For various reasons I am staying out of government politics these days but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stay away from a bit of controversy when it comes to my beloved Open Source crowd.
I remember at one Boston Summit, being held at the MIT Stata Center, where Luis Villa, our much appreciated lawyer in training (or is he an actual lawyer yet and more importantly can we start cracking lawyer jokes?), was holding a Marketing BOF. In this BOF we ended up listing things that GNOME didn’t do well in which someone who was not part of the GNOME community but rather an invited guest took the session to mean that GNOME was in serious trouble and was folding in on itself.
What this person failed to realize is that self introspection and acknowledging ones weaknesses is the first step to becoming stronger. In our case it was the first steps to becoming a stronger community.
It is with this in mind that I read Henri Bergius’ great synopsis on the Apple MagicMouse vs the Open Office mouse design. It illustrates one of Open Source’s short comings with mitigating complexity. To stereotype us collectively a bit, we are like Sheldon from the show the Big Bang Theory. Sheldon can solve complex theoretical physics questions in his sleep but ask him to engage in simple social interaction and he hides behind condescension and excuses the interaction as unimportant.
Similarly, ask us to solve a complex computer problem and we will do it but ask us to make it easy to use, something the masses would go out and spend money on, and the same indignant statement seems to permeate every discussion about it – “that’s not something I would want to use”. Ok, so the analogy isn’t fair because as a group we are as diverse as any other but from the amazing things that we have produced it is clear that collectively we have a hard time hiding the complexity of it all. For some reason Apple is able to promote ease of use and they get praised for it but when we try to promote it we hit a wall of cynicism – “You’ll have to pry my user interface from my cold dead hands!”
So the question is will we ever learn how to mitigate complexity or will we just leave that for others to add as a competitive advantage? Is our end goal to just be a building block of modern technology or will we be the finished product itself? I don’t have that answer but I do know it is something we need to introspect on. We need to ask ourselves these hard questions, not as acknowledgement of failure but as acknowledgement of the fact that we can always do better by honestly and without cynicism, examine our weakest points. As other parts of the industry learn from our successes in development and internally implement changes based off of the Open Source model, we too need to look at their successes in the mass market and see what we learn from them.[read this post in: ar de es fr it ja ko pt ru zh-CN ]