After having to fix the newly installed Ubuntu installation on a laptop of a friend today (she was missing drivers for her integrated Intel graphics chip, no idea how Ubuntu managed to screw that up), I thought silently to myself: “why the fuck?”. Why the fuck do I continue to use and support this broken crap? But then I ignored those thoughts while I was trying to figure out why KLauncher was hanging, Apache was whining about NameVirtualHost and VirtualHost mismatches, and other fun stuff.
Then later, while I was waiting for my dinner to finish, I was browsing reddit.com, and saw this post near the top of the front page. In case you’re not in the mood to read some random rant, it’s basically a list of pretty serious bugs and annoyances in the software that the author uses every day. The TL;DR from it is probably this quote: “I work for Microsoft, have my personal life in Google, use Apple devices to access it and it all sucks.”
And then a thought crystallized for me. I have never been able to exactly pin-point why I keep coming back to the cozy mess that is the free software ecosystem. What happened is that I caught myself thinking “why don’t he just sit down and fix it?”. I’m so used to just launching gdb when something hangs, peaking through the source code when I come across unexpected behaviour, or crawl through a stack trace when something crashes. For all its annoying quirks and bugs, when I have the source code I can fix everything from minor annoyances like highlights not disappearing, to crashes when I log in. And not only can I look into how it works, if I can’t figure out the problem myself I can jump on IRC with or fire off a mail to whomever is responsible for the application in question.
That thought, “I can always fix it”, converged with what he wrote; “it all sucks”. The grand point is that while no software is perfect, there are bugs and problems in everything, in every layer of the stack, with free software I am empowered and encouraged to improve it myself. Either directly or simply by just supporting whomever fixes it for me.
Another, separate, issue from that blog post comes from this quote: “Alone or in a crowd, no one cares.” With free software you (almost) always have a community around the software in question. Even if the original author doesn’t respond it’s usually pretty easy to find someone else who cares about the software.
I’ll just round this off with a quote from a friend and fellow KDE hacker, Eike Hein, which I think captures the very essence of this blog post: “I like using open source because I like having the assurance that I can always fix it if I just learn enough, and that there’s nothing blocking my path toward learning it other than time constraints”.
Soundtrack: Miss Murder’s Personal Jesus