Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Bug Open Source Programming

What Aspects of Open Source Projects Do You Avoid? 344

paulproteus writes "I'm a Debian developer and a part-time contributor to a few smaller projects. I do a lot of free software-y and open source-y things. Sometimes, though, I don't do them. I figure some other Slashdotters might have similar hang-ups — we contribute to a project, but there are parts that we really dread thinking about. So I wrote a post about having these hang-ups, and I made a place on the web to share how others can help your project. What are the parts that, in your projects, you would be relieved if someone else looked at for you?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

What Aspects of Open Source Projects Do You Avoid?

Comments Filter:
  • irc.freenode.net (Score:2, Informative)

    by nloop ( 665733 )
    The obligatory annoying irc channel of people asking questions already answered via a web search.
    • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @04:04PM (#31474148)
      Hey now, we cannot have it both ways. If we want to push community support, that means that we have to be ready to answer the same novice questions over and over again, especially since a lot of concepts are lost on Windows and Mac OS users -- like the idea of a package manager. Yes, it may seem like the most obvious question in the entire world, but I frequently get asked things like, "How do I install <some really common package>," and if we are unwilling to answer such basic question, people will just get scared (and subconsciously assume that "Linux is not ready for the desktop").

      We may find it annoying, but we absolutely should not avoid it. In fact, we should being doing it more often.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ZackSchil ( 560462 )

        The "app store" concept might help a lot in this regard.

        • Perhaps, but the way Apple envisions the "apps store," I cannot support the concept. The different between repositories in Linux distros, and the "apps store" that Apple is pushing, is clear as day: you can only even have one "apps store," whereas nothing stops you from using third party repos for a given Linux distro.

          In any case, we will see how that goes over the next few years. The overwhelming majority of novice users are coming from a Windows background, and so "apps store" is still a concept tha
          • I don't think you could do that sort of lock-in in Linux even if you wanted to. Apple can only do it because the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad are themselves locked down. Even that doesn't really stop people.

            Anyway, if there were to be a Linux "App store", I would think it would just be a different front-end for the same package managers we already have. I'm on Ubuntu right now, and when I go to "Synaptic Package Manager" (which itself might not be completely obvious to novices as "the way to install software"

        • It surprises me a little in a way.
          i find installing things using a package manager in linux far simpler than installing something in windows but they need to capitalise on that more.

      • if we are unwilling to answer such basic question, people will just get scared (and subconsciously assume that "Linux is not ready for the desktop").

        That's not an assumption, that's a conclusion.

      • by Draek ( 916851 )

        Not necessarily "we", though, slightly more knowledgeable newbies work just as well. In fact that's how large communities tend to operate in the long run, CmdrTaco doesn't go on spreading Slashdot's standards of netiquette to the ~1.5m UID newbies, it's the ~1m UIDs who do so who were in turn trained by us 900k'ers, which we learnt from the 700k'ers and so on.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Snaller ( 147050 )

        You could make documentation....

        One of the reasons I avoid all this open source stuff is that most of it is badly documented, and quite often there is an almost hostile tone towards people "Just learn unix you scrubs" - no thank you.
        If you want your stuff to be used by a lot make simple instructions and a userfriendly interface - if you just make it for your self feel free to ignore this.

        • Re:irc.freenode.net (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Dorsai65 ( 804760 ) <dkmerriman.gmail@com> on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:20PM (#31476248) Homepage Journal

          One of the reasons I avoid all this open source stuff is that most of it is badly documented


          IRC channels, wikis, blogs, mailing lists (and their archives), a set of web pages... none of these is a valid substitute for actual documentation that a user can actually find an answer in. Fine, if you feel the need to be high-tech, edgy, l33t, or whatever, make it a pdf or downloadable html pages. Do not force users to have to jump through any 'extra' hoops to try and get help with a problem they may be having. I'd also add:

          • If you get some variation of the same question over and over again, you need to (better) explain it in the docs.
          • If a user finds an actual bug, don't make them have to sign up for some service or other that they'll (hopefully) only need once (i.e. Bugzilla) to report it. Maybe have a bugs@myproject.org to triage.
          • CLEARLY provide SOME way to contact SOMEBODY actively involved with the project. Keep this updated if you don't want to be getting annoyed emails five years from now.
          • If it's a Linux app, it would be kinda nice if it worked/looked good under ANY desktop, not just your personal favorite.
    • Don't forget the obligatory #projectname-help channel where any questions are answered with some variation on "RTFM" even though the project documentation is a standard README file, a CHANGELOG file, some GPL info and an uncommented listing of the various classes and functions that's seemingly intended for those actually developing the software (and which is practically useless to the end user even when the end user is another developer since knowing there a Foo class, a Bar class and Frongle class doesn't

      • by godrik ( 1287354 )

        That's weird. Each time I joined a dev/support channel to ask a question I got a reasonable answer. I guess it depends on the project.

