March 1, 2011

Community or Fanbois?

Regular readers will know that I place a lot of stock in community. I started PyCon, the US Python community conference, which has taken off worldwide. In earlier incarnations I was chairman of the Sun UK User Group and Treasurer of DECUS UK. As chairman of the Python Software Foundation I spend a lot of time thinking about how to engender community spirit and encourage people to contribute to the Python language in any way they can. This is an ongoing battle, but I do think that the Board is showing signs of understanding how to involve people, and also that the Foundation relies on the involvement of third parties in order to achieve most of what supports its mission.

In my own life, I have recently decided to become (even) more involved in open source, hopefully to the extent that I can make a better living at it - the PSF chairmanship is an honorary position and takes time away from business matters. So I have moved to Portland (whose natives frequently refer to it by its PDX airport code), and recently hosted a reception to get PDX open source people together with elected representatives and business people with the intention of starting new conversations about how each can benefit the other. I am hoping that the move will allow me to work in a more sympathetic environment, and one in which the potential of open source is more clearly perceived.

So anyone who cares to look should be able to discern that I am at least fairly serious about Portland and its open source community, and working towards improving things for the open source community (on the theory that a rising tide lifts all boats). I have found in the past that it's generally possible to share plans with open source community members and have them respect the sensitive nature of the information you have shared with them. This is one of the things I like about working in the open source community: generally speaking (and with the occasional unavoidable exception) people are willing to respect your concerns, and are generally much more concerned about producing good software than scooping each other on news of features and the like.

The people I meet in the open source world are generally responsive to new ideas and quite willing to discuss them. Generally speaking people are both willing and able to discuss the work they are doing - after all, it i going to be published, so there is little point in secrecy. Contrast this, however, with the brouhaha that arose today about the latest version of Apple's OS X operating system. It seems that Apple shared a beta version with some developers, who have naughtily (and anonymously) disclosed what purports to be real information about what Apple rather grandiosely term "the world's most advanced operating system". To which  my reply is a snort of derision, since I think that Mac OS X is actually in some ways inferior to Windows.

It turns out that they really don't like it when engineers who are given access to a pre-release (in this case OS X Lion, the forthcoming 10.7 release) copy and then promptly spill the beans to all and sundry. But frankly these look like small beans indeed. It seems as though Apple has tweaked quite a bit, but hasn't introduced any fundamentally new features into the operating system.  It's all very well for Apple to delight in being different, but the radical differences between Apple's GUI and everyone else's just don't seem to actually make using the computer any easier, and leave me wondering whether Apple is really heading in the right direction.

Whatever else they may have going for them they certainly don't seem to have engendered a lot of loyalty in their fan base. Or maybe this was just a few bad apples (so to speak).,


Nick said...

Apple have long had a love-hate relationship with their fans. As a company, they seem to absolutely *hate* losing control of the PR message, so they overreact massively to even the slightest hint of a leak.

Their fans, however, are just keen to hear any info they can about upcoming moves Cupertino is considering, so the incentive to leak is quite large.

I see it as somewhat similar to the handling of "responsible disclosure" with security flaws. If an organisation has a reputation for fixing and then announcing flaws promptly themselves after being given a private notification, that further encourages advance notice of other flaws that are discovered. If a company has a history of not doing anything until a bug is announced publicly, then security researchers will learn that the quickest way to get a response from them it to just announce the flaw in public and let them scramble to fix it.

Tshepang Lekhonkhobe said...

I'm very curious what you found in Windows to justify the statement 'I think that Mac OS X is actually in some ways inferior to Windows.'

Context: I don't care for these 2 platforms, being a Debian fanboy.