Last night, my blog became a bit of a lightning rod1, as readers from Slashdot poured in to tell us exactly what they think of how we release software.
I just finished reviewing the hundred-some comments2, and I think I’ve realized four things:
- People who have managed and worked with large releases of open source software, involving millions of people, and tens-to-hundreds of partner mirrors seemed to understand the complex set of issues that accompany such a process, and were sympathetic. Those that hadn’t… well… added mostly a lot of noise.
- Most people missed the point.
As Beltzner’s comment points out, the real problem we’re trying to address are news sites, articles, and the like reporting “OMGSquee Firefox 2 is released, go get it here!” when that’s just flatly wrong. For sites that have editors, it’s irresponsible journalism, because it’s just false. And they need to know that it’s both irresponsible and incorrect.
For those that don’t, users need to know the effect of all their “diggin’” and “reddit’ing,” and hopefully “the community” will do the right thing.
In both cases, many of Slashdot’s core users are not what we’re so worried about. When they notice others getting automatic Firefox updates that they may not be getting, they’ll probably take the time to figure out why. They’ll upgrade themselves, because not all 38 of their Firefox extensions didn’t work with 2.0 yet. They’ll find the en-US build, because they know how to chop apart URLs, and go trolling through the FTP tree for the right locale (and for Linux builds3).
Where it especially causes problems is when geeks see it, and download it for their girlfriends’ computers.
Or Liberal Arts major roommates’.
Those people are going to start up Firefox 2, and find 404′d startup pages. The online help won’t be there. Or if it is, maybe it won’t be localized for their language yet.
They may be using the wrong locale for their needs4. Heck, they may get an unsupported locale5.
These are the people it really hurts.
It tarnishes all the hard work that a community of hundreds put months of their time into, because some couldn’t wait.
- Yeah, this is open source software… and everything we do is in a fishbowl.
That’s the great part of open source software: you all get to see what the developers do, and what QA does, and what Build/Release does… and you get to call us stupid when we tell you the pan is hot, and you shouldn’t touch it [yet]. But at the end of the day, you get heed the warnings and suggetions—or not—and make the decision about what’s best for you and your needs.
What I did find surprising was reading a comment that said “You can’t appeal to people’s good nature, when there are millions everywhere around the world waiting for the new version.”
Firefox and Mozilla have always relied on “people’s good nature” to help each other out, do the right thing, and work together to produce great software and make the web a better place. Open source itself is founded upon this general principle.
Firefox is unique, in that it’s a very end-user facing application.
I guess that sentiment tells me we’ve all got some work to do to help acclimate people to the idea of a community driven software development model, where taking down someone’s Internet connection in Europe or Asia who’s volunteered to host bits closer to you really isn’t OK.
- Finally, while going through the comment moderation queue, it’s clear why a lot of you want Firefox 2 the second you can get it: the new inline spell-check feature for submission forms
Having said all that… Firefox 2 is now released.
And I’m off to take a nap now6.
1 Which… eh… not the first time…
2 Not all of which were posted… but neither were just positive, back-patting comments posted.
3 It amuses me to no end that such a large open source site linked directly to Win32 builds
4 en-GB vs. en-US, for instance. Or es-AR vs. es-ES.
5 Where “unsupported” is defined as “won’t get automatic updates, and remain secure on the web,” which is like… a huge reason to use Firefox in the first place.
6 After having a piece of MS Cake 2006, Service Pack 27 of course!
7 “Giving new meaning to dumping core.”