    • try this (Score:3, Funny)

      by Colin Smith ( 2679 )

      Don't bother with IRC. Insist on email instead.

      Then train a bayesian classifier (bogofilter) to answer the questions for you.

      You just have to remember Bayesian classifiers are good at yes/no classifications (e.g. spam/notspam), so I have several corpuses and test incoming emails serially against them, tagging with the ones which match. Then process the email according to the tag. FAQ should be fairly easy. Use a procmail rule to answer, "thanks for your question, please have a look here".

    • You might not know it, but there are things that can’t be searched with a web search. For example if you don’t know the words other people use to describe it in the first place. If it can’t be put in words that simply. There are things only a human can recognize as something. Things that defy being put in query form.
      So while you might be able to find them, that doesn’t mean someone else can.
      It’s like answering the questions of Family Feud. Harder than it looks.

      I only go to IRC

    • people asking questions already answered via a web search.

      Oh, it's much worse than that -- this one's actually dim enough to be using Palin-speak!

      free software-y and open source-y things

  • public relations (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @03:55PM (#31474082) Homepage Journal

    As long as I don't have to make freindly with the natives, the headhunters, and the unwashed masses, I'm happy.

  • Adding comments (Score:4, Informative)

    by kickme_hax0r ( 968593 ) <simon@welsh.co.nz> on Sunday March 14, 2010 @03:55PM (#31474086) Homepage
    I've picked up an open source project that doesn't have comments. There's major chunks of it that the code is such a mess that I have no idea what it does, yet I'm supposed to be fixing it.
  • by multipartmixed ( 163409 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @03:59PM (#31474104) Homepage

    Please, for the love of God, somebody come along and write a test suite for my project. I'm sick of breaking code by accident! ;)

    • Oh yes. Bug reports that come with test cases are worth their weight in metaphors. One of the most useful contributions I've received was a test suite for my Smalltalk compiler. If you give me a bug report with a simple test case that lets me reproduce it, I can usually fix it quickly. I fixed one bug a few months ago that was dependent on library load order. On my machine, it never appeared. On someone else's, it always appeared. Once I had a test case that made it appear on my machine it was a triv
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Hurricane78 ( 562437 )

      Could you please tell me your projects, so I can avoid them and hence breaking my system? ^^

    • Plug alert.

      You should have a closer look at Phoronix Test Suite. The infrastructure is the half of the hard part in testing, so then it comes down to just writing the tests.

  • In developing (I work with a company doing _mostly_ web-based applications; perl, php, asp, all that gibberish) I steer clear of projects and software with a troublesome license. I am very pro-open source, I am very pro-freedom, and I am very pro-FREE FOR NON-COMMERCIAL USE, so don't get the wrong idea, but I mainly steer clear of anything GPL when it comes to the point of including GPLd software in the projects I work with. Simply: it spells nothing but trouble to me. Please do discuss, debate, don't just
    • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @04:05PM (#31474158)

      You could say "I choose to respect the GPL in situations where I am not prepared or legally able to do the work necessary for compliance."

    • The GPL is not troublesome when it comes to developing web based applications, unless you really want to charge royalties or forbid your users from modifying the source code (legally, that is); it does not sound like either is the case for you. On the other hand, the GPL prevents others from engaging in those same activities with your code -- if that is an issue for you, I would be very interested in knowing why (why would you want to leave open the option of others collecting royalties on your code if you
    • by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @04:23PM (#31474288) Homepage Journal

      Going off on not wanting to be called a troll without explaining why GPL is so troublesome to you doesn't help the discussion that you're supposedly trying to have here.

    • unless you want your project to become GPL. that's the rule. how hard is it to follow?

  • by fm6 ( 162816 )

    I'm struck by two small things that make me wonder. First, you seem to be using HTTPS for pages that don't need it; not an optimal config. Second, the first project you discuss is a text mode email client!

