Nine Current Flame Wars in Open Source: Page 2

Posted February 16, 2011

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

(Page 2 of 3)

4) The Cloud vs. Local Applications

Regardless of what operating system you use, cloud computing raises issues about privacy and accessibility. However, cloud applications also become less desirable when measured against FOSS.

To start with, both are free of cost and are always available. But, in addition, most cloud applications are proprietary software, and require users to trust the skill and integrity of those running the servers.

True, the Affero GNU General Public License does exist for cloud applications. However, it is not widely used, which is why Richard Stallman, the Free Software Foundation's founder and president, continues to warn routinely against it -- and, just as routinely, is attacked for this position.

5) Users and Developers

Twelve years ago, users and developers were almost completely synonymous in FOSS. Now, as the FOSS desktop has become more widely used, many users have no connection to development. Many do not even submit bug reports.

In the last three years, this situation has begun leading to user revolts. First seen with the release of KDE 4.0, user revolts also seem about to happen with the upcoming GNOME 3.0 and Ubuntu's Unity desktop.

Some of this reaction may be a conservative fear of something new. Yet users also complain about changes being made to interfaces that already satisfy them, and of developers not listening to them. For their part, developers often complain that users make hasty judgments and do not give new features time to mature.

The problem is made even worse by the fact that many FOSS developers are not accustomed to listen to users. The argument also complicates the problem for projects that wish to attract new developers, because adding a new feature is usually a far more satisfying piece of coding than making micro-changes to an existing application.

6) Full Vs. Quick Desktops

The most popular Linux desktops, like KDE and GNOME, have always tried to provide a complete range of applications for their users. This goal sometimes leads critics to dismiss them as "bloated," a term usually used for Windows or Microsoft Office, although both KDE and GNOME require considerably less RAM or hard drive space than Windows.

All the same, a smaller but definite movement towards emphasizing speed over completeness exists in open source. Some users, of course, have always preferred minimalist window managers for graphical interfaces. Increasingly, though, window managers like ICEWM and Fluxbox are being joined by smaller, quicker desktops like LXDE.

Other desktops, like Xfce, try to strike a balance between completeness and speed, although increasingly critics are pointing out that Xfce is less lightweight than it claims.

The same dichotomy exists among applications. For instance, many people prefer a light-weight word processor like AbiWord to a full-featured one like LibreOffice's or OpenOffice.org's Writer.

7) The Command Line vs. The Desktop

Traditionally, UNIX-like systems such as Linux were run from the command line. However, as distributions like Ubuntu have increased in popularity, the focus has rapidly shifted to the desktop. Now, command line users decry the desktop as over-simplified, while desktop users dismiss the command line as too arcane for task-oriented users.

The truth is more mixed. The command line takes longer to learn, but is the only interface that gives a complete set of options. By contrast, the desktop is usable almost instantly by anyone, but, because of its design philosophy, only offers the most commonly used options. These differences mean that, for advanced used, the command line is more efficient, but that, for beginners, the desktop is. Not that the virtues of either the command line or desktop are generally considered in context -- only as absolutes.

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Tags: open source, Ubuntu, Linux desktop, Linux downloads, KDE

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