Doing the right thing is boring

Matt is bored of the Linux community. In response to me quoting Jorge on Gnome’s approach, he responds that “Jorge seems to think that ‘OSS is not a democracy’ is a valid response“, going on to elaborate further:

“The truth is that, outside our little world, such a reply wouldn’t even be ridiculed; it’d simple be ignored. Why? Because democracy has nothing to do with it. In the real world, listening to your users and acommodating their needs is a simple matter of survival. Increasingly, Linux is operating in the real world. Gnome is often trumpeted as the corporate desktop of choice. If corporate IT managers want an easy way to switch off the spatial approach, then Gnome will have to offer such an option, or remain ghettoised, in the world where “XXX is not a democracy” is a valid answer to why a system doesn’t do something. If not, Jorge’s suggestion that people shouldn’t use Gnome, if they don’t like the way it works, will translate into less corporate money, meaning fewer developers and a poorer system.”

I don’t agree. You see, this argument is one that applies to the government. In this world, the best government is truly, perfectly representative: it does what the people want. Now, in the best of all possible worlds, I do not think that that’s the best government at all, and nor do I think it’s the best approach to take for software development. People do not know what they want, or they do know and are wrong, through laziness or lack of interest or lack of education as to better alternatives. The ideal software development team, as with the ideal government, should be people who take a stand on The Right Thing To Do, even if their users or their constituents don’t like it.
There is a problem here, I can hear you saying. If we allow that, if we voluntarily cede our power, what stops them doing what they consider to be the right thing when it actually isn’t?
That’s the flaw in this approach. I freely admit this. But if you asked most Windows users what they want out of their computer systems, I suspect they’d say “it should do what it does now, but always work“. There’s no space there for innovation, no space for giving people a better system than the one that they already have. Moreover, if all you can offer people is a slightly better version of what they already have, then where’s their motive to switch? I think that Gnome’s move to the spatial Nautlius, despite widespread criticism, is one of the bravest moves in a software project that I have ever seen. They genuinely believe that it will make users more productive, more efficient, and allow them to interact with their computers in better and easier ways, and so they did it, even though people didn’t want them to. The difference between Gnome and the government is that you are free to not use Gnome, and you are not free to not have the government, and that can allow for flexibility. If the Gnome project were to step away from what they sincerely believe to be the Right Thing then they would be doing themselves, their users, and the free software world a serious disservice. If there’s a better way to do things, then do it and educate people as to why it’s a better way. Don’t abandon it. I would be bitterly disappointed if their reason for not implementing a genuinely better approach was “it’s different to what currently exists“. Matt says that “If corporate IT managers want an easy way to switch off the spatial approach, then Gnome will have to offer such an option, or remain ghettoised.” There is a third way, which is that you show corporate IT managers that if they don’t switch it off, their users become more productive or their lives become easier. I would rather see Gnome ghettoised than selling out everything that it is for mere popularity. I use Linux because it’s better. If it becomes a slavish imitation of Windows because that’s what people say they want, or it stops forging its own path but instead panders to the lowest common denominator, it won’t be better. It’ll just be more of the same.

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