    • by sopssa ( 1498795 ) *

      Nothing wrong with using HTTPS for normal sites too. It's actually quite stupid that web traffic by default is all in plain-text, even login boxes on most sites.

      • Nothing wrong with using HTTPS for normal sites too.

        Until your certificate expires.

        It's actually quite stupid that web traffic by default is all in plain-text, even login boxes on most sites.

        A public HTTPS site requires a hosting plan with a dedicated IPv4 address and a certificate issued by a major CA. You usually don't get those with a typical $35 per year entry-level shared hosting plan from a host like Go Daddy.

    • by bipbop ( 1144919 )
      What exactly is it about a text mode email client that "makes you wonder"? What do you wonder?
    • HTTPS is a nicety for our users. End-to-end cryptography is a great thing; let's have more of it!

      I happen to like alpine and text-mode email reading in general.

      When you say this makes you wonder, do you just mean I'm clearly some sort of bizarro nutjob? (Nothing to wonder -- that one's probably true.) Or is there something specific you wonder? If so, say what it is, and I can possibly answer. (-:

  • by 10am-bedtime ( 11106 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @04:07PM (#31474172)

    Ahhh, can't resist...

    Real hackers don't dread unpleasant tasks. They write code that (perhaps write code that) does the unpleasant task for them.

    • by CODiNE ( 27417 )

      Beautiful Code - Chapter 28 "Automated Debugging"

      Why aren't we all using that eh? Incredible stuff, data-mining CVS commits and nailing the exact line that causes the bugs.

      Beautiful Code indeed.

  • Someone avoided performance optimizations on openhatch.org
    If you have tough time deciding if you should do those, ask slashdot - that will clear up things!

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @04:23PM (#31474280)

    I think the answer is obvious - what most developers avoid like the plague is documentation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fm6 ( 162816 )

      Too true.

      Hey! Unemployed tech writer here! Anybody got something juicy for me to work on? I particularly enjoy API references and programming guides.

    • I run a couple of small FLOSS projects and I have to confess that producing documentation is by far the most painful task that I need to accomplish. It basically demands that you put down in writing something which, as you've just spent a considerable slice of time which may amount to years writing it, to your own eyes is so blindingly obvious to use that you shouldn't be wasting your time writing about it. Adding to that, it's frustrating to document code because as the source code is easily accessible a

  • This is a real problem with Open Source Software... There is some parts about creating a program that just isn't fun. When you are in a corporate environment you kinda have to go threw the drudge work to get your job done. Now for large open source projects with a good corporate backing this isn't much of an issue as say the IBM Drone will be forced to get the job done in time. However most open source projects don't have the corporate backing and is based only on the joy of the project. When fun stuff

    • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @04:31PM (#31474342)
      What makes you think that corporate programmers are necessarily going to do drudge work better than volunteers? I guess you have only ever worked with big name proprietary software, where a lot of care was taken; I have seen many proprietary software packages that are barely usable, but they are niche products with little competition and thus there is no incentive for anyone to do a good job. So, where is the proprietary advantage?
      • I have seen many proprietary software packages that are barely usable, but they are niche products with little competition and thus there is no incentive for anyone to do a good job.

        I want to say something snarky about barely usable proprietary operating systems and word processors...I just can't think of anything that's actually funny (as usual).

      • by tepples ( 727027 )

        What makes you think that corporate programmers are necessarily going to do drudge work better than volunteers?

        Because programmers aren't the only people that contribute work to a product. Name three well-known video games made entirely of free software [gnu.org] and free cultural works [freedomdefined.org].

      • by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @06:19PM (#31475320) Journal

        What makes you think that corporate programmers are necessarily going to do drudge work better than volunteers?

        Judging from the quality of 99% of the FLOSS software out there, I would say that primary difference is that corporate programmers actually do the drudge work whereas the volunteers don't. Or, more specifically, no one volunteers for the drudge work so it doesn't get done.

    • by nxtw ( 866177 )

      However most open source projects don't have the corporate backing and is based only on the joy of the project

      Non-toy open source projects have significant corporate backing.

    • %s/open source/volunteer-developed/ig

      Also, paid developers do the tasks they are assigned, but that doesn't mean the tasks get done well. And if they are not assigned a task, paid developers will often not do it (if they did, they would be wasting money, after all).

