On Open Source

I use a lot of open-source software. I’m constantly hopping on and off email lists for open-source software. I talk to a lot of open-source software developers. I’ve been the creator of a couple of (failed) open-source software projects. And recently I attempted to organise a group of people to put together an open-source specification for modelling ambisonic data (it didn’t really work).

Over the years, I’ve noticed a few things.

  1. Head strong visionary at the helm. I reckon that all successful open-source projects have had a head-strong visionary at the helm. At least until the project is established.
    1. You can see the lack of that in the FLAC lists, where discussions about a potential ambisonic format fizzle in circular group arguments.
    2. You can see it in the Shoes list, since _why has dropped off the radar, there is a lack of coherence where the direction of the development might just end up following whoever seems to shout the most (or post the most).
    3. You can see it with WavPack, where the author David Bryan responds clearly, succintly and with forward-motion in mind when new features are discussed.
    4. You can see it in the ambisonics Google list that I set up to try and establish an open-source ambisonic format. It didn’t work because I was trying to be too-democratic… there’s simply too many opinions. I should have intercepted and led much more strongly (I kinda did that but very late).
  2. Ignored bug means death. An un-repaired bug can kill an open-source project. An ignored bug signals abandonment.
    1. There was a AWS::S3 windows bug that quite a few people were complaining about on the lists. The authors just ignored them (probably because they were developing on OSX and deploying to Unix). It really strongly put me off using not just that project but any other projects by those authors.
    2. I’ve been astounded at the quickness of support (bug squashing) on some open-source projects. It gives you the confidence to use and depend on those projects more. I’ve always been impressed by the response on the SND list (computer music software). The SuperCollider list is good too.
  3. Cordiality and respect. Many developers develop a diva syndrome. I guess when you write software from the ground up, you get to know that code better than anyone else. Many developers end up interpreting this as meaning that they are more intelligent than their users (or other developers)… and they develop a ‘diva’ syndrome.
    1. I’ve seen this recently on the Perian list, where the authors respond with terse unhelpful comments. I unsubscribe immediately. Actually, I’ve seen this on almost all lists (not always from the core developers though).
    2. When open-source developers show respect for their users, I think it has a big impact. _why was always very good like this on the Shoe list, which is why I think he could have a huge impact on software (if he could just focus (perhaps?)).

One of the attitudes that irritates me the most is the “this is open-source software so if you have a problem with it then fix it yourself” attitude.

There’s nothing more annoying than when you land on a webpage and the authors are saying “use our software! its great, it does this this and this, and its free!”. Then you encounter an issue, you post on their list and they respond with that “sorry, its your problem” angle. Its schizophrenic, and immature. If you are putting a product out there, take responsibility for it.

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3 Responses to On Open Source

  1. Martin says:

    Not sure why you think FLAC doesn’t have a strong visionary at the helm. The FLAC developer, Josh Coalson, appears that to me. The problem for Ambisonics is that this isn’t part of his vision for FLAC.

    But then why should it be? Ambisonics is a technology which failed in the marketplace, and which is only still around because of a few enthusiasts.

    • Hi Martin,

      You are right, by definition (well, by my definition) .. if FLAC is successfull then there must be a visionary at the helm. Josh Coalson must be that. And I think you are right again about ambisonics probably not being a part of his vision for FLAC.

      I find it curious, however, when people say that Ambisonics is a technology that failed in the marketplace. It’s like saying that PDAs failed in the marketplace because Apple’s Newton failed.

      Apple’s Newton failed because it was the wrong technology at the wrong time wrapped in the wrong wrapper. Today’s iPhone is the successful version of it. Its a portable computer.

      The other thing that I think is a misconception is that a technology might just ‘take’. Usually takes a lot of people working really hard to take something somewhere. There are certainly a lot of people working behind the scenes in Ambisonics, but the effort is very non-commercial. The effort is academic. It is research. It is not efforts which attempt to ‘wrap’ ambisonics into a user-experience which can bring surround sound to consumers. Doing that is actually, I believe, very difficult.

  2. Martin says:

    You wrote, “There are certainly a lot of people working behind the scenes in Ambisonics, but the effort is very non-commercial. The effort is academic. It is research. It is not efforts which attempt to ‘wrap’ ambisonics into a user-experience which can bring surround sound to consumers.”

    Could not agree more. Also, having worked in universities as support staff, I know that it is not the fault of the academics. They live by ‘publish or perish’, and must push forward into new areas. A definitive player, for example, would not be publishable, and so is something in which they have no interest.

    That Ambisonics failed in the marketplace seems obvious to me. Somebody pointed out on a forum that 600 or so LPs and CDs after 30 years is a pretty poor showing. As you know, I am a fan. But I have been a fan since 1977. A certain level of despondency is inevitable.

    Ambisonics does have a chance today. The patents have expired, so big business is no longer interested. However, because of the Internet, big business is no longer needed. FLAC and Ogg Vorbis demonstrate this.

    What I do to help is to promote Ambisonics on audio forums as and when opportunities arise. I push Ambisonia.com (also mentioning SoundOfSpace.com), and also push full-sphere as this is something unique to Ambisonics.

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