Re: The Indulgences of Open Source

In reply from The Indulgences of Open Source (by Jonathan Cogley).

Jonathan, the author of the above linked post, is talking about free software projects and their relation with the understanding of “customers“. To illustrate his writing, he provides two examples of free projects: DokuWiki and AWStats.

Before I go in deeper analysis, let’s talk semantic. I am not an English native speaker, but I figure that English might be close enough to French so I do not make a misunderstanding. A customer is the person that buys or receives a product, it might not be the “end-user”, the one who is actually using the product. Knowing the philosophy behind free software, I also feel uneasy to call an end-user a customer when they go and download the project. Free software give the end-user the same rights and freedom as the producer, he can therefore be an actor and/or contributor of the project. Something not possible in the traditional producer and customer view.

Products and customers are bound to the commercial world, whilst projects and users belong to the free world.

Now, Let’s analyse Jonathan’s train of thought on each subject separately.


Jonathan remarks that:

A great wiki platform, my favorite to date (…). So what is the indulgence? Their website only distributes the DokuWiki download as a .tgz file. (…) However DokuWiki supports Windows and yet this file extension is not natively supported by Windows XP or Vista or Windows Server. What commercial company with half a brain would release their product in a format that their customers could not consume without a third party tool to unpackage it? Wouldn’t a simple zip file make infinitely more sense or go really crazy and offer downloads in .tgz and .zip? :)

I have already replied to Jonathan under the pseudonym Huygens. My point was that DokuWiki has an audience of potential users that more than probably can handle such a thing as a tgz file type. A person who wants DokuWiki is someone that knows what a wiki is, that knows what a web server and PHP are, that knows what FTP is. This kind of person do not rely solely on the native support of Windows for compression/archived format. Thus, it can be considered that using only the tgz format is enough for the target audience of a tool like DokuWiki (read my comment for more on this particular topic).

Furthermore, Jonathan adds What commercial company with half a brain would release their product in a format that their customers could not consume without a third party tool to unpackage it?. Here is a question for you: Did commercial companies wait for Windows XP to release products using the PKZIP (.zip) format? Previous versions of Windows did not support natively this archiving format, and it was accepted that end-users use third-party tools to handle zip files.

Finally, using only the zip format is not a good solution. As Andreas points it out: The format is pretty limited and does not handle file permissions. This is something which, in my humble opinion, is crucial for a web application. This implies also that whether it is a tgz or a zip file, the Windows platform has not the right permissions set for its file (unless the archiver tool does a proper job of converting the UNIX rights into Windows access control lists, which seems rather a difficult tasks).

Last personal thought on this topic. I have started using DokuWiki on a Windows platform for my work, and I never thought it a limitation to have only a tgz. It simply did not cross my mind. Why? I have since long installed a third party tool for handling archives, because the only limitation I have found was in Windows XP itself. It can barely handle zip file, and that’s it. But the world is made of more than one colour, and (hopefully) the software world is made of more than one archiving format.


Jonathan remarks that:

But if you visit their homepage with Internet Explorer 7 (…) then you will be redirected to a page that recommends you install Firefox. What commercial company with half a brain would try to change their users software for no reason directly required by their product?

AWStats redirected page when using IEI have launched Internet Explorer through Wine to check this. And actually this is true, you are redirected to a page. This is not really nice and I understand the frustration of Jonathan as I have been frustrated many times while using Opera, Konqueror or Firefox and I have been greeted by a web page that was forbidding me access to the site unless I use Internet Explorer. Or sometimes, this was even more nasty, for example MSN use to provide a dedicated style sheet when you were connected with Opera so text indentation and rendering would be poor. In a way, they were forcing user to use another navigator, their own. So was Microsoft half brain when they did this nasty trick to Opera? I do agree! Now, is AWStats half-brain for doing something similar?

To answer you, I find it ironic in many ways. But I do not find it as frustrating as you might think. What AWStats project advertises (check carefully the screenshot above) is that by using Internet Explorer the site might not be fully usable. It is notorious that Internet Explorer does not handle properly standard HTML and CSS, though the version 7 is doing a much better job at it. Therefore, even if a site conforms to standard, it might look weird on Internet Explorer. The web site is advising to use an alternative, but there is an obvious link if you still want to browse this web site using Internet Explorer. In a way it is like an application that recommends a minimum configuration and a recommended one. If you have the bare minimum one, you might not access all functionalities of the application, and the application sometimes advertise it. When you have the recommended configuration, all is well :-)

For example, when I’m using the open source driver for my ATI Radeon graphic card on my desktop, Google Earth had greeted me the first time with a warning message that I should use the proprietary driver for a better experience. Their advise is based on technical ground, not on developer preferences. And it was true, I ignored their advise and went on but the experience was a pain. After I had installed the proprietary driver for my graphic card (by the way, Ubuntu restricted driver manager is a bliss!), the experience was quite a different thing.

Do not take might writing too personal Jonathan :-) . I was not judging you here, but trying to open a discussion with you following a post from last month by you. I understand your first reaction and your frustration, I have encountered it so many times as Microsoft was (is?) putting so much effort so their products were (are?) not interoperable with Linux or other alternatives. However, I just think you pick up the wrong examples and that you did not think deep enough about the problem.

Take care,