Opinions and free software

Opinions and free software. Taking an opinionated view to open source software may seem risky, but it pays off.. . .

Here are a few wishes for some free software projects that I want to
see succeed further, but which really need to get opinionated to be
effective. These projects aren't failing, but they're not reaching
the potential I know is there.

Each of them are infrastructural in some way, and that's probably
where the temptation to avoid being opinionated is strongest. But
here's the genius: the rewards of being opinionated here are high.
Ruby on Rails is the existence proof.

  • Beagle, live search technology for
    GNOME. Needs to decide where its primary use will be, and get on
    and hit the 1.0 point for that use only. Choose one or two neat
    applications for integration, and be so utterly cool that every
    other app author flocks to integrate too.
  • Synchronization. First MultiSync, then
    OpenSync, have rumbled on for ages,
    without ever being truly effective for any particular device. My
    take: choose a few “must-have” target devices–say, iPods and Nokia
    phones–and make them work completely. Nearly-but-not-quite pleases
  • Mono. Mono's great, but where's the
    story? There's loads of potential in the people and the ideas
    behind the project, but playing catchup with Microsoft isn't very
    inspiring. Early projects like Muine helped Mono's cachet here, but
    we need more. My personal favourite option would have been a
    completely free alternative to ASP.NET for web applications. (I've
    seen a project called
    MonoRail, but
    don't know if it's the one…)

What's better? A handful of users with the “right” idea about how
fundamentally important you are to everything, or loads of users who
only see a portion of the capabilities of a project?

Copy the experts

It may seem like cheating to copy Apple's lead, but a lot of what
they've done in OS X is to take a stand on what's useful and not. On
many occasions this has inconvenienced people, but it's not eroded
that special lure that Apple products hold. There's not harm in
asking “What have Apple done?” with some of our projects.

Another poster-child for being opinionated is Ubuntu
. Technically, it's only marginally
better than other Linux distributions. Strategically, it's miles
ahead. Its founder, Mark Shuttleworth, had very solid opinions about
where Ubuntu should go, and pursued them. Over time, these have
pervaded the product itself, but at the start it was the message and
the style that made the difference.

Opinions not expressed are rarely effective 
[Edd Dumbill's Weblog: Behind the Times]

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