Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Process or Product

One of my proudest moments was when I learned that someone quit their job as a result of my speaking up.

I won't bore you with the story, but what I said cut through all the messaging and managing of expectations and easing of the customer experience, helped a fine gentleman realize he was working for a bunch of snakes, and he quit.

The killer feature of free software is it's lack of artifice. Software is a product of the human mind, and since the human mind ranges from intolerably stupid and destructive to sublime beauty, software reflects those extremes. Of course, most minds and software are somewhere in between. Free software processes expose the reality, closed software tries to hide it. I mistrust software, although I have an implanted device run by software that keeps me alive and well. I know bugs exist in all software, and gleefully climb into an airplane run by software. I know I could lose all my data, but I run KDE 4 from trunk.

I would hope that one gift free software gives to humanity is a realization of the frailty of software development. For that reason, exposing the process of free software development is extremely important. But equally, the exposure of this reality imposes a discipline. Most ideas look wonderful until they are exposed to the light of day. And like all human endeavors, great ideas are usually the result of many bad ones.

The killer app of free software is the process. The products range from awful to awesome, but the process, in all it's beauty and ugliness, has challenged well financed development houses. Any attempt to protect users from the process will inevitably hurt the product. We have a saying at work that the paying customer is always right. Those who can pay, who can contribute to the process, will and do appreciate the exposed nature of the process, including the rough and tumble and the uncertainty of the development process. That rough and tumble and uncertainty and much more will come out when developers speak their minds. And tell us the neat things they are doing. And show us pictures of their kids. Why would anyone give their time to work on free software if they couldn't show off their kids?

Speaking of intolerably stupid and destructive, Mussolini said "Ruling the Italians is not difficult; it's pointless." It is not difficult to control the message. Disaggregate some bloggers, like me for example. Write a community communication manual. But why? It's pointless. In fact, it's counterproductive.

In case you're wondering, in the situation I described above, there was no need for abuse or yelling. Just a simple clear description of the truth sufficed. I talk to the gentleman nearly every week at his new employer, and the enjoyment is mutual.


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