      So what you see in practice is that, for commercial development, when things get tight, everything besides coding gets dropped, and the code gets sloppy.

      But you are right. Volunteer efforts usually end when the volunteers lose interest. That's us

  • by paulproteus ( 112149 ) <slashdot.asheesh@org> on Sunday March 14, 2010 @04:24PM (#31474300) Homepage

    Working on fixing the site...

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @04:27PM (#31474318)

    What are the parts that, in your projects, you would be relieved if someone else looked at for you?

    How about unreproducible bugs?

    I hate the whole situation.

    The bug reports; "Uh, I got an error or something when I tried to run it" "OK, what was the error" "I don't know" "So how do you know theres a problem?"

    Failing to reproduce the error. This ties in with the "prove a negative" problem. When to give up? Just document what I'm doing and hope for the best, I guess.

    Problems that are probably specification failures but you can't prove it. Closely tied to mystery black boxes that do something, but no one is entirely certain what. Even funnier when there isn't really a spec, just kind of a goal. Best of all, when two groups make opposing policy decisions and want you to consider each other's design to be a bug.

    When to close out the hopeless bug. Well, it doesn't hurt anything to keep it open. But bean counters like easily counted beans, like how many open bugs. Will I insult the submitter by closing it? Some 3rd party weirdos like to get involved at that stage, "I'm morally superior to you because I never give up on a bug like you did, ha ha ha" while the reality of the situation is they merely have more spare time, a poor self image, and a desire to very publicly display it. aka the "ticket ss" "I am morally superior and I say we will have order here! Order! Achtung!"

    Finally, last but not least, circumstantially, crazy/insane people seem to encounter more unreproducible bugs than typical people. Don't know if they're more ornery so the tend to report more, or more creative so they tend to find more, but I do know they're a pain to deal with.

    Other than that, its not so bad.

    • by gringer ( 252588 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @05:07PM (#31474598)

      Here's some advice that I find useful when reporting bugs:
      http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/bugs.html [greenend.org.uk]

      There are some non-obvious things in there, such as trying things that clearly won't work, if asked to by the programmer:

      Somebody reported a bug to me once, and I asked him to try a command that I knew wouldn't work. The reason I asked him to try it was that I wanted to know which of two different error messages it would give. Knowing which error message came back would give a vital clue. But he didn't actually try it - he just mailed me back and said "No, that won't work". It took me some time to persuade him to try it for real.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      I just want to comment on that even if the bug isn't reproducible, it can be very real and very annoying. For example, an application I worked with had random cases of "things stop working". Restart services and the problem is gone - for a while. Increase memory and it's gone for a while longer. Turns out that finally, when they dug it out it was a issue with the caching system that'd not evict and insert properly under some race condition.

      Another was a strange case of things going read only, but whenever a

    • On a related note, the thing I really dread is support and testing for Windows. I have an open-source app I wrote that is cross-platform. I use it on Linux, but it also runs on Windows. Since I don't own a Windows machine and don't know anything about Windows, it makes it a real pain to test on Windows or reproduce bugs that only occur on Windows. Packaging for Windows is also a hassle. Of course there is wine, but testing in wine isn't the same thing as testing on a real Windows box. And even if I do succe
  • But I avoid that for everything.

    Like preaching close-minded people, who think that they are much more open-minded than you just because they oppose what they perceive as the majority opinion. When they are really religiously locked on the exact opposite view, even sometimes imitating the opposite.

    Or in short: People that don’t think for themselves and people that try to force their reality upon me.

    Two examples would be
    1) Those that completely and totally avoid putting anything closed-source on their s

  • I wish I had a dollar for every time an OSS project spat out something like "ERROR: 0947445" with no mention anywhere of what aforementioned error code meant or how to fix it, then upon further dredging through a hundred uncommented lines of code to find out what was going on it turns out that the root cause was that I hadn't installed some-package-to-do-something-2.4-beta (which should have been a prerequisite, but isn't).

  • Open Source Nazis (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Niobe ( 941496 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @06:50PM (#31475566)
    What Aspects of Open Source Projects Do I Avoid? The part where I get yelled at by a developer for filing a bug that I tried diagnose to the best of my ability but didn't mange to fix myself. Because, as we know, you shouldn't even USE open source software unless you're willing to DEVELOP it as well. Pffft.
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Sunday March 14, 2010 @08:49PM (#31476506) Homepage Journal


Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp