Regarding proprietary software on distros

I have recently stated that it is my opinion that non-commercial Linux distros must ship with only Free software in them, however, they should make it really easy for their users to install the most popular proprietary software. That they should offer a choice.

A Fedora kernel hacker –being a kernel guy he proves to have no clue about sales and marketing– wrote an angry blog post a few days ago targeted at reviewer Jem Matzan: “rather than file bug reports, the standard procedure these days is to ‘write a scathing review on the internet’“. What Dave Jones doesn’t understand is that reviewers are writing reviews, not bug reports. Their job is to find problems with products and report them, not to make the lives of the developers easier.

Anyways, I replied to Dave’s blog and we agreed to disagree. He has the attitude of “if we make it easy to install proprietary software and these are buggy, we will be swamped with bug reports“. I honestly think that he is overreacting. First of all, a GUI that downloads and installs some proprietary software it should come with clear alert windows that this software is unsupported and it’s provided only for the convenience of the user. Secondly, such a GUI would bring a lot of new users aboard the community. And users come with bug reports. It’s part of the package, as my JBQ always says. If a developer doesn’t want bug reports, then he should not offer the ISO for free and have a bugzilla.

Just tonight, while browsing Digg, I found two separate recent blog posts of users (here and here) discussing exactly that problem: the difficulty of installing must-have proprietary software (e.g. Flash).

The whole deal reminds me of the generation schism. Old people want to stay home and watch TV, and young people want to fall from an airplane. Same thing with this situation, developers only see their own point of view, and users only see theirs. What’s missing, is the marketing/sales people, that OSS distros simply don’t have. You see, these (”useless” by some) profession categories are the GLUE between the user and the development team. Without them, we have this schism and eternal debate. But with them, we have their market studies that they should be the defining factor as to if a feature must go in or out of an operating system.

Ubuntu is the first non-commercial Linux distro that actually has a small marketing team. They don’t do much, but they do report their findings. And this is why Ubuntu wants to bring back proprietary kernel drivers in their offering and they even want to consider my idea (according to an email from Mark Shuttleworth). The Fedora guy, Dave, saw these news and he almost puked in disgust. But you know, that’s the difference between the distro leader and the followers. If Fedora can’t go with the times, then it will perish in the hands of Ubuntu.

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Chimneydials wrote on November 12th, 2006 at 7:20 AM PST:

I saw you had linked me and so, I read the post. What you say is very true. There is hardly any link between developers and users.

Jon wrote on November 12th, 2006 at 9:10 AM PST:

I think fedora doesn’t care about that because it’s a “developer-oriented” distro. It’s so buggy out of the box, even Mandrake crash less than fedora. Fedora Core 1 was perfect and stable but after that, from 2 to 4, and 6, it was a buggy nightmare. Fedora Core 5 was kind of “ok”, no more.

Slackware, Debian, SuSE and Ubuntu never gave me the same kind of software nightmare that Fedora Core did. Max Spevack, who tries to do good marketing for fedora, is full of shit. This “Fedora Core isn’t Red Hat testbed” myth makes me crazy. It IS Red Hat testbed, and it IS one of the most buggy software distro ever made. I think only Mandriva did worse, after the 9.x mandrake.

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