you should be looking into how
you can do your part. And realistically, you may be more capable
of doing it than the person who wrote the software.

Someone who wrote the software knows it all. They know the obvious
so they forget to mention it to others. They don't see it in
the eyes of a someone new to the software, they don't see it in
the eyes of a beginner. This is the nature of any experience
where some are insiders and then outsiders want to get in.

If you look at your experience with open software as "trailblazing"
then instead of expecting a map, you would be writing your own
map. It is the experience of someone getting into the software
for the first time that is most important, because if they can
make a map of what they see, then they can share that with others
who have yet to come that way.

When I first started using Pine and Lynx, and they came with
my first experience with the full internet, I was great at knowing
what was what. It was a new experience, and I was exploring.
The fact that there were others in the same boat, because our
"freenet" had just started up, meant that anything I found out
I could share with the others at the same level of experience.
I was fully aware that the people who knew the system would be
less helpful because they weren't new to it all.

But seven years later, I no longer explore Pine and Lynx, and
I've forgotten what it's like to be new to them. Using them
have become routine, so it would take me effort to try to
explain them, whereas when I started, I was fully aware of
what I was doing.

So when you do this mapping, you are in effect paying for
the "open source" software. You aren't paying the writer
of the software, but you are acknowledging that the software
is useful enough to you that you will put in some effort.
And you could help the software propogate, because you have
added what you feel is missing in existing documentation.

Or, as someone else said, you can pay money to companies
for this sort of support.

   Michael