Free software cannot lead? // was Re: User friendly Free Software Desktops

MJ Ray markj at
Wed Jul 18 22:52:44 UTC 2001

Havoc Pennington <hp at> writes:

> > Mailing list generates ideas.
> > Coders implement ideas.
> This is your fatal flaw. Free software doesn't work that way; it won't
> work. I've never seen it work. 

Need it be so?

My subject line is something that is often levelled at Free Software
as a criticism, but are we sure it has to be this way?  The standard
reasoning is that proprietary software producers will develop new
products because of the need for financial gain by creating things
that no-one else makes but fulfil a need, while Free Software doesn't
have such a need.

Hang on.  That sounds like it contradicts one of the basic points
spoked in CatB -- that Free software develops to "scratch an itch".
Usually, though, that's the developer's itch, so we end up with a
different set of products being created than the closed software

Now, to take that one step further and be a bit more precise on your
point: do the mailing lists generate ideas for the coders and they are
implemented.  Well, yes, that happens sometimes.  I've been watching
two mailing lists today where the coders are asking "so, what do you
want us to do now?" and the users are knocking ideas about.  They're
very much niche projects, but it is happening.  The coders in one case
aren't even major users of that project's output.

So, Free software does sometimes work this way.  Interesting, huh?

Can we take this innovations style of development to more projects?
Almost certainly.  How can we make it happen?  We need something to
make people realise the value of developing in this way.  The days of
the arrogant developer-princes (they exist in some projects) must end
and we must start to listen to our user community more and better.
Not to everything they say, but we should consider how we're doing
this when we develop.  I'd welcome more investigation on that ;-)

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