Fascinating thread: FOSS Quality Control

A long-time critic of things Open Source showed up on the Classpath project’s mailing list and asked some rather provoking questions in a thread titled “Quality control and FOSS rant”. He at least ended with: “I suppose this is more of a troll than a criticism, sorry about that.”

Despite the flame bait, the thread contained some surprisingly insightful replies. It’s always great to hear some of the top software developers in the world noting their motivations and why they believe what they do works.

From Roman Kennke:

Both approaches (closed and open) apparently tend to produce relatively high quality code (or really crappy code, happens in both camps), where with the closed approach the developers (or vendors) have to take over 100% responsibility (because the end user has no way to interact with the development), which usually makes things very formal and slow, where the open approach relies very much on the end users reporting problems. In most active projects these are fixed really quickly, giving both the developers and the end users a warm fuzzy feeling ;-)

From Andrew John Hughes

There’s a lot to be said for feedback and interaction with your users that’s often overlooked. All the ideas of complicated quality control processes in the world is not going to make a user feel as loved as seeing someone responding quickly to their bug and fixing it in a short space of time.

From Mark Wielaard, a remark on the complex administrative process used by the project to review contributed code:

We do have a flow chart that people have to follow when contributing… It is all very formal really: http://gnu.wildebeest.org/~mark/patch.png

and from Archie Cobbs, a reminder about the track record of a certain formerly proprietary process on solving bug desperately desired by their user community:

The number #1 voted bug in their bug database has been unfixed for over 5 YEARS!

The comments on that bug make for hilarious reading, but the bigger point is this: the identity of the people making the decisions about the relevance of the issue are hidden. That sort of thing doesn’t inspire much hope for people on the outside. It’s not like we’re talking about national security or the future of western democracy; it’s a bug report that turned into a feature request for a piece of software that many, many people depend on! No one likes to be fed the line that their problem is so Top Secret that they won’t be told when (or even if) the problem will be addressed. The cloak of anonymity strikes again.

Fascinating thread.