Monthly Archives: December 2007

Ohh, yeah, that’s a Known Bug.

Long before I’d heard the term free software or open source – actually before the term open source existed, I wished for something like it. My experience with proprietary systems has not been stellar, and likely is different from the casual user of software like word processors and web browsers.

Long ago, the company I worked for purchased equipment and software to output computer generated slides to the actual 35mm film. The equipment and software to do this was extremely expensive and did much less than the salesman had promised (something often called vaporware).

We would run into problems from time to time and describe them to tech support via an expensive toll call.

“The computer locks up when it gets to rasterizing the image at about 90%” I would say.

“What software are you outputting from?” tech support would ask.

“It’s Harvard Graphics output as a postscript.”

“Are there any graphics or clipart in the slide with more than two lines of text?”

“Yes.”

“Ohh, yeah, that a KNOWN bug!” He would exclaim as if all our problems were solved.

“A KNOWN bug?”

“Yes, we are scheduled to have that patched in version 2.156” he boasted.

“When will that be?”

“Hard to say, but we are aware of the bug!”

“Is there a work around so that I can get this work done today.. when the customer wants it?”

“Hmm, ” shuffling “no work around” more shuffling…. “Can you remove the graphic?”

There were many calls with the same basic dialog.  It reached the point where when the system locked up, my work partner and I would look at each other and exclaim loudly “KNOWN BUG!”

OK, so that was a LONG time ago – right. Things are much better now, right? Well, actually I see this same thing happening today. Our library pays a fair chunk of money for software to manage the patron access to the computers. This software is sold by salesmen who promise more than the programmers can deliver (vaporware), and there is still the problem of bugs which all software has. A recent problem basically rendered an enhanced feature useless. When I described the problem, I was told that this was a known bug, but when I asked when it was scheduled to be fixed, I was told that the status had not be elevated to be fixed. No amount of begging on my part would increase the likelihood that this bug would be fixed, unless a whole lot of other paying customers started complaining.

So, how does OSS remedy this problem? First, the biggest problem with these proprietary software vendors, is that they have more salesmen than programmers. Not the case with OSS. As a customer who pays for this software, I can only advocate that certain bugs are fixed. I have no access to the source code and am forbidden from fixing it. Our only “solution” : user groups often figure out a work around for these types of problems and share those within the community of users. Access to the source code changes that. I could actually pay a programmer (if I lacked the skills, which I do) to fix the bug in the software. A group of users could pay to have the bug fixed, or a user who can program might fix the bug as well. OSS bugs are listed and any programmer can choose to fix the bug. Then, the even better point is that the bug fix is returned to the OSS communities and others will benefit from it.

Sometimes, a known bug is a good bug the difference is in the user’s power to fix it.

LCG

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OSS post

This is a post from our online class discussion that somehow swerved into OSS.  It has been sitting in my WordPress drafts along with many other rough ideas waiting to be released:

We should be free to participate in the system we choose: the closed, proprietary system or the more communal open source system. My point about what Krug mentions in the interview is that when innovations are shared in a community, innovation grows exponentially (the OSS model). The early growth of the Internet is an example of this kind of information sharing. Mike’s example points to this as well.

I’ve worked in the graphic arts field and had my ideas stolen, and I didn’t like that. But, I did (and do) enjoy sharing tricks and tips with my peers (my fellow artisans, for lack of better term). If I find a better way to secure a Windows computer for public use, it seems irrelevant how much time I spent developing it. It is much more useful if I share it openly with others (who are very likely to improve on it and share that information with myself and others). I find this kind of sharing quite prevalent among librarians. Thank goodness, there are so many experts on the Internet who freely share their hard won wisdom and expertise to teach us things like CSS, HTML, podcasting, etc. They certainly could choose to sell it in book from or charge for that same information which would be fine and acceptable, but have less dissemination.

Those programmers who make up the OSS movement choose to share their code, their labor (though many are paid for this work) with the understanding that a thousand eyes are better at finding bugs than just one set.

I really suggest that if anyone wants to understand the premise of OSS, they should read The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which Doc Martens has mentioned in the Open Source discussion board. (which I’ve pasted below)

Most of you who are interested in this probably have already read Eric Raymond’s classic essay in “First Monday”
http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue3_3/raymond/
so here’s his own page with more (including some links to extensions and critiques):
http://catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/

